The Origins and History of Ice Cream
Ice cream conjures up images of summer days and childhood for most of us. We think about melting ice cream running over our hands, down our chins and reminding us of those holidays at the beach, maybe even donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows. Ice cream has a long history and its beginnings are not perhaps what we expect.
The original use of the phrase ice cream did not refer to the creamy concoction we know and love today.
Possibly the earliest reference is connected to the 4th century BC emperor of Rome, Nero. He is reported to have ordered ice to be brought from the mountains. This was combined with fruit toppings to make his take on 'ice cream'.
A version of ice cream that is closer to what we know today is credited to the Chinese and specifically to Emperor Tang (AD 618-97). He is said to have made 'ices' from milk and ice. It is also thought that the explorer, Marco Polo (1254-1324) was the first to bring this idea back with him from his travels to China, although there is no hard evidence to support this and it has been called a myth.
Over the years these 'ices' evolved into a variety of sorbets and milk ices that were especially popular in France and Italy. It was also the Italians who were credited with the first European version of ice cream made with milk. These deserts were especially popular at royal courts. In 1672, the English king, Charles II, is said to have had this luxurious desert served at one of his banquets. It was served to the royal table alone which tells much about the exclusivity and price of such a desert at the time.
The first recorded recipe for ice cream in England is in Mrs. Mary Eales Receipts (1718) and the 1700's appear to have been a busy time in the history of ice cream because Governor Bladen of Maryland, U.S.A. is said to have served ice cream to his guests in that year. In fact, the American people took to the import of this desert with enthusiasm. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were also recorded as having served ice cream to their guests.
In 1776, the first ice cream parlor was opened in New York City. It is actually American colonists who are credited with coining the phrase 'ice cream', a contraction of 'Iced cream'. It was likely that Italian immigrants were responsible for spreading their love of ice cream (and their undoubted expertise in creamy ice cream) to Britain.
Over time there were numerous innovations in how ice cream was made and served. Nancy Johnson invented the hand-cranked freezer (1846) and this is still the usual method of creating ice cream today (although mechanized). 1851 saw Jacob Russell open the first commercial ice cream plant and Alfred Cralle invented the ice cream scoop in 1897.
Today ice cream is readily available and eagerly consumed across the globe. An interesting note is that the United States is the largest consumer of ice cream in the world (around 23 liters per person) but, perhaps surprisingly, it is Australia and New Zealand who come a close second (between 18-20 liters per person).
Interesting resources for historical fact about the history of ice cream can be found here and here.