Ice Cream (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
ICE CREAM. Ice cream, or iced cream as it was originally called, was once narrowly defined as a luxury dessert made of cream, sugar, and sometimes fruit congealed over ice. The techniques for making water ices and sorbets probably led to experimentation with cream and milk in Italy during the Renaissance although no recipes survive. On the other hand, there is clear literary evidence that this experimentation underwent considerable refinement in France during the seventeenth century, and that it was the French court of Louis XIV that first served ice creams at banquets. The use of snow and ice to cool wines was known to the Romans, and sorbets were well known to the Persians and Byzantine Greeks. It does not take a large leap in technology to go from sorbets to frozen creams, yet it was the use of sweet cream from cow's milk that originally made true ice cream possible. In fact, it is the rich milk from certain breeds of cattle that further defines the texture and flavor of this product.
The original technique for making ice cream was relatively simple, although it was predicated on a good supply of ice or well-packed snow. A large pewter basin was filled with coarsely broken ice, over which the confectioner scattered salt. Salt lowers the melting temperature of the ice and thus induces evaporation. Another smaller pewter basin was set into the salted ice. This basin contained the cream, sugar (usually in the form of syrup), and flavoringemon being by far the most popular ice cream flavor until the 1850s. The small basin was then turned by hand and the cream mixture stirred gently until it congealed due to the cooling action of evaporation. Otherwise, it was still-frozen, then beaten once firm. This method is found in numerous recipes surviving from the latter half of the sixteenth century, as well as in quite a few eighteenth-century printed cookbooks, including the Receipts of Mary Eales and Hannah Glasse's Compleat Confectioner.
The cookbook of Mary Eales, which appeared in 1718, is considered the first to feature an ice cream recipe printed in English, and it varies in technique from the basin method just described. Eales placed her cream in pails in an ice chest and still-froze them, a method developed by professional French confectioners and similar in shape to the crank-turned freezers of the nineteenth century. The appearance of ice cream in domestic cookbooks of the period may be taken as evidence that ice cream had moved from strictly palace fare of earlier times to the tables of the literate well-to-do. This is confirmed in America by a 1744 reference to ice cream on the dessert table of Governor Blandon of Maryland thing to be marveled at and noted diligently in a dinner guest's diary. The governor's ice cream was served with fresh strawberries, a foreshadowing of the ubiquitous strawberry and ice cream festivals that today have become such an integral part of the American cultural scene. As for Governor Blandon, it goes without saying that many wealthy colonial Americans owned icehouses, which made such luxuries possible.
Implicit in the operation of making ice cream was the use of metal that transfers the cold temperature of the ice as quickly as possible to the cream. Pewter was the preferred metal of most ice cream makers down to the end of the nineteenth century, when it was replaced by other alloys. The reasons for replacing pewter were several: it pitted easily and it was soft. Complex molds made of pewter would eventually warp or bend, especially around the area of the hinges, which would lead to leaks and imperfectly shaped molded ices. Most important, pewter reacted chemically with acids in ice creams, thus forming toxic lead salts. This realization did not occur to confectioners until the chemistry of food became better understood; thus, it is highly probable that toxins in ice cream contributed to some of the maladies suffered by consumers in the past. This was certainly the case prior to pasteurization because freezing cream or milk does not kill microbes or prevent enzyme breakdown. However, none of these modern concerns affected the historical popularity of ice cream in Europe or America. It would probably be more accurate to say that ice cream became such a rage that its negative effects on the body were rarely mentioned even in medical literature. The loudest critics of ice cream bemoaned the costliness, for ice cream was indeed an expensive indulgence until the invention of the commercial ice cream maker in the late 1840s.
If French confectioners brought ice cream to the attention of the world by serving it at the French court, these same confectioners also codified the art of making ice cream so that, by the middle of the eighteenth century, numerous books could be consulted on ice cream making from A to Z. While the basin method was generally a technique employed in household confectionery, professionals made ice creams in ice chests and experimented with various substances to enhance freezing, including alum and saltpeter. The French also coined the term fromage glacé for true iced cream and introduced such unusual flavorings as cinnamon, chocolate, bergamot, and orange flower petals. The French in addition developed the concept of serving ice cream in tiny glasses, normally arranged on glass salvers. These standing displays, sometimes stacked very high, are depicted in quite a few confectionery books and necessitated the invention of tiny pointed spoons for eating the creams.
