August 22nd, 2016
August 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.
Cream 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’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.
The 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.
These 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?