The human spirit seems to turn to a universal desire as the temperatures get warmer, the days get longer, and the scent of sunscreen fills the air. You might say that dreams of ice cream are part of the season. Special spring and summer occasions just seem to require a trip to a local parlor for sundaes or to a roadside stand for cones. The last day of school, an after-school concert or soccer tournament, or a celebratory scout or club meeting all call for ice cream.
As a dessert, ice cream is a crowd pleaser that can be embellished into a spectacular dessert, or served unadorned as a simple palate cooler. Wellesley’s Pam Kubbins, who co-owned a catering business for six years, has a creation known as “Petits Vacherins” that she calls “a real showstopper.” This favorite sweet finale is built upon a meringue base. “It can be whatever you like,” she explains. “You don’t really have to make anything but the meringues.” The creative host or hostess tops the meringue with ice cream and garnishes with fruit, sauce or other embellishments. “I like it with a fresh raspberry sauce and hot fudge sauce,” admits Kubbins. “[The] recipe is easy and fun. The dessert features vanilla ice cream as the center of a variety of textures and flavors—crunchy meringue and rich hot fudge, off-set by the piquant taste of fresh berries.”
The ease of ice cream is also a major part of its appeal. With a three-year old and a five-year old, Mate Converse of Wellesley admits that she doesn’t cook as much as she used to, or as much as she would like. But she manages to find time to make her own hot fudge sauce. “We have really enjoyed [the] recipe, and have shared it with friends as a holiday treat over the years,” says Converse. “You can add cinnamon, peppermint extract, Grand Marnier, or other flavorings to the basic recipe.”
Of course, it’s only with the advent of 20th and 21st-century refrigeration that ice cream has become ubiquitous. No one knows exactly when in the history of civilization ice cream first made an appearance, but it would certainly have been an exotic luxury in warm weather. Some say the first ice cream originated as a soft milk and rice mixture, packed in snow in China around 2000 BC. Others say that a frozen treat from the time of Alexander the Great is the ancestor of the cool, sweet foods we love today.
King Solomon is described in Biblical references as having a fondness for iced drinks during harvesting. And Nero Claudius Caesar, the Roman emperor, used to send runners into the mountains to bring back snow. This was then sweetened and flavored with honey, fruits and juices. Marco Polo brought the recipe for a sweet resembling sherbet when he returned from a trip to the Far East, and it is this recipe that historians believe was the forerunner to ice cream.
When ice cream finally appeared, it was during the 16th century in Italy. When Catherine de Medici moved from Italy to France as the wife of King Henry II in 1553, she introduced similar frozen desserts to France. Ice cream, or “Cream Ice” as it was known, was also introduced to England at about the same time, particularly at the table of Charles I in the 17th century.
Finally, in 1670, the general public had an opportunity to enjoy ice cream when Café Procope in Paris put it on their menu. The first cookbook devoted entirely to ice cream, The Art of Making Frozen Desserts by M.Emy, appeared in Paris in 1768.
By that time, ice cream was being served in the New World as well. The first reference to it was in a letter, dated 1700, written by a guest of Governor William Bladen of Maryland. In the summer of 1790 George Washington is reputed to have spent a whopping $200 for ice cream. Thomas Jefferson’s favorite 18-step ice cream recipe is said to be similar to what we now know as Baked Alaska.
Around 1800, when insulated ice houses were invented, ice cream became more available. According to the history of Wellesley’s Morses Pond, a thriving ice-making business, The Russell Ice Company, was housed in an icehouse on the cove around 1888. The company, which later was purchased by the Boston Ice Company, expanded the size of the pond for ice harvesting by starting the work on the present-day Morses Pond Dam. Located at the small pond which today is on the left at the end of Turner Road, it boasted an enviable location alongside the railroad tracks. Harvested ice was cut in four-foot blocks and packed in sawdust in the ice-house. From there it could be loaded onto trains at the railroad spur and transported to make ice cream in Boston or to cool rum punches in the Caribbean.
One of the widely-believed ice cream legends is not true. Rumor had it that the ice cream cone debuted in 1904 at the St. Louis World Fair when a waffle vendor shaped waffles into cones for an ice cream vendor at an adjoining booth. However, the ice cream cone was actually patented by its inventor, Italo Marchiony of New York City, in December of 1903, predating the World Fair.
Another tidbit of ice cream-related trivia involves “jimmies.” Many people believe the urban legend that jimmies, or chocolate sprinkles, got their name because the extra 10 cents charged by ice cream parlors was donated to the Jimmy Fund. While there may have been charitable tie-ins throughout the years, the confections, created in 1930, were actually named after James Bartholomew who ran the machine making the little candies at the Just Born Candy Company in Brooklyn, New York. Samuel Born, proprietor of the company, is also credited with inventing the lollipop machine.
The hand-operated ice cream freezer was invented in 1845. By 1851 the ice cream industry in America was thriving, and in 1899 five million gallons of ice cream were produced in the United States.
Today that annual total has risen to more than 1.5 billion gallons. In fact, people in the ice cream industry think the expression “American as apple pie” should be changed to “American as apple pie à la mode”!
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