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History of Ice Cream

How to Make Ice Cream at Home, Ice Cream Makers Past and Present

Ice cream is one of the most popular desserts around the world. Ice cream is food to be eaten in the street or at home sauced with whatever the imagination will allow. Some say the Chinese invented ice cream, but this may or may not be true.
History of Ice Cream

History does seem to support the fact that the Chinese, during the T'ang Dynasty, made desserts of snow or crushed ice with milk and rice added.  It was said to be a favorite of the emperor who employed no less than 94 men to continually find snow or make crushed ice so he could have his dessert whenever he wished.

However, slushy-type desserts are fairly common to the histories of many cultures in the world, especially those of colder climes. Eskimos (or Esquimaux, if you want to get picky) in Alaska and Inuit Indians in Northern Canada routinely added whale grease and blueberries to make a type of snow slushy. According to an article in the Toronto Times (Canada) the first real ice cream was actually invented by a Spanish doctor who used a bowl within a bowl, one which was filled with the cream mixture and placed in a larger bowl containing ice and Salt Petre. I am not sure where they got that as I haven't come across it in my research, but I will take their word for it. With a grain of rock salt, that is. But then they also claim that the Arabic word "sharab" is believed to be the root word of "Sorbetto" in Italian and Sorbet in English. True enough, the Arabs invaded Sicily where Mt. Etna provided a little ice and the sorbetto was quite popular. (See our article Sicilian food and cooking.)

With some foods there are definite records and dates available, but ice cream seems to be the logical step from flavored snow or ices so that today we have creamy concoctions of all flavors. Unfortunately, many commercial concoctions that call themselves ice cream are not really ice cream at all. First, let's get it straight about the name. It was originally called "Iced Cream" because that's exactly what it was. Flavored cream was chilled to heavy viscosity by agitation in a bed of salted ice. Over the years, the "d" was dropped from "iced" and it became ice cream.

From my research, it seems that the two cultures who did the most to develop the creamy concoction so many of us love today were the Italian and the French. While there are records of the Chinese (they who develop everything) having flavored ice and snow, there are no early records of them having ice cream as we know it. Considering the absence of dairy products in Chinese cuisine, and the fact that many Chinese are lactose-intolerant, it is doubtful that they went beyond snow.

However, in the 1700s the French hit upon the idea of freezing custards and recipes for ice cream began to appear in French cookbooks. Somewhere around this same time, the Italians were making ice cream in pretty much the same way we make it today.

History of Ice Cream in America

Ice cream arrived in America during the 1700's. The first evidence that ice cream had reached America comes In a letter written in 1700 by a guest of Maryland's Governor Bladen is the comment, "we had a dessert no less Curious; among the Rareties of which it was Compos'd, was some fine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most Deliciously." George Washington himself brought pewter pot freezers to the United States -useful souvenirs of a trip to France. Thomas Jefferson, the great gourmet president had an icehouse that stored vast quantities of ice, as well as enough servants to laboriously turn and turn and turn the ice canisters used for the ice cream. He didn't have enough vanilla for the taste he preferred but ordered them later from France.  With a local river supplying him with ice, he was able to have ice cream all year long. 

It was two freed slaves working for Dolly Madison, whose culinary interests are well known,who continued the elite use of ice cream.  Sallie Shadd, who ran a catering business, used strawberries from the garden to create a strawberry ice cream. But it was a chef in the White House, Augustus Jackson, who shaped the ice cream into elegant molds that were served on a silver tray.  Ice cream was an elite dessert, available to the wealthy.

The Sage of Concord, none other than Ralph Waldo Emerson, observed the value of ice cream. "We dare not trust our wit for making our house pleasant to our friend," he observed, "and so we buy ice cream."

The industrial age made ice cream available everywhere to everyone. Making ice was a business of its own, one that provided ice for ice boxes, that primitive refrigerator. It was the air inject freezer, however which brought ice cream into the world of commerce. This freezer is able to inject as much as 60% air into the mixture of ice cream.  Aptly, it was  in Philadelphia where a woman, Nancy Johnson, who came up with a design for a 'machine' with a crank that produced a smooth, creamy ice cream.  This was a hand cranked machine, however, and a tedious job for the lover of ice cream, but it did make it possible for the average person to enjoy this cool dessert.  As an industry, ice cream began when a Baltimore milk dealer, Jacob Fussell, found himself with a glut of milk and cream.  to rid himself of excess, he made ice cream, selling it at low prices that made it available to a larger market.  Fussell was in business and that business stretched from Baltimore to Wachington, then New York, even as far north as Boston. 

