Keeping Your Cool . . . with Ice Cream
- Thursday, August 18, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the latest installment of The Single Life, a monthly column written specifically for singles.
I don’t know what the current temperature is in your part of the world, but in my little corner of heaven it feels a whole lot like that other eternal destination. It’s so hot that—no lie—a coworker baked two batches of cookies by parking in a sunny spot and placing a pan of chocolate chip dough in the car window. (It was about 107 outside that day; each batch took about three hours to cook through. They were delicious.)
In other words, it’s August. So what better time to stop and celebrate something that helps keep us cool(er) and—in my case, at least—happier. My friends, I’m talking about ice cream.
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “Ice cream is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I believe Ben was actually referring to beer, but that was probably only because a certain little creamery in Brenham, Texas wasn’t around yet. Ice cream was, though. In fact, by the time the boys in Boston dumped all that tea in the harbor, ice cream had already been around for centuries.
Historians disagree on whether the frosty treat first appeared in China or Italy, but the origins of ice cream date at least as far back as the fourth century AD. The Roman Emperor Nero liked to send slaves to the mountains to fetch ice to be combined with fruit toppings. (Apparently all that fiddling was hot, hungry work.) That was probably more of a sorbet (a fancy name for “sherbet”) than an “iced cream,” but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Originally “iced cream” was so called because that’s exactly what it was—sweetened cream chilled in a bowl of ice. Then somebody decided to try stirring it occasionally, which broke up the ice crystals and made the whole thing creamier. The term "ice cream" shows up in 1744, in plenty of time for Dr. Franklin to have tried it.
He may well have, too; Americans began their love affair with ice cream early on. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson served it to their guests. Dolly Madison reportedly served it at the White House in 1812. Then in 1846, one Nancy Johnson (bless her) patented a hand-cranked freezer much like the basic models still used today. A few years later, Jacob Fussell of Baltimore established the first large-scale commercial ice cream plant and brought cold, creamy goodness to the masses.
In an odd twist of fate, Ben Franklin pops up again—his name, at least—in 1874, at a soda fountain booth at the Franklin Institute’s sesquicentennial celebration in Philadelphia. According to gastronomic legend, vendor Robert M. Green ran out of the cream he normally put in his soda concoctions and substituted ice cream instead. He was probably hoping nobody would notice the switch . . . but they did. According to one source, Green’s profits immediately shot up from six dollars a day to six Benjamins. Naturally, other vendors took note of the 100 percent profit increase and promptly followed suit. Soon ice cream sodas were all the rage.
This did not go over well with some parents. At the time “sodas” (Coca-Cola, for one) were sold as patent medicines rather than tasty beverages. Soda was, believe it or not, a controlled substance, strictly regulated by law and (in some places) illegal to buy on a Sunday. This, of course, led to an ice cream treat topped with flavored syrup—but no soda—called a “sundae” that could legally be enjoyed after church.
You’ve probably heard of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, which introduced us to the hamburger, hot dog, puffed rice, Dr. Pepper, cotton candy—it was a foodie’s paradise, that fair—and, legend has it, the ice cream cone. When an ice cream vendor ran out of cups, a neighbor rolled his hot waffles into cone shapes, the first guy stuffed the waffle with ice cream, and the angels sang. So the story goes, anyway, and who am I to argue? However it happened, it was a blessed event in my book.
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