Welcome to my World: The cold facts about ice cream

Carole Christman Koch

Reprint, First Rights in 2006 to Cappers

As summer heats up, many Americans are settling down to bowls of ice cream at home,or springing for a cone at the baseball park. But, we have to thank President Ronald Reagan, who, in 1984, designated July as Nat’l Ice Cream Month and July 15 as Nat’l Ice Cream Day.

Anyone who has wondered about the origins of this delicious treat may be surprised to learn that, even though ice cream was popularized in the United States---and even though Americans produce and consume more ice cream than any other people in the world---the product did not originate here. Ices evolved through many centuries and in many countries in Asia and Europe.

The first know record of water ices is from the rule of Nero Claudius Caesar (A.D. 54-68). Caesar sent swift runners to the Apennine Mountains to bring back snow that was flavored with honey, juices and fruit pulp.

Other early evidence of ice cream is found in China during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). The dish kumiss (milk heated, fermented, then packed in ice) was enjoyed immensely by the nobility. The Chinese became more adept in frozen dishes. During the Mongol Dynasty (A.D. 1216-1294), Kublai Khan enjoyed his juice with some fruit pulp, combined with snow or added to iced milk in his palace, while vendors sold a variety of iced desserts on the streets.

No one knows when the endothermic effect of using salt to make water cold first appeared in history. Egyptians are known to have evaporated water in shallow pits at night. And the endothermic idea is first documented by the Arab historian of medicine, Ibn Abu Usaybi’a (A.D. 1203-1270).

Some historians credit Marco Polo (1254-1324) as having brought back recipes for milk and fruit ices that became popular in Venice and throughout Italy. However, this is among a number of episodes in the history of ice cream considered by experts to be myths.

Water ices were mainly enjoyed by the elite of Italy, France and Spain (and known as eaux glasees) until 1660, when Francesco dei Coltelli Procopio, a Paris café owner, made ice cream available for the masses. He contrived a special churn for the manufacture of ices.

Although water ices were popular in Italy, Spain and France, ice cream recipes started to appear in 18th century English cookbooks. By the 18th century, ice cream appeared in countries throughout Europe.

The early American colonists brought with them the European taste for ice cream. In 1700, Maryland Governor Thomas Bladen was serving ice cream to his guests. President George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were fond of ice cream, too. Jefferson learned to make ice cream during his visits to France.

By the end of the 18th century, ice cream houses were created. Philadelphia was considered the “ice cream capital” because of the quantity of ice cream produced there. Ice creams were often called “Italian ice creams” because many shops were run by Italian immigrants.

Ice cream was an expensive dish available to only the privileged few until the early 19th century, when insulated icehouses were created. Blocks of river ice were stored in layers of sawdust, making it available all summer. Before this, ice cream was made in freezers by whipping the ingredients and shaking them in a pot of salt and ice. The first hand-cranked freezer was invented in 1846, by Nancy Johnson. That innovation helped the production of the tasty dessert treat immensely.

The introduction of soda fountains in 1825 (in Philadelphia by Frenchman Elias Durand), was another boost to the ice cream industry. The soda fountain, where ice cream and drinks were served, was a great place to socialize. Jacob Fussell, a Baltimore milk dealer, took advantage of the popularity of ice cream in 1851 by being the first to open a plant. Other entrepreneurs followed suit and, with refrigerated railway trucks in 1888 and other modernizations, ice cream was available almost everywhere in the United States.

By 1919, Americans were eating 150 million gallons of ice cream annually. Sales suffered during the Depression, but during World War II, ice cream was considered an essential food for the morale of troops. And once the war rationing on dairy products ended, Americans were consuming 20 quarts per person each year.

By the 1950s, soda fountains and parlors in drugstores became outdated when ice cream could be bought in supermarkets. Today, some 1.53 billion gallons of ice cream are produced each year in the United States. That would make one big bowlful!

I scream, you scream

We all scream for ice cream!

Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to raising children to humorous stories about her and her husband to everyday stories to season stories and more.