A Brief History of Ice Cream

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Frozen deserts are very popular in the United States. It has been estimated that about 90% of American households enjoy the indulgence in a frozen treat from time to time. The NPD Group has said that nearly 40% of all Americans will have ice cream in any two week period of time. The average person in the United Sates will have some ice cream about 28 times in the next 12 months. Given all of these facts, one has to wonder where it all started. What culture had the first ice cream cup?

Tales of people enjoying frozen treats date back to Biblical times. King Soloman enjoyed beverages that had ice in them during the yearly harvest. In Rome, the Emperor Nero would send people into the mountains to gather snow and bring it back to be flavored with juices and fruits.

When Marco Polo returned from Asia, he brought with him something that looked a lot like a recipe for sherbet. Some historians have estimated that this recipe went on to evolve into an ice cream sometime around the 1500s. England was working on the same thing and may have reached a similar product about the same time. They were not sharing notes so it is hard to say. Regardless of who got it first, Charles I served “cream ice” at his dinner tables all the time during his reign in the 1600s.

The general public got to sample ice cream for the first time in 1660 in Paris, France. A recipe that blended milk, cream, butter, eggs was put on the menu at Cafe Procope. It was probably an instant hit.

Ice cream seems to have been made for the American audience. A guest of Governor William Bladen of Maryland mentioned ice cream in a letter in 1744. In 1777, an ad appeared in New York where Philip Lenzi proclaimed that the treat would be available almost every day. The nation’s first president spent nearly $200 to have ice cream during the summer months in 1790. George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon was found to have at least two pewter pots for ice cream when the place was inventoried after his death.

Washington was not the only president to love the treat. Thomas Jefferson’s favorite desert was what is now called a “Baked Alaska.” Dolly Madison served strawberry ice cream at the White House to celebrate President Madison’s second inauguration.

Insulated ice houses made an appearance around 1800. This meant the treat that had only been really for the very wealthy could be enjoyed by the masses. Now the public could enjoy their very own ice cream cup. Ice cream manufacturing become a real industry soon afterwards.

Ice cream benefited from technical advances, which allowed it to be mass produced, stored and shipped. From only being served to the ultra elite, now at least 1.6 billion gallons of ice cream are produced every year in the United States. That is a lot of ice cream cups!

The end of the 19th century saw a lot of chance in the ice cream industry. The American soda fountain shop was created in 1874. Members of the religious community condemned eating ice cream sodas. They thought it was too rich to eat on Sunday and called the practice of doing so, “sinful.” The “Sunday” was invented as a result and was the ice cream without the soda addition. They later changed the name to “Sundae” as to not be connected with that holy day of the week.

During World War II, ice cream was a big moral booster for American troops. All military branches served it to their solders and in the western Pacific a ship was set aside to be a ice cream parlor in 1945. In 1946, the nation celebrated the end of Great War by eating 20 quarts of ice cream per person.

Americans love ice cream and it is not hard to understand why. For many adults, an ice cream cone is very symbolic of our childhoods. Most of us like going into ice cream shops and getting those plastic tasting spoons and trying a bunch of flavors before settling on one (or two or three) for our own ice cream cup. Ice cream is just about perfect.

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