Once established, there was no stopping the rage for ice cream. The eskimo Pie appeared in 1921 and the Good Humor followed rapidly in 1923. In that same year, ann ingenious gent named, Hood, invented a tub-shaped paper cup for serving ice cream. This revolutionary cup was first presented at the National Ice Cream Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. It ultimately found the name Dixie Cup and is still sold, now coated with wax and accompanied by a small plastic spoon. Thee was no rest for innovative ice cream makers and soon that lovely sherbet on a stick appeared, that which is called a Popsicle. This was followed by the invention of a machine that could make soft ice cream to be dispensed in a swirl right on the spot. This became Carvel.

With such enthusiasm and such ingenuity being applied to ice cream it was inevitable that the commercial enterprises would want to lure customers with the promise of variety. At a soda fountain in Boston, an entrepreneur named Howard Johnson promised "28 Flavors" to his customers and an empire was born. Not to be outdone, two gentlemen, one Mr. Basking, the other Mr. Robbins went beyond Johnson and promised 31 flavors.

The Ice Cream Cone

An enterprising Italian fellow named Marchiony made and sold ice cream from a push cart in New York City during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In order to make it convenient for his customers to eat, he served it in a cup shaped waffle, which he also made. Although he generally doesn't get credit for it, he probably should be noted as being the first to use a cone for ice cream. Probably the reason he doesn't is because in 1903 he patented his idea as a waffle "cup" with a handle and sloping sides.

The story generally told is that at the 1904 world's fair there was an ice cream vendor, named Charles Menches, selling ice cream in glass or ceramic cups and in the concession booth next to him was an acquaintance of his, Ernest Hawmi, selling a type of middle eastern waffle called Zalabia. Zalabia is a crisp, water-based waffle usually served with syrup. When the ice cream vendor ran out of clean cups and couldn't hand-wash them fast enough to keep up with customer demand, he was in a panic; but the waffle maker had a better idea. He rolled his waffles into a cornucopia shape, worked out a business deal with the ice cream vendor, and the first actual ice cream cones came into being.

The Ice Cream Sundae

It was called a Sunday, a Sundi, a Sundae and the dispute rages as to where it was first created.  Evidence points to Ithaca, New York where the students at Cornell University latched on to a dish of ice cream with a cherry on top and cherry syrup poured over all.  This is disputed by  folks from Virginia to Wisconsin and back to upstate New York, this time Buffalo.  Each disputed city offers a different reason for the creation being called a Sunday, though that day of the week always comes into play.  Some say the first Sunday was created with chocolate syrup.  Wherever the first Sunday was created, it was off and running, traveling across the country like wildfire, developing its own variations as it went.  The banana split, an invention of waist-expanding possibilities with a split banana and not one, but three scoops of ice cream and three different syrups was the result of this rage.  And serves as an example of the deeply-held American belief that more is better.
What Makes Good Ice Cream? An Experiment in Taste

When it comes to my personal tastes in ice cream, I must confess I am a bit of a snob. In my opinion, if it doesn't contain real cream, it is not ice cream. Unfortunately, those wise souls who make the laws concerning our foods (you know, the same ones who declared Ketchup a vegetable!) allow manufacturers of so-called "ice cream" to create concoctions which contain guar gum, locust gum, carageenan and skim milk or milk solids (read that powdered milk) to call their product "ice cream!" The various "gums" fool the palate by making a product, that would otherwise be watery and full of icy lumps, freeze into a smooth concoction with the consistency of real ice cream. But that's the only similarity to real ice cream they have.

Try this experiment some time: buy one of the cheaper commercial brands of ice cream filled with the lovely gum concoctions and at the same time buy a quality ice cream. One thing to look for on the package is cream . . . if it is a premium grade ice cream then "cream" will be the very first ingredient. If it is a bit of a lesser grade ice cream then "cream" will be listed as the second ingredient with milk as the first one. If cream is not the first or second ingredient, do not waste your time with it. Ditto if it contains cream along with gum and/or Carageenan.

