ice cream coloring page

The Sweet History of Ice Cream

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Video Transcript:

Hey there friends, I’m Yvonne Page Illustrates and this is Facts to Relax, the show where I research topics I find interesting and share everything I learn with you while digitally coloring a picture on the screen so we can learn something new while chilling out and relaxing together. Today we’re going to be talking all about ice cream. Where did it come from? Who was the genius that came up with it? Did it exist before refrigeration? And maybe most importantly, what came first- the ice cream or the cone? We’ll answer all these questions and more in this video. So, let’s get started.

Ice cream, or at least a precursor to ice cream, dates back as far as the second century BCE. You see, before anyone thought of mixing cream and milk and sugar to make the amazing treat we know and love today, great kings and aristocrats loved frozen sweets, even if they were closer to what we may think of as slushies than to ice cream. Alexander the Great liked to eat snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. King Soloman sucked down iced drinks during harvest, and Emperor Nero, yup the same guy who ruined the sanctity of the ancient Olympics, would send runners to fetch him snow from the mountains, to be flavored with fruits and juices for his enjoyment. In ancient Greece, ice houses kept the snow and ice cold. These were underground refrigerators made by digging pits, placing large amounts of snow into them and then covering them with some sort of insulating material.

However, it’s Ancient China, and not ancient Greece or Rome, where we find records of what was most similar to we think of now as ice cream. During the Tang dynasty, between 618 and 907 AD, the Chinese would make treats by heating fermented cow, goat, or buffalo milk mixed with flour. Camphor, a substance harvested from evergreen trees was added to enhance the flavor and texture. In fact, camphor was said to make it “flake like snow” as well as to have medicinal properties. I guess all those benefits outweigh eating an ice cream that must have tasted a lot like a Christmas tree. Anyways, then the mixture was poured into metal tubes that were lowered into a pool of ice until they were frozen.

Though there are tales of Marco Polo returning to Italy from China in the 1300s with a recipe close to sherbet, they’ve been debunked since it was another three centuries before Italians really started experimenting with ice cream and freezing methods. Other experts say he never even made it to China so it would have been impossible for him to bring it back! 

What we know for certain though, is this. In medieval times Arabs drank sharab, an icy drink flavored with cherry, pomegranate, or quince. These glorious drinks spread through trade with Europeans and became popular with the Italian and French aristocrats who flavored their versions with spices, peach and raspberry juices, or wine. Giambattista della Porta, in 1559 described freezing wine in glasses and is thus credited with being the first European to make the frozen desserts that would soon become popular among the elite.  At the same time, some medical experts warned people against these treats. Cold foods, they said, could trigger maladies such as paralysis. The ice lovers ignored the doctors’ advice though, as we are all wont do in cases where it’s a choice to listen to the doctor or continue doing something we enjoy.

By the mid-1600s, there was more than frozen wine to snack on. Sorbet was one of the first frozen desserts, made by blending sweeteners, fruits, and sometimes milk before freezing. A man named Antonio Latini who worked for a Spanish Viceroy in Naples was the first person to write down a recipe for “sorbetto” around the end of the 1600s. He suggested flavoring the sorbetto with lemon, strawberry, eggplant, pine cones, and even an ingredient new to the continent-chocolate. 

At this point, custard and creams were already commonplace around Europe and the recipes for those are very similar to the recipes for ice cream, combining milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and flavorings. It’s not too far-fetched to think that as sorbetto began to become popular, home cooks may have simply said “hey I bet I can freeze this custard and make an ice cream” and actually many early ice cream recipes didn’t even bother to review how to make the custard bases since they were so commonplace already. In fact, the first ice cream recipe in English to be published by Mrs. Mary Eales, confectioner to Queen Anne, only said to fill the pots with “any sort of cream” since it was so expected that the reader would already know how to make that part so she didn’t need to waste her words.

In 1686, Paris’ first café Il Procope was opened by a Sicilian man named Francesco Procopio del Coltelli. He introduced the nation to gelato, which is very similar to ice cream but uses less cream and has a resultingly richer flavor. He became known as the Father of Italian Gelato.

