The Story Behind Our Favourite Summer Dessert

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The Story Behind Our Favourite Summer Dessert

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Soft scoop, in a cone, with a flake or piled high in a lavish sundae! Ice cream has had its place in our life going back generations.

But it isn’t just the vast variety of flavours that provide food for thought these days, latest figures reveal the industry will be worth a staggering $97.3 billion by 2023.

Yet for many of us ice cream is a nostalgic trip down memory lane, it forms the basis of some of our fondest childhood memories – days at the seaside, fun-filled holidays with our parents and grandparents, a romantic teenage date to the local diner for dessert.

It has been eaten by American presidents and has become a staple in home freezers all over the world.

But where did it all begin?

While most of us might imagine the famous gelato is Italian in origin, it is, in fact, the Chinese in 200 BC who first realised that packing snow into a bowl of rice and milk made a tasty treat.  Then the explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324) returned from the Far East to Italy with a recipe that closely resembled what we now know as sorbet (sherbet) and experts believe that this then evolved into ice cream sometime in the 16th century.

Catherine de Medici introduced it to France when she married King Henry II in 1533 and it kept its royal patronage when it was first seen in Britain at Windsor Castle in 1671 served at a banquet for the Feast of St George.

King Charles II was such a fan that he employed a personal ice cream maker and swore him to secrecy about the recipe.   In fact, so determined was he to keep the rare dessert to himself, it was served exclusively for the royal table while the rest of the courtiers were left to look on longingly without so much as a spoonful.

Not to be outdone, the wealthy of the country cut ice from rivers and lakes on their estates and stored it in purpose-built ice houses where it was kept under straw and bark.  Then in the summer, they used it for making ice cream and their version of flavoured ice lollies.

Historians believe the first recipe for ice cream was published in 1718 and a custard-based ice cream developed in Paris, France around 1750 when the Café Procope started serving their combination of milk, cream, butter and eggs to the general public.

In America, the first advert for ice cream appeared in 1777 in the New York Gazette in which one shop owner revealed you could buy it from him every day.  

Early US presidents were known to love ice cream.  George Washington bought about $200 worth (about $3,000 today) in the summer of 1790.  Thomas Jefferson created his own recipe for vanilla ice cream and President Madison’s wife served strawberry flavour at her husband’s inaugural banquet.

Manufacturing was simplified in 1843 with the introduction of a machine that consisted of a wooden bucket that was filled with ice and salt and a rotating handle that churned the ingredients to produce a smooth textured ice cream.

Arshan Ali at Pexels

With the advent of mechanical refrigeration which allowed it to be transported and stored easily, ice cream became a mass-market product.

And with its success has come a constant demand for new, not necessarily wonderful, flavours.

In Tokyo’s Namja Town amusement park head to Ice Cream City where raw horseflesh, cow tongue, octopus and squid are among the flavours available to tourists or head to Ohio where Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams offers pickled mango or goats cheese and red cherries are on the menu and if that doesn’t appeal maybe head to New York City’s Il Laboratorio del Gelato for a taste of fig and fresh brown turkey.

Or stick to the good old British Cadbury’s chocolate flake – popular since the 1930s – in a scoop of soft creamy ice cream surrounded by a cone.

I know which one I prefer.

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