Now, take two bowls and in one put a scoop of the gum based ice cream and in the other put a scoop of quality ice cream. Place them aside and go watch tv or play chess or otherwise pass the time for about 20 minutes to half an hour. When you go back, you will find that the bowl containing the premium ice cream has melted into a rather rich, smooth liquid with little or no foam. However, the cheap ice cream bowl will contain a sickly looking liquid accompanied by a layer of foam on top. Why the foam? Well, in order to keep the ice cream cheap for consumers to buy and to make the volume of the "ice cream" expand (thereby filling a gallon container with less product than it would take to fill with a premium product) they whip air into it as it freezes, thus, when it melts, the escaping air forms a foam on top.

How to Make Ice Cream at Home

Actually, ice cream making at home and the home ice cream machine hasn't changed much since Nancy Jones invented it in 1843, except for the addition of an electric motor to turn the paddle.
Old-fashioned ice cream makers

I cannot speak for anywhere else, but in the southern United States children are expected to behave in a particular way, that is to say quietly, mannerly, and respectfully; or at least it was that way when I was coming up. And there were certain duties that we always had at various times in various situations. One of the functions that us kids got to "enjoy" was turning the crank on the old bucket-type hand-cranked ice cream maker. Today not much ice cream is made at home and if it is, it is done with an electric freezer. Not so in my day. It was a chore that we both loved and dreaded. We loved it because of the goodness that was created as the end product of our labors, but we hated it because it was boring, exhausting, and sometimes downright painful.

First the canister, set in the center of the ice cream maker bucket, was filled a bit more than three-quarters full of a cream, egg, sugar and flavoring mixture. A double winged paddle was inserted into this bucket and this was fitted with a special lid which had a small hole in it just big enough to let the paddle armature extend through to engage a set of wheel gears above it. These wheel gears were moved by the action of a drive shaft which was a direct part of the crank we were to turn.

Once the canister was in place, the layering and packing of the ice began. First was a moderate layer of cracked ice which was covered by a layer of rock salt. Then a second layer of ice and another layer of rock salt. This layering action was repeated over and over until the layers of ice and salt reached to the top of the bucket and completely surrounded the metal canister containing the ice cream mixture. The salt would cause the ice to continually melt and refreeze which dropped the temperature inside the canister to freezing levels. As we turned the crank, the paddle inside the canister rotated which kept the ice cream mixture swirling and moving in the canister. It also kept the ingredients well mixed. In most models, the canister also rotated as the crank was turned. The action of the paddle turning in the mixture kept large ice crystals from forming during the freezing process and the end result would be a smooth, creamy textured ice cream.

Now, to a kid, the cranking part started out easily enough, but as you cranked and cranked, boredom began to set in and your arms, shoulders and back began to protest in the only way they had . . . pain! But, the fun was just beginning. As the mixture in the canister swirled it also began to freeze, and it grew in density. As it got thicker, it got stiff and became harder and harder to crank. I have seen many a kid (including myself) sweating and groaning and nearly in tears with the effort of turning that infernal crank. And we dare not stop! We could complain all we wanted, but to stop would usually mean a swat on the butt or being humiliated by being told we were "sissies" or "cry-babies" or, even worse, we would be threatened with not getting any of the precious ice cream once it was done. That alone was usually enough to drive a kid to crank until his intestines were about to pop out his belly-button.

Finally, blessed relief, the mixture would eventually become impossible for a kid to crank and some male adult would take over and crank until the whole process bogged down from the sheer weight and density of the now formed ice cream. But--agony of agonies--the ice cream was still not yet ready to eat. The ice cream now had to be ripened! I have seen kids, after seeming hours (actually about 35 to 45 minutes!) of torturous cranking and nearly bleeding at the ears from the effort, totally collapse in defeat and despair when they learned that a couple of hours of aging was necessary before they could enjoy the fruit of their torturous labors!