At the same time, the French began making a frozen dessert they called fromage. Fromage means cheese in French, and though this dessert contained no cheese, it’s thought they may have called it this because it was often set in cheese molds. Perhaps because of this confusion, come the 1800s, Parmesan ice cream actually became a pretty popular flavor, especially in the United States…but we’re not there yet. Back to 17th century France, please and thank you. French confectioner Nicolas Audiger wrote a book called “La Maison Reglée” with several fromage recipes, and in it he suggested doubling the sugar and increasing the flavors to stand up to freezing, as well as stirring the mixture during the freezing process to introduce air and make it fluffier, a technique still used today. This alone was a big innovation in ice cream since normally they’d just freeze the liquid without mixing it which leads to a much denser, harder to scoop product.

Now, since ice making and storing wasn’t very easy pre-refrigeration, there was the problem of keeping ice cold enough to get the food, in this case ice cream, to freeze to a solid. Easterners, Chinese, Arabs, and Indians, all knew that if you add salt to ice, it will lower the temperature to below freezing, a process called the endothermic effect. And during the 16th century, Italian scientists had learned that submerging a container of water in a bucket of snow mixed with saltpeter would freeze the water solid. These discoveries were what made it possible to create frozen desserts-without them, people would have just had to eat bowls of cold sweet cream soup.

Ice cream probably reached the United States in the early 1700s with European settlers. Housewives would use special ice cream molds to make their desserts in the shape of fruits, vegetables, and animals like pineapples, asparagus, and boars’ heads.

In 1775, back in Italy, a Neapolitan physician named Filippo Baldini wrote De’sorbetti, the first cookbook devoted entirely to frozen desserts, including sorbets and milky sorbets. Here’s the best part. He claimed that these creations possessed impressive medical properties, which mostly came from the flavorings. Chocolate sorbets could improve moods, lemon could help stomachaches, and cinnamon flavored sorbets could relieve aches and pains. 

The French were also still loving the stuff, though it remained an indulgence for the rich for a while longer. A multitude of French cookbooks focusing on ices and ice creams, that included flavors like artichoke, avocado, violet, coffee, asparagus, foie gras, and grated cheese ice creams, among others were published. One cookbook by Monsieur Emy even included a recipe for vanilla ice cream, which, though it may be the most boring of flavors now-a-days, was very unique and exotic at the time. Not only that but Emy recommended add-ins like breadcrumbs, cookies, and candy. He also praised the health effects of ice cream, suggesting it should be served only in the summer to get the most benefits from the frozen desserts. And over in England, cookbook writers were starting to aim for the middle-class with recipes in cookbooks like “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,” published in 1747. 

But let’s go back over to the United States for a few minutes. In 1790, the first ice cream parlor opened in New York. During the same summer, George Washington is reported to have spent $200 on ice cream. Though even today, $200 is a lot to spend on ice cream in one summer, if we account for inflation, it’s more like he spent $5,906.43 on ice cream in one season. Washington also owned several ice cream pots made from tin and pewter. He’s not the only founding father to love ice cream though. Thomas Jefferson is said to have had several ice houses where he could keep ice cream along with other items like meat, dairy, and wine.

Around the 1790s to early 1800s, ice cream was still fairly uncommon in the US but things were beginning to change. Confectioner shops, selling all things sweets, started popping up around the United States, with ice cream being a big seller. Coffee houses, saloons, inns, and taverns all began adding ice cream to their menus. As ice cream spread to regions of the country that had never tried it before, newspapers reported on the shock country people felt when ingesting ice-cold food for the first time. Cookbooks featuring ice cream recipes even started showing up in the United States around the 1790s. 

Meanwhile, Augustus Jackson, an African-American man who worked in the White House, left his employment there and began his own catering business in Philadelphia around 1832, which included a variety of his own ice cream flavors, which he packaged in tin cans and began selling to ice cream parlors in the area. He developed techniques to control the ice cream during the freezing process, made adding salt to the ice a common practice, and he made his ice cream without eggs, with some people calling him the “Father of Ice Cream.” 

