Published August 31, 2023 | By Lynn Blamires feature writer for My Local Utah
When playing word association games, the word ice cream takes me back to family gatherings as a child. With dinner over on a warm summer’s eve, family and friends gathered around a hand-cranked ice cream freezer. It had to be a White Mountain brand – Dad was sold on the double action paddle that only the White Mountain freezer had.
Hand-cranked Ice Cream Was Worth the Wait
Packed with ice and sprinkled with rock salt, an old burlap bag was doubled over and laid on top. One of us kids sat on top of the burlap to steady the freezer as the crank took more effort to turn in the final stages of the freezing process. The anticipation for the treat grew as the crank got harder to turn. When the time came, the crank stopped, the mechanism was removed, the lid came off, and the first round was dished out. Was it worth the wait? Always!
The Origin of Ice Cream Goes Back to Biblical Times
The origin of this cold treat goes way back in time, but no date has been pinned down. The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) reports that “Alexander the Great enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. Biblical references also show that King Solomon was fond of iced drinks during harvesting. During the Roman Empire, Nero Claudius Caesar (54-86 AD) frequently sent runners into the mountains for snow, which was then flavored with fruits and juices.”
Even the Chinese Played a Role
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) show, The History Kitchen reports that “The emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) are believed to have been the first to eat a frozen milk-like confection. This version was made with cow, goat, or buffalo milk that was heated with flour. Camphor, an aromatic substance harvested from evergreen trees, was added to enhance the texture and flavor. The mixture was then placed into metal tubes and lowered into an ice pool until frozen.” Perhaps Genghis Kahn wouldn’t have been so mean if he had access to ice cream.
The Arabs Were Not to Be Left Out
PBS further reports that “In medieval times, Arabs drank the icy refreshment called sherbet, or sharabt in Arabic. These chilled drinks were often flavored with cherry, pomegranate, or quince.”
The Italians Made the First Ice Cream
“The 17th century saw ice drinks being made into frozen desserts. With the addition of sugar, sorbetto was created or, as we more commonly know it, sorbet.” Antonio Latini in Naples “is credited with being the first person to write down a recipe for sorbetto. He is also responsible for creating a milk-based sorbet, which most culinary historians consider the first official ice cream.”
Italian Gelato was Introduced in Paris
In 1686, a Sicilian named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli opened the first café in Paris, Il Procope. It was frequented by such nobles as Benjamin Franklin, Victor Hugo, and Napoleon. Francesco introduced gelato, the Italian version of sorbet in small egg-shaped porcelain bowls. He became the Father of Italian Gelato.
European Settlers Brought Ice Cream to America
It is thought that European settlers brought ice cream to America in the early 1700s. Several books on confectionary had recipes for ice cream.
The First Ice Cream Parlor
The first ice cream parlor opened in New York in 1790, the same year that President George Washington was said to have spent $200 to satisfy his craving for this frozen dessert. The Jeffersons and the Lincolns were also big fans.
The Ice Cream Freezer Is Patented
On September 9, 1843, Nancy M. Johnson of Philadelphia got her “artificial freezer” patented, containing a tub, cylinder, lid, dasher, and crank. This design is still widely used today.
The First Ice Cream Factory
IDFA reports that manufacturing ice cream commercially didn’t become an industry until the 1800s when insulated ice houses were invented. Jacob Fussell, a Baltimore milk dealer, opened the first ice cream factory.
Production increased because of technological innovations. Due to ongoing advances, today’s total frozen dairy annual production in the United States is more than 6.4 billion pounds. PBS indicated that nine percent of all dairy production is devoted to the variety of ice cream treats we enjoy today.
The American Soda Fountain Shop
The wide availability of ice cream in the late 19th century led to new creations. In 1874, the American soda fountain shop and the profession of the “soda jerk” emerged with the invention of the ice cream soda. In response to religious criticism for eating “sinfully” rich ice cream sodas on Sundays, ice cream merchants left out the carbonated water and invented the ice cream “Sunday” in the late 1890s. The name was changed to “sundae” to remove any connection with the Sabbath.
Ice Cream Became a Morale Booster in World War II
During World War II, ice cream became a morale booster for the troops and the U.S. Armed Forces became the world’s largest ice cream manufacturer. It had become so popular that it became an American symbol. It was banned by Mussolini for that very reason.
When dairy rationing ended, America celebrated the victory with ice cream. IDFA reported that in 1946 Americans consumed over 20 quarts of ice cream per person.
The Demise of the Ice Cream Parlors and Soda Fountains
In the years that followed, ice cream was sold prepackaged in supermarkets. This caused a loss of interest in ice cream parlors and soda fountains which began to disappear. Now specialty ice cream stores selling unique ice cream creations are becoming hugely popular. These gourmet ice cream parlors are attracting those who remember how much they enjoyed those happy days.
A Piece of Americana
That brings me back to those days when I was sitting on that burlap bag on top of the freezer to help hold it steady. While it was being cranked, I was impatiently waiting for it a chance to taste a delicious bowlful. That family gathering around the hand-cranked ice cream freezer is a true piece of Americana.