To "ripen" the ice cream, the container was removed from the salty ice and the ice discarded. The lid was removed, and the ice cream packed down with a wooden paddle or large spoon, smoothed over and a piece of waxed or parchment paper placed on top. The lid was then replaced and it was ready to be re-iced. Meantime, the process of layering fresh ice and salt was repeated. The canister was placed in the bucket on top of the first layer of ice, and more fresh ice and a little rock salt added and packed around and over the top of the canister. Then this whole thing was placed under a shade tree, covered with newspapers and a blanket and left for about an hour, sometimes two. The end result would be a firm, creamy dessert that was a bit of heaven on earth.

Still, I have to admit, I wax a bit nostalgic when I think back on summertime ice cream making in Kentucky. It was fun to share the work and the day with young friends and cousins. The anticipation of the finished product was nearly as pleasant as the actual eating of it. And, it was one of the few times in my young life that I was allowed to indulge in this lovely sweet until I could eat no more. All us guys used to lie around, painfully stuffed, but basking in the afterglow of our ice cream orgy. We were so mellow we even tolerated having the girls join us in the shade of a big ole tree. Almost always there was an old dog, usually a hound, at one of these functions and he always left stuffed, too, at the end of the day.

Fresh from the field iced watermelon was always a hit at summer get together's but it got short shrift during the times we made ice cream. When fresh ice cream was available as a treat, watermelon need not bother to apply.

Modern Ice Cream Makers - the Ice Cream Machine

Today, when I make ice cream, the icing and basic process remain unchanged but now when I get ready to age it, I pack it and smooth it then pop it into the freezer for a couple of hours!

And while I was making the lovely stuff, I smiled and was filled with joy at the hum of the electric motor because I didn't have to crank the blasted thing!

Why should we make ice cream at home, why invest money in an ice cream maker, yet another electric machine? The answer to that is simple - quality control. When making ice cream in your machine at home, you use the freshest of ingredients, put in no additives, and enjoy the result immediately. There is no substitute. For ease and simplicity, get an ice cream maker. It is a wonderful machine.
Ice Cream Molds

All varieties of molded desserts were popular with the Victorians. Ice cream molds are great collectibles today. Many were made of pewter, but there were some richer copper molds. There were an infinite number of designs for the molds, from abstract petal shaped, crown designs, swans, lobster, flowers and shells. At a London store run by Agnes Marshall there were more than two thousand different shapes and sizes. Many were used for purposes other than ice cream. Marshall was also a teacher and cookbook author and her books, The Book of Ices and Fancy Ices were also sold in her London store.
How to make ice cream at home- with valuable ice cream making tips:

1. Use only fresh cream, milk and eggs.

2. There are two types of ice cream mixtures, basic ice cream and custard ice cream. Basic consists of cream, milk, sugar and flavoring. No eggs, and it is not cooked. The custard base consists of cream, milk, egg yolks, sugar and flavoring and it is cooked until it coats a spoon.

3. Avoid metal spoons, sieves and bowls when using highly acidic fruits such as raspberries. Metal will discolor the fruit and spoil the taste.  We've never seen a metallic ice cream recipe .

4. No matter which type of mixture (cooked or uncooked) always be sure to have it cold when you put it in the ice cream maker. It will freeze quicker and you will need less ice and salt.

5. Make sure the drain hole in the ice bucket is not plugged and can drain freely. This prevents the salt-water of the melted ice mixture from overflowing into your ice cream mixture.

6. When ripening the ice cream, always discard the old ice and salt and re-pack with fresh ice and salt.

7. Always take time to ripen the ice cream. It is usually still too soft when the processing is done. Ripening helps set the ice cream to the desired consistency and it allows all the flavors to permeate the product.

8. Confectioner's sugar is a handy for instantly adjusting the sweetness of your mix. Lemon juice does the same job if you need to adjust the ice cream's acidity.

9. Always use rock salt because it has the best freezing properties.

10. Always let someone you love lick the paddle after the process is done (be sure you leave a bit of ice cream on for the lucky one).

11. Remember that flavors are more pronounced at high temperatures, less strong at chilly ice cream temperatures. If you taste something in its warm state, it should be almost too sweet or too strong, too full of chocolate o  (if that's possible).  They will be less strong when chilled.

One final word:

Good ice cream depends on the balance of ice crystals, concentrated cream and air. Follow the recipe, and treat yourself to an ice cream machine. It makes light work of making our favorite dessert.

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