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July's heat is a good excuse to eat ice cream

July 05, 2011|By JEFF SEMLER | jsemler@umd.edu
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

July is National Ice Cream Month, or so I am told. Many people like me will invent reasons to eat ice cream, so if it isn't National Ice Cream Month, then it should be. Come on, this is the month the mercury flirts with 100, so why not eat ice cream.

I am sure in our hurried workday world, few people take the time to make their own ice cream anymore. I am also sure if you asked someone if they have an ice cream freezer, they would look puzzled and say no, but they have them in the grocery store.

So where did ice cream come from? Sit back and learn the story or lore, if you will. The Food Science Department of the University of Guelph shares the following story:

Once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, Charles I of England hosted a sumptuous state banquet for many of his friends and family. The meal, consisting of many delicacies of the day, had been simply superb but the "coup de grace" was yet to come. After much preparation, the king's French chef had concocted an apparently new dish. It was cold and resembled fresh-fallen snow, but was much creamier and sweeter than any other after-dinner dessert. The guests were delighted, as was Charles, who summoned the cook and asked him not to divulge the recipe for his frozen cream. The king wanted the delicacy to be served only at the royal table and offered the cook 500 pounds a year to keep it that way. Sometime later, however, poor Charles fell into disfavor with his people and was beheaded in 1649. But by that time, the secret of the frozen cream remained a secret no more. The cook, named DeMirco, had not kept his promise.

This story is just one of many of the fascinating tales that surround the evolution of our country's most popular dessert, ice cream. It is likely that ice cream was not invented, but rather came to be over years of similar efforts. Indeed, the Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar is said to have sent slaves to the mountains to bring snow and ice to cool and freeze the fruit drinks he was so fond of. Centuries later, the Italian Marco Polo returned from his famous journey to the Far East with a recipe for making water ices resembling modern day sherbets.

Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence to support any of these stories. They would appear to be purely the creation of imaginative 19th-century ice-cream makers and vendors. Indeed, we have found no mention of any of these stories before the 19th century.

In 1774, a caterer named Phillip Lenzi announced in a New York newspaper that he had just arrived from London and would be offering for sale various confections, including ice cream. Dolly Madison, wife of U.S. President James Madison, served ice cream at her husband's inaugural ball in 1813.

The first improvement in the manufacture of ice cream (from the handmade way in a large bowl) was given to us by a Philadelphia woman, Nancy Johnson, who in 1846 invented the hand-cranked freezer. This device is still familiar to a few. By turning the freezer handle, they agitated a container of ice cream mix in a bed of salt and ice until the mix was frozen.

Commercial production was begun in North America in Baltimore in 1851 by Jacob Fussell, now known as the father of the American ice cream industry.

In about 1926, the first commercially successful continuous process freezer was perfected. The continuous freezer, developed by Clarence Vogt, and later ones produced by other manufacturers, has allowed the ice cream industry to become a mass producer of its product.

Regardless of how ice cream came about or whether you make your own or not, enjoy ice cream during these warm summer days.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at jsemler@umd.edu.

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