Ice cream making wasn’t for the faint of heart or impatient though. The process included putting all the ingredients in a metal container inside of another pail containing an ice and salt mixture. The cook would have to shake and twist the metal container around in the ice, while periodically opening it and scraping down the sides, risking contaminating the ice cream with salt from the outer pail if he wasn’t careful enough. The process could last for hours before it would freeze and become proper ice cream. 

So it’s really no wonder that through the first part of the 19th century ice cream was a niche item, made in-house at restaurants or in people’s homes on a special occasion. As sugar and other ingredients got cheaper, it became a treat that more and more people could enjoy. Mass-production would soon hit the ice cream industry, just like it was hitting every other industry as manufacturing and technology innovations were booming all around the country. In 1843, Nancy Maria Donaldson Johnson received the first US patent for a hand-cranked ice cream churn called “The Artificial Freezer.” The hand crank would spin and rotate two slates containing a bunch of holes to churn a more uniform ice cream while also making it easier to remove the ice crystals from the walls of the container. This meant cooks no longer had to twist, shake, and scrape for hours. Perhaps most notably, the Artificial Freezer allowed for the making of two different ice cream flavors at the same time and it could all be done in about 30 minutes. This savings in time and energy allowed the costs of ice cream to be lowered, making it more accessible to all economic classes, including the poor. Johnson sold the rights to her patent in 1848 to William Young for $200 and he went on to improve it even more, speeding up the process of freezing and making the ice cream colder. As time went on, even more sophisticated ice cream making machines were produced, some powered by electricity and others by steam. In 1851, Jacob Fussell, a dairy man in Baltimore became the first to open factories whose purpose was to mass-produce ice cream. In 1896, the Breyers family opened their first wholesale manufacturing center and by 1918, Breyers Ice Cream was making more than a million gallons of ice cream each year, shipping it across the northeast.

Back in Europe, ice cream was still produced on a smaller scale by ice cream artisans for a while longer, despite them also having the technology of mechanized ice cream making machines available. Gelato, for instance, which has less butterfat, making it richer and denser than other ice creams continued to be made in Italy in small batches, many times using recipes passed down through generations, making it a mostly regional treat well into the 21st century. 

In the United States, the 1900s brought with it the “soda fountain.” Tucked inside drug and department stores, railroad cars, and more, soda fountains were Americans’ favorite places to get their ice cream. They served ice cream scoops, ice cream sodas, milk shakes, malts, and, of course, ice cream sundaes. 

Though there’s debate about where the ice cream sundae originated, a claim made in Ithaca, New York can be backed up with dated physical proof. The story goes that one Sunday after services, instead of his usual dish of plain vanilla ice cream at Platt & Colt Pharmacy, Reverend John M. Scott asked Platt to put cherry sauce and a candied cherry on top of his ice cream. Platt and Scott agreed they should call the new dish a “sundae” after the day of the week it had been invented on. Others claim the dish was created in Two Rivers, Wisconson, Buffalo, New York, and Evanston, Illinois. An April 5, 1892 newspaper ad by the Ithaca’s Platt and Colt Pharmacy, advertising its “Cherry Sunday” however, is the earliest WRITTEN record of this sweet invention so Ithaca may be the rightful victor of this contest.

 Regardless of where it first popped up, ice cream sundaes spread through the country, with toppings including fudge, marshmallow, strawberry sauce, caramel, nuts, candy, and fruit. And of course, the whipped cream and cherry on top! Not long after, banana splits took the idea of the sundae to the next level with bananas on each side of the sundae. 

