When was ice cream in­vented?


Special to the Whig

Dear Li­brar­ian: I see that Na­tional Ice Cream Day is Sun­day, July 17th this year. How long has ice cream been around?

Dear Reader: July 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 by us­ing snow saved in Per­sian un­der­ground cham­bers known as “yakchal” or snow 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 B.C. and ice cream is men­tioned be­ing served at the Mogul court in the 14th 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 mid18th and 19th cen­turies, as ac­cess to an ice house and ex­pen­sive in­gre­di­ents such as su­gar was 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 Philadel­phi­astyle 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 10 recipes sur­viv­ing in Thomas Jef­fer­son’s own hand is a vanilla ice cream recipe at­trib­uted to his French but­ler, Adrien Petit.

On July 9, 1984, Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan pro­claimed July as Na­tional Ice Cream Month and es­tab­lished Na­tional Ice Cream Day as the third Sun­day in the month of July.

These days, ice cream is a beloved dessert in the US. The av­er­age Amer­i­can an­nu­ally con­sumes about 22 pounds of ice cream and 10 per­cent of milk in the U.S. goes to­wards mak­ing it. It’s been es­ti­mated that there have been over a 1000 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.

Last Week’s Trivia Ques­tion: What in­no­va­tion made the Ma­son jar, in­vented by John L. Ma­son in 1858, dif­fer­ent from other jars? An­swer: A tin smith by trade, he in­vented a ma­chine that could cut threads into lids, which made it prac­ti­cal to man­u­fac­ture a jar with a re­us­able, screw-on lid.

This Week’s Trivia Ques­tion: When was the waf­fle cone in­vented?

Com­ing Events: Ac­tion Artists! Wed­nes­day, July 20 at 1:30pm. Ex­plore how art and ac­tion work to­gether while de­sign­ing mas­ter­pieces with the Delaware Art Mu­seum! Ages 7-11; reg­is­tra­tion re­quired – call (410) 996-5600 x482.

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