As ice creams became more fashionable, the formulas for making them also became more and more complex. This was especially true for ice creams that were molded because they required a firmer body than the old hand-whipped sorts. Cutting cream with milk and the addition of eggs, all of which was gently cooked until thick, became one of the signature methods used by French confectioners. Modern American ice cream producers generally call such cooked egg-thickened ice creams "French," as in French vanilla ice cream, although in the nineteenth century Sarah Rorer in Philadelphia and Agnes Marshall in London categorized them emphatically as Neapolitan. In fact, cooking the milk or cream was practiced by more than just French confectioners, and in America at least it was associated primarily with Italians. Neapolitan ice cream was also a specific flavor combination: three distinct layers, one green (pistachio), one white (vanilla), and one orange (orange flavor) in imitation when sliced of the Italian national flag.
The Popularity of Ice Cream
The French Revolution did much to spread the popularity of ice cream, especially in England and America, where refugee confectioners set up business. Some of the most active French confectioners settled in New York and Philadelphia, and their advertisements for ice creams are common in American newspapers from the 1790s into the 1820s. It was also during this period that ice cream gardens developed. They featured a confectionery shop where a variety of sweet foods were prepared, where wines and lemonades were served, and even elaborately planted flower gardens and, on occasion, musical entertainment. Since the best cream was seasonalay and June being the optimal monthshe ice cream gardens also offered cooked food to such an extent that many of them resembled outdoor restaurants. The cookery, however, was light, and for the most part appealed to women and children, since they could not enter oyster houses or taverns unless accompanied by a male. Ice cream gardens became safe havens where even teenage girls could socialize (or flirt) with budding admirers. Furthermore, ice cream gardens were off-limits to African Americans; thus in cities like Philadelphia, a number of black cooks established their own counterparts. Once commercial ice cream became less expensive, the ice cream garden was replicated by churches as a fundraising event under the name of an ice cream social.
The most famous ice cream in nineteenth-century America came from Philadelphia owing to the proximity of fine dairies, rich pasturage on which to feed the cows, and no small amount of local ingenuity. While several French confectioners established a penchant for rich ice creams during the 1790s, especially the demand for finely molded fromages glacés at supper parties and balls, it was the Parkinson family who put Philadelphia ice cream on the map.George Parkinson and his wife Eleanor created a confectionery business that made Philadelphia vanilla ice
The Impact of the Crank-Turned Ice Cream Machine
Seaman was a New Jersey Quaker who invented a crank-turned ice cream machine, which he patented in 1848. His invention was first tested in the ice cream saloon of Mrs. E. A. Harbach, a Philadelphia confectioner also famous for her candies. Until the invention of Seaman's device, ice cream had to be made in small batches by
Sarah Tyson Rorer of Philadelphia was a champion of such ice cream pamphleteering, primarily in her role of product endorsement. Rorer's New England counterpart was Mary J. Lincoln of the Boston Cooking School, whose magazines are today a gold mine of period ice cream recipes and illustrations, especially of the odd ways in which the creams were styled for presentation. One wonders whether her ice cream in the shape of a beef tongue realistically colored would have appealed to all sensibilities. On the other side of the Atlantic, Agnes B. Marshall of London not only offered her own patented ice cream freezer, a rich selection of elaborate ice cream molds, but also Marshall's patent ice cave for transporting ice creams to picnics, and two technical books on the subject: The Book of Ices (1894) and Fancy Ices (1922). Her domination of the late Victorian world of ice cream outshines the likes of either Rorer or Lincoln, and her cookery books are now considered classics of their genre. While Marshall is now part of history, her popularization of iced soufflés and especially of iced puddings has been long-lasting, especially in British cookery.
The future of ice cream, however, was not prophesized in the books of Marshall, but by Rorer. She broke down ice creams into these pragmatic categories: Philadelphia ice cream (using cream only), Neapolitan ice creams (frozen custards employing eggs), and ice creams from condensed milk or a product called evaporated cream. She also included in her 1913 cookbook a recipe for an "Alaska Bake" that was ice cream baked under a thick coating of meringue. In the last two examples, she was somewhat forward-looking in that baked Alaska became popular by the 1920s, and the shift away from natural ingredients to all sorts of artificial additives was already beginning to overtake commercial ice cream production in the early 1900s.
The first step in this evolution was the introduction of condensed milk by Gail Borden in 1856. Commercial thickeners appeared during the 1870s in the form of powders, such as powdered egg yolks, then various gelatin products, both animal-and plant-based. Finally, in 1899 the French introduced homogenizers that largely served as cream substitutes. This led to ice cream powders.
