August 22nd, 2016

I Scream, You Scream…

Ice cream bookAugust seems like the perfect summer month to enjoy a sweet and cold treat like ice cream to combat the sweltering heat, but when did people first start eating this creamy dessert? Interestingly, the history of ice cream is filled with urban legends that can’t quite be proven, but each story contains at least a small bit of truth.

In the very beginning, the Romans and Persians would mix snow or chipped ice with mainly fruit or honey flavorings to create something like our water ices now. They would do this when the weather was hot and used the snow saved in Persian underground chambers known as ‘yakchal’ or taken from the snowfall that still remained at the top of the mountains.

Ice creamCream ice or ice cream seems to trace its origins back to China, although nobody can nail down the date. We do know that a frozen mixture of milk and rice was used in China around 200 BC and ice cream is mentioned being served at the Mogul court in the fourteenth century. Many believe that knowledge of ice cream could have spread overland along the Silk Road routes from China through the Middle East and into Italy, but the knowledge of how to freeze things by the combination of ice and salt was even more important.

Ice cream bookIce cream’s European debut was probably in Italy in the latter part of the seventeenth century. There are many stories surrounding the Italian duchess Catherina de’ Medici being credited with introducing ice cream to France when she married the Duke of Orleans. Ice cream and flavored ices were still the desserts for royalty and the rich up until the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth century, as access to an ice house and expensive ingredients such as sugar were needed. French-style ice cream is made with egg yolks, whereas the next step in the journey takes ice cream to the Americas where what we now know as Philadelphia-style ice cream is made with either no eggs or egg whites only.

Ice cream bookThe first known instance of ice cream being served in American occurred in Maryland in 1744, when Governor Thomas Bladen put it on his dessert table. It was May, and the frozen dessert astonished his guests. Thomas Jefferson himself helped to popularize ice cream in this country when he started having it served at the President’s House in Washington. One of only ten recipes surviving in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand is a vanilla ice cream recipe attributed to his French butler, Adrien Petit.


Ice cream bookThese days, ice cream is a beloved dessert in the US. The average American annually consumes about 22 pounds of ice cream and 10% of milk in the US goes towards making it. It’s been estimated that there have been over a 1,000 different ice cream flavors created, but the most popular flavors still tend to be chocolate and vanilla in polls…although some more creative flavors like cookies and cream and cookie dough also tend to lead the list.

No matter what flavor you choose, a cone or bowl of this cool treat will always be a sweet memory of summer.

What’s your favorite flavor?

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August 15th, 2016

Olympics History

rio-1512643_640Every two years, I get pumped for the Olympics. I put my American flag shirt on, put a viewing party together, and spend two weeks glued to the TV or my phone.

My favorite part is the opening ceremony, which always gives me goose bumps. It gets me to start wondering: what were the first Olympics like?

In 776 BC (over 2,700 years ago!), the Olympics were first created as a religious festival, in honor of Zeus, the king of the Gods. Just like the modern games, the ancient Olympic events happened every four years in at the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, a valley near the city of Elis. Olympia was named after Mt. Olympos, the highest mountain in mainland Greece, and where the great Greek gods and goddesses were to have resided, according to mythology. All city-states of Greece were to attend. The Olympics had a “sacred truce” where feuding was put on hold for a month to guarantee safe travel for the athletes.

The first Olympic Games wasn’t too exciting. It had only one event: a sprint. Throughout the centuries, more events began appearing at the Games, including long jump, discus, javelin throws, wrestling, boxing, and chariot racing. Winners were considered heroes of their city-states, similar to how we treat our Olympic winners. While they probably didn’t get a Nike contract, they were idolized by citizens, received free food and libations, and gained access to important parties and dinners.

Crowds up to 40,000 would flock to the Games in order to catch a glimpse of the athletes. These spectators consisted of only men and unmarried women; married women were not allowed to participate or watch. However, there was a separate, smaller event in honor of Hera, the wife of Zeus, where women could participate.

The Olympic Games lasted for nearly 12 centuries. During the mid-2nd century AD, the Roman Empire conquered Greece and while the games continued, they didn’t match up to the initial splendor of the first Olympic games. Eventually in 393 AD, Emperor Theodosis I, a Christian, banned all “pagan” festivals, including the Games.

For 1,503 years, there were no Olympic Games, until a Frenchman named Baron Pierre de Coubertin presented the idea in 1894. In 1896, the Games restarted again in Athens, with 14 countries participating. Now, over 13,000 athletes perform in the Olympic Games, with a new city acting as the host for the Games every two years.

If you want to learn more about the Olympics, be sure to check out what your local CCPL branch has to offer. There are books for kids of all age groups, such as “What are the Summer Olympics?”, “Ancient Greece and the Olympics”, and “G is for Gold Medal: an Olympic Alphabet”.

For adults, there’s the ever-popular “The Boys in the Boat”; “The Complete Book of the Olympics”; “Triumph: the untold story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics”. We also have the DVD “The Real Olympics: A history of the ancient & modern Olympic games” and a list of memoirs written by current and former Olympic athletes.

What’s your favorite Olympic sport, athlete, or anecdote?

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