It has been very hot and sticky here the last few weeks, which has increased my consumption of ice cream. As I was eating a bowl of butter pecan last night, I started wondering about the history of ice cream. What were its origins?
This morning, I did a little quick research to find out. The results were fascinating. Did you know it dates back to at least 200 B.C.? Alexander the Great reportedly enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar in ancient Greece. According to Biblical references, King Solomon liked to consume iced drinks during the harvest. And the Roman emperor Nero is thought to have sent slaves into the mountains to fetch back snow which was then mixed with nectar, fruit pulp and honey.
The first dish which more closely resembled today’s ice cream was made by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) using heated milk, flour and camphor. Ice cream gradually made its way to Europe (with help from Marco Polo) and from there to the New World.
The first recorded account of it in North America was in 1744. The governor of Maryland served a dessert which, according to a guest’s account, was “a Dessert…Among the Rarities of which is Compos’d, was some fine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most deliciously.” Ice cream quickly became very popular in America, numbering George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among its ardent admirers. In fact, George Washington is said to have spent $200 (a lot of money back then) for ice cream during the summer of 1790 and Thomas Jefferson’s personal recipe for ice cream is shown in the picture on the right.
Fast forward through the years, and ice cream continued to be very popular. The first ice cream soda (and soda fountain) were created in 1874. Interestingly, the ice cream sundae was invented in the 1880s because of religious strictures against consuming “sinfully rich” ice cream sodas on Sundays. So someone took out the carbonated water, poured some chocolate syrup on top, and voila, the ice cream “Sunday” was invented. Several towns have said they are the sundae’s birthplace. However, the two locations with the strongest claim are Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Ithaca, New York. These two cities are still politely arguing the point. (I have to vote for Two Rivers, being a Wisconsin gal myself.)
Ice cream even served as a morale booster during WWII. Though dairy products were rationed back home, each branch of the military served as much of it as they could to the troops overseas. It was such a uniquely American symbol at that point, Mussolini even banned it in Italy during the war. After the war, when the dairy rations were lifted, Americans eagerly risked brain freeze to dive into bowls of ice cream again – averaging over 20 quarts per person in 1946.
Today, in addition to the many forms of ice cream available in grocery stores, there are many specialty ice cream shops and restaurants to satisfy true aficionados. Which is a good thing. Because when it is hot and muggy outside, a big bowl of ice cream goes down really, really well. The only downside is choosing a flavor.
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