But what about the ice cream cone? Well the invention of wafers that are baked and rolled can be traced all the way back to the time of the Greeks and Romans and in various forms throughout history around the world but the first ice cream cone, as we know it, debuted at the World’s Fair in 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri, though my saying this is not meant to indicate in any way that this was actually an American invention. Some say the French came up with it in the 17  or 1800s and others say English cookbook author Agnes B. Marshall came up with them in her recipe for ice cream baked in coronets as she wrote that the wafer coronets “can also be filled with any cream or water ice or set custard or fruits, and served for a dinner, luncheon, or supper dish.” However, her coronets were to be eaten with a set of utensils, out of a plate or a bowl. In 1903, an Italian immigrant named Italo Marchiony patented a small cup like ice cream cone and Antonio Valvona of Manchester, England patented something similar in his country. The World’s Fair of 1904, however, featured many ice cream sellers and waffle makers all peddling to the crowds and one of them came up with the idea that would become what we know today as the ice cream cone. After the fact, there were many different fair vendors who claimed to be responsible, but in 1952, the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers put an end to the debates and declared Earnet Hamwi the true inventor. Hamwi, a Syrian immigrant who’d been selling “zalabia,” a crisp waffle from the middle east,  had the idea to fill his zalabia with ice cream from a nearby vendor’s stand. People liked this so much that after the fair ended, Hamwi began traveling around the country to promote this new invention and he soon launched the Cornocopia Waffle Company, which later became the Missouri Cone Company. 

Americans loved it. Prior to the invention of cones, Hokey Pokey vendors would sell ice cream on city streets out of their carts and they would serve buyers a small portion or a “lick” from a little dish that they would then wipe down and use to serve the next patron as well. The cone negated the need for this unsanitary practice in a time before disposable cups or plastic ware were a thing. In just twenty years from the time they were invented, Americans were said to have consumed 245 million ice cream cones. This, of course, helped fuel ice cream eating among the public even more and by 1915, American ice cream consumption quadrupled from about a quart a year per person, to four quarts per year per person. And by 1929, Americans reportedly ate a collective 365 million gallons per year.

It wasn’t just ice cream cones, sundaes, shakes, and sodas people were eating however as other factory-packaged frozen treats began hitting the market with ice cream bars, cookie sandwiches, and popsicles becoming popular options. And, in around 1920, Archie and Elton Kohr began offering a new treat from their Coney Island stand. Called frozen custard, it was what we now know of as soft-serve ice cream, and it was a huge hit. Soft serve is kept soft by not fully freezing and setting ice cream, instead having it churn continuously in a machine until it’s ready to be dispensed.

But then, came the great world wars and would you believe they put a damper on ice cream eating much in the same way they put a damper on everything else? Wartime rations caused shortages in both ice cream and cones. In fact, desperate times could cause desperate actions as the New York Times reported in 1940 how the FBI had launched an investigation after someone reported that their neighbor, a German Embassy official had hung a large G from his window. It turned out that rather than being some sort of Nazi code, he was just trying to signal his local Good Humor man to deliver ice cream to his house.

Over in England, during the wars and even for a while after, ice cream would be made from vegetable fat and milk powder with no cream. In the US  however, after World War II ended, Americans proudly resumed their ice cream habit with a vigor, consuming a historic 23 pounds of ice cream per person in 1946. That’s about the equal to what we Americans consume today but back then, it was an unheard of amount.

By the 1950s ice cream trucks, traveling through neighborhoods and calling to young patrons with their tinkling music were common in the United States. These trucks utilized new refrigeration technology to deliver their frozen treats to children across the nation. Over the pond, England also had mobile ice cream sellers, who drove ice cream vans and also ice cream tricycles.

But let’s really talk mass production now. As with everything else in a capitalist nation, it was only a matter of time before big chains began to overshadow and push out mom and pop ice cream operations in the United States. Big names like Carvel, Howard Johnsons, and Dairy Queen began to spread through the nation, followed by Baskin-Robbins, and now-a-days, even McDonalds offers a vanilla ice cream cone that people love. 

This mass-production however, led some ice cream snobs to wish for a higher class ice cream and premium ice cream offerings were born, but of course, they were mass-produced too. Just not as cheaply. Haagen-Dazs was created in 1959 by spouses Rueben and Rose Mattus, Polish immigrants living in the Bronx. They had the genius idea to give their new ice cream brand a fancy, foreign-sounding, unpronounceable name, to make it seem posher. And Ben & Jerry’s, another premium brand started by two self-proclaimed hippies, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, opened up shop in Burlington, Vermont in 1978. Within a decade, they were selling $47 million worth of ice cream with creative flavors and names.

