I was coming back home some days ago and I passed in front of a school. It was the last day of classes for most of Italian students before summer holidays and many parents were taking their kids to the ice cream shop that stands right on the side of the school to celebrate.
It was then that I realized a thing: everyone loves ice cream.
Some people don’t eat vegetables, others don’t like milk… Many are vegetarians and there are people who, believe it or not, don’t eat chocolate…. However ice cream, in one flavor or another, is irresistible to everyone.
But after all what is the history of ice cream? Well, ice cream actually has very ancient, inexact origins and at the beginning it certainly didn’t resemble today’s ice cream.
Its most remote ancestor was born in China about 4000 years ago, when the Chinese used to prepare a mixture of well cooked rice, spices and milk, which was then left in the snow to solidify. Afterward they invented some sweets made of iced fruit juice, with or without milk, and these were sold at kiosks in Beijing already in the 13th century.
Mixtures of snow or ice, honey, fruits and spices were consumed also in ancient Greece, India and Persia. Nero, Roman emperor, used to eat ice brought from the mountains and covered with fruits.
According to some studies, the ice cream was introduced into Europe by Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). With the end of the Roman Empire Europe virtually abandoned its production; the ice cream was reintroduced by the Arabs in Sicily only centuries later. At the end of the 9th century the Arabs introduced also a new method to sweeten the ice by using sugar cane in the place of honey, resulting in a much lighter mix. By the way, the noun “ice cream” has Arab origin and derives from “xorbet”.
During the Middle Ages the production of ice cream breathed with the invention of new cooling methods and new products that aided in the cooling process.
Then the Venetian Marco Polo brought from China to Italy recipes of icy mixtures based on water or milk and fruits (i.e. the ice cream made of milk).
It is noteworthy that because of the difficulties and costs to preserve ice during the summer ice cream was eaten only by the rich.
The beginning of the spread of ice cream in Europe started in Florence in the 16th century. The Italian duchess Catherine de’ Medici performed a culinary contest which was won by Ruggeri, with a recipe of sorbet. His sorbet was much appreciated by the court and so Catherine decided to took Ruggeri with her to France, where she married Henry II in 1533. The invention of sorbet is credited to Ruggeri, and to Catherine de’ Medici, who became queen, is attributed its introduction into France. The recipe was then modified by another Italian, Bernardo Buontalenti, with the addition of eggs in its preparation. Some studies indicate that Buontalenti also invented a machine for the production of ice creams.
Catherine de’ Medici’s granddaughter married Charles I of England in 1630 and in her turn she introduced the ice cream into the English court. It is said that Charles I was so excited about the sorbet that he gave a lifetime pension to his ice cream maker in order to keep the formula as a secret. The idea was to keep these delights an exclusivity of the aristocracy, however cookbooks began to divulge secrets of their preparation already in the 17th century. In England the first ice cream recipe was published in 1718.
The perfect mixture to make the ice cream as we know it was created in 1686 by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli (considered the “father of the ice cream”), a Sicilian cook who lived in Paris. Procopio also improved a machine he inherited from his grandfather for the production of ice creams and in the same year he opened a café, the Café Le Procope. This is the oldest café in Paris and was frequented by famous artists and politicians, such as Robespierre, Voltaire and Victor Hugo. The café became a restaurant and it has been working until nowadays at Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 13.
- The Italian Giovanni Bosio introduced the ice cream into the United States in 1770, opening the first American ice cream parlor.
- In England the ice cream started to become popular in 1851, when a Swiss emigrant named Carlo Gatti established the first London’s ice cream stall.
- In 1851 the first factory of ice creams in the world was founded in Baltimore (USA).
- Ice cream soda (1879), sundae (1892), banana split (1904) and Popsicle (1905) were all invented in the United States.
Two machines for the manufacture of a type of wafer for ice creams were patented by two Italian entrepreneurs separately, one in 1902 in Manchester and the other one in 1903 by Marchiony in New York. Marchiony actually produced the first relative of the modern cone in 1896; its format was more like a glass than a cone but it was already used to serve ice creams.
The most popular myth regarding the creation of cones as we know them leads us to the World Exposition of Saint Louis in 1904, in the United States.
During that exhibition an ice cream seller named Arnold Fomachou finished the cardboard saucers used to serve ice creams and then he could no longer sell his product. There was a Syrian named Ernest A. Hamwi who was selling typical waffles of Syria (zalabia) by the side of his kiosk. Since Hamwi couldn’t sell them because of the heat, he offered to make wafer cones where the ice cream started to be distributed. It was a success!
A second version of the story includes Abe Doumar in the scene, who would have had the idea to roll Hamwi’s waffles in a cone shape and use them to serve the ice cream.
Hamwi was named by the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers as the official creator of the ice cream cone in the ’50s.
Ice cream became definitely popular around the world during the second half of the 20th century with low cost cooling; there was an explosion of ice cream shops, flavors and varieties.
Today ice cream in its different types is consumed in all continents and of course it is influenced by local cultures and extreme ice cream makers’ creativity. Imagine that in Japan you can find green tea, rice or octopus ice cream. In the United States, bacon and also cicadas with chocolate flavored. In Italy there are some exotic flavors like basil, rosemary and carrots. You can find bean flavored ice creams in China, noodle flavored in Venezuela and mushroom flavored in South Africa.
The list of “different” flavors is infinite. What about you? Have you ever tried one of these?
And yes, there are ice cream parlors in cold areas such as Siberia and Alaska, proving that ice cream is eaten throughout the year and everywhere.
Photo credit: Foter.com