Espoused Health Benefits
Home ice cream making was always fraught with uncertainties, especially the achievement of good texture. Ice cream powder was introduced as a fail-safe remedy with health benefits thrown in for good measure. As one 1908 Jell-O cookbook claimed, "the healthfulness of good ice cream is beyond question. In many cases of illness the patients crave ice cream, and doctors and nurses tell us that it is usually good for them." This reasoning harks back to the Italian sorbets of the eighteenth century, which were often administered to patients suffering from high temperature. But those ices were primarily water
The health slant was doubtless an attempt to adjust to the Pure Foods Act of 1906 because this same point is echoed across the board in most confectionery advertising of the period. After the United States acquired Cuba, the per capita consumption of sugar soared. Sugar began to permeate all aspects of the American diet, and this trend has not stopped. Yet, as an antidote to demon rum, the fountains of sugar at the ice cream parlor ("parlor" denotes respectability) or local drugstore became the morally correct culinary altar for Methodists, Baptists, and other dry denominations. It was in that blue law milieu that the ice cream sundae was born at Two Rivers, Michigan, in 1881. The sundae transformed plain ice cream into a rapture of chocolate syrup, chopped nuts, and candy tidbits known as nonpareils.
Ice Cream as a Part of Street Culture
Meanwhile, in cities where large communities of Italians settled, the hokey-pokey man became a fixture of popular street culture. He was an ice cream vendor and moving sandwich stand par excellence, with a small pushcart and a variety of Neapolitan flavorsaples being the presumed origin of all the ice creamers in that line of work. The hokey-pokey man sold ice creams in paper cups and in paper cones so that customers could walk and eat at the same time. They also sold ice cream called penny licks. These were little glasses that contained a penny's worth of ice cream, a marketing gimmick aimed primarily at children. When the ice cream was eaten, the glass was given back to the vendor, who then washed it and refilled it for the next customer. The hokey-pokey man gave rise to a flavor of ice cream in cities like New York and London. In Philadelphia, his name attached itself to a hokey sandwich made with an antipasto salad of cold meats and lettuce now known as the hoagie.
The Ice-Cream Cone
The inventor of the ice-cream cone is not known, although claims abound. There is ample evidence that the concept existed in several forms long before the debut of the cone at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. The benefit of the cone was that the ice cream container could be eaten, yet if one is to accept the research of Brian Butko (2001), there was considerable resistance to the idea when it first attracted public attention. Hygiene was one reason, sticky fingers another. The public perception of ice cream was that it should be clean, like milk itself, a food that was both basic and culturally defining. The ice cream parlor and the drugstore soda fountain probably did more to help the ice cream cone gain acceptability in the long run, but it was the carefully wrapped ice cream snacks of the 1920s that eventually captured the market.
That ice cream should assume its hallowed place beside the drug counter during Prohibition may seem at first glance the most remarkable of fates, but it was the original idea that ice cream was both safe and healthy that allowed it to invade the domain of the local apothecary. Temperance instilled Americans with a love of drugs as a substitute for luxury: patent medicines were mostly alcohol, and the tempering qualities of ice cream were not known to cause a Fourth of July picnic to degenerate into debauchery. Perhaps this is one reason why American ice cream evolved into yet another branch of frozen snacks during the 1920s. Perhaps it was also due to a shift in lifestyles and altruistic spin-offs geared toward Hollywood and a need to provide movie theaters with frozen finger foods. Whatever the reason, one of the most important additions to the ice cream story arrived in the form of ice cream "novelties," to use a term then current.
Ice Cream Novelties
This included such portable snack foods as the ice-cream sandwich, the popsicle, and the Klondike, which is today the most popular of all ice cream products of this type. Most of these foods were born about the same time. Eskimo Pies were first marketed in 1921. Good Humor's ice cream "suckers" initially appeared in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1922. And in response to the success of Eskimo Pies, Isaly's of Pittsburgh created the Klondike, its polar bear logo curiously similar to the polar bear used by Marshall in her famous book of ices. Isaly's went on to become a household name in the Midwest, and their popular skyscraper cones left no doubt that even ice cream could assume phallic meanings.
Ice Cream in the Twenty-First Century
Ice cream has now come full circle. Most of it is extremely cheap and for this reason it has lost its sexiness. Low-fat dieticians have decried it as the frozen grease that clogs our veins. Ice cream has become for many the moral opposite of granola or a raw carrot. However, people gorge on ice cream that they feel is safer, which has not only lost its cream, but instead is made entirely of nondairy products, euphemisms for ingredients that never passed through a cow. It might be far more healthful to eat real ice cream in moderation and enjoy a long walk afterwards. This seems to be the rallying cry of the Slow Food Movement and other present-day culinary groups dedicated to revitalizing ice cream, and to restoring its flavor and cultural significance.
See also Additives; Dairy Products; Icon Foods; Sherbet and Sorbet; Slow Food; Snacks.
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William Woys Weaver