But what about the craftsmen of ice cream making in Italy? Remember gelato, the small-batch, passed down through generations, sibling of ice cream? Well it managed to stay regional for quite a bit longer. Only in the past decade or so has gelato begun to make its way to the United States, with Americans of course putting their own flavor twists on the traditional Italian dessert-just like we did with pizza! We’re talking truly American flavors like Captain Crunch gelato, Key Lime Vodka gelato and more flavors that would probably give gelato traditionalists heart palpitations. Americans aren’t the only ones to reimagine gelato though. Around the world local variations are now available to mirror the tastes of the people living in a region. And quite honestly, the same can be said about ice cream.

So now that we’ve learned all about the history of ice cream, I want to close this episode   with ten ice cream facts, and a special ice cream recipe from one of America’s very own founding fathers:

  1. 9% of cow’s milk production in the United States is dedicated to ice cream making.
  2. Ever heard of the “Good Humor” bar? At the time of its creation, a person’s “humour” or temperament was thought to be related to their sense of taste. The company touted the health benefits of eating their ice cream treats, calling it an antidepressant of sorts. Eating a Good Humor bar was sure to put anyone in a “good humor” their advertisements claimed.
  3. The average American now-a-day consumes approximately 23 pounds, or 5.5 gallons of ice cream per year. Our favorite flavors are, in order of popularity, vanilla, chocolate, Cookies n’ cream, mint chocolate chip, chocolate chip cookie dough, buttered pecan, strawberry, moose tracks, and Neapolitan.
  4. Americans are not the biggest consumers of ice cream in the world though! New Zealanders eat an average of 7.5 gallons per person each year. Americans are second though with Australia coming in third, Finland 4th, and Sweden 5th.
  5. Ice cream taste testers are an actual job and they use gold spoons to do their tasting so they don’t have to worry about any after-tastes mixed in from other types of spoons. In fact, one man, John Harrison who does the taste testing for Dreyer’s Ice Cream had his tongue insured for $1 million.
  6. It takes about 50 licks to finish a single scoop of ice cream
  7. Chocolate syrup is the most popular ice cream topping in the world. I mean, duh, haven’t we all heard of hot fudge sundaes?!
  8. When ice cream thaws and then refreezes the texture tends to be different when you go to scoop again. That’s because all the tiny, microscopic bubbles that were keeping it soft and fluffy from the mixing process have broken down and deflated, leaving a denser, not really as enjoyable creation behind.
  9. An ice cream headache occurs when the really cold ice cream touches the top of your mouth, causing the blood vessels between your mouth and brain to tense up, trapping blood in your brain and that pressure from the extra blood causes the pain in your head. You can try to pressing your tongue to the top of your mouth to warm it up and make those blood vessels unclench quickly.
  10. Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for vanilla ice cream, or probably more accurately Thomas Jefferson’s French butler, Adrien Petit’s recipe for vanilla ice cream, is believe to be the oldest ice cream recipe in the United States and here it is:

Ingredients: 2 bottles of good cream.
6 yolks of eggs.
1/2 lb. sugar
mix the yolks & sugar
put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla.
when near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar.
stir it well. put it on the fire again stirring
it thoroughly with a spoon to
prevent it’s sticking to the casserole.
when near boiling take it off and
strain it thro’ a towel.
put it in the Sabottiere
then set it in ice an hour before
it is to be served. put into the
ice a handful of salt.
put ice all around the Sabottiere
i.e. a layer of ice a layer of salt
for three layers.
put salt on the coverlid of the
Sabotiere & cover the whole with ice.
leave it still half a quarter of an hour.
then turn the Sabottiere in the
ice 10 minutes
open it to loosen with a spatula
the ice from the inner sides of
the Sabotiere.
shut it & replace it in the ice.
open it from time to time to de-
-tach the ice from the sides.
when well taken (prise) stir it
well with the Spatula.
put it in moulds, justling it
well down on the knee.
then put the mould into the same bucket of ice.
leave it there to the moment of serving it.
to withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.

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