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Ice cream soda, cherry on the top…

Last time round, we went skating from snowclad mountaintops to soda pop carts at street corners, tracing the journey ice cream had traversed over the centuries. This time round, let’s slurp on some ice cream lore.

| | May 18, 2016 | 11:07 am
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Ice creams_SS

Ice cream soda, cherry on the top,
Tell me the name of the
ice cream shop….

It’s an old jump rope rhyme. So when did ice cream make the leap from a spoken word to cold print? It first made its appearance in print as iced cream in 1688, and became ice cream in 1744, says the Oxford English Dictionary, which is around the time when ice cream was first manufactured using modern technology. However, the first recorded English use of the term, ice cream was around 1671-72, as part of the menu at the Feast of St George at Windsor – featured as ‘One Plate of Ice Cream’.

And out it popped!

Popsicle_SSFrank Epperson, an 11-year-old boy from Oakland, California, the story goes, accidentally left a glass of juice with a spoon in it on a windowsill, while visiting friends in New Jersey. There the glass sat, all through the cold night. And in the morning, he found the juice frozen. He ran hot water over the glass and pulled out the frozen juice along with the spoon still stuck to it. He called his invention Epsicle, after his name. The year was 1905. In 1922, he is supposed to have introduced it as a novelty at an amusement park in Oakland, California, rechristening it Popsicle – an ice/icicle lollypop, which could be held in the hand and licked! Quick to realise its commercial potential, he applied for a patent, and got it in 1924. Though frozen “juice bars”, also sometimes called Hokey Pokey, were known earlier, and other ice cream makers were toying with a similar idea, Epperson beat them to it and marketed it. Now, of course, Popsicle/popsicle is both a brand and a generic name.

Coincidentally, the first dollop of ice cream (read recorded dollop of ice cream) to have been served in America was in 1744, by Barbara Blandon, the wife of Governor Blandon of Maryland. It was so special, that a guest at the dinner wrote, “We had dessert no less Curious; among the Rarities of which it was Comnpos’d was somefine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most Deliciously.” No typos here; spellings and punctuation were a bit fluid in those days. And ice cream still remained up there – at high tables in mansions, and Europe continued to pride itself in specialising in the technique, with Italy being the frontrunner since the Middle Ages, and France a close second.

In fact, Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and its third president, between penning the famed Declaration of Independence (1776), whose principal author he was, is supposed to have made extensive notes on ice cream-making – which some say was a staggering 18-step recipe. He is also credited with bringing the French technique to America and owning an ice cream-making machine called a sorbetiere. How he made time for the commodious concoction, while being immersed in nation-building and honing his statecraft is a matter of wonder and conjecture. Perhaps, they don’t make them that way anymore – both men and ice cream. They, perhaps, broke the mould.

And then appeared the first advertisement for ice cream in the New World, on May 12, 1777 in the New York Gazette. Confectioner Philip Lenzi announced that he would be offering ice cream “almost every day”, along with an array of other desserts, at his ice cream parlour in downtown New York City, thus freeing ice cream from the kitchens of the rich. It’s believed that Lenzi had arrived from London in 1773 and set up shop the following year. The advertisement was apparently an afterthought. But his parlour is credited with being the first commercial establishment to sell ice cream in America.

Wait, there’s another claimant here: Giovanni Bosio is supposed to have established a “gelateria” in 1770. But this does not cut much ice with historians, as it’s not backed by evidence.

It’s a bit waffly

Ice cream cone_SSIce cream was served in bowls and paper cups for long. And then, three major events happened simultaneously in 1904 in St Louis, Missouri – the World Fair, the 100th anniversary (postponed by a year) of the Louisiana Purchase being celebrated with an Exposition and the summer Olympics. Ice cream and waffle stalls vied with each other to sell their fare to the milling crowds, especially at the fairground. Business was brisk, and when one of the ice cream vendors ran out of cups, Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian immigrant selling zalabia – a waffle-like pastry – nearby, used his presence of mind and started rolling up his waffles into cones to help the ice cream seller. The waffle had literally bent over backwards to become a cone! It became such a huge hit that ice cream and waffle vendors quickly turned from competitors to collaborators, and joined hands to sell ice cream in edible cones. Later, Hamwi put together a pastry cone-making machine, was granted a patent for it in 1920, and started the Missouri Cone Company. By 1924, Americans were, according to statistics, consuming more than 245 million ice cream cones per year, and Hamwi became a cone tycoon. Incidentally, it was during the St Louis Expo that The Missouri State Building boasted of a large air conditioner in the basement, to cool the exhibition hall and most of its rooms. This marked the first time the general public enjoyed comfort cooling.

However, the man who popularised ice cream – and making Philadelphia famous for it, in the process – is Augustus Jackson, a Black American. In fact, some historians call him the originator of ice cream, which, of course, is as insubstantial as melted ice. Be that as it may, it’s true that in the late 1820s, Jackson, a cook, moved to Philly and opened a small confectionery store, and sold cold custards – he cooled them on ice blocks or placed the moulds in a covered bucket of ice. Each bucket contained a quart, and was sold for a dollar, and was hugely popular. He expanded his establishment, and had virtual monopoly over the ice cream business, selling them to his own clientele and supplying them to other ice cream parlours. Many replicated his idea, making Philadelphia – America’s first capital – its ice cream capital, as well. Jackson died a wealthy man – one of the wealthiest Black Americans in Philly – but his family was unable to keep up with the demand and competition, with ice cream parlours springing up at every street corner.

Soon, corner shops, too, found it difficult to cope with the demand for ice cream, and what was needed was large volumes and a steady supply. Jacob Fussell, a Baltimore milk dealer, who has already found a mention in this column (Read it before it melts!) the last time round as a pioneer, became the father of the American ice cream industry, that too, entirely by default – someone else’s loan default, in fact. And thereby hangs a tale: A small-time dairyman, who also ran a modest frozen confectionery shop, defaulted on a debt to a lender.

The lender, not too keen on taking over the business in lieu of the loan payment, asked Fussell to take charge. Knowing the unpredictability of demand and supply in the milk trade, and often left with surplus milk, Fussell saw a window of opportunity here to diversify, and accepted the offer.

As business grew, he realised he had to reinvent ice-cream making – from making it to manufacturing it. In 1951, he decided to relocate to Seven Valleys, in York County, Pennsylvania, and commissioned Daniel Henry, a local miller, to build an ice house and ice cream factory, which is recognised as the first factory in the United States that commercially produced and distributed ice cream. The ice cream business had gone wholesale!

Over the years, vanilla, chocobar and strawberry became standard factory-made fare sold in supermarkets, elbowing out ice cream parlours rustling up their own unique flavours or homemade treats with special ingredients. But we now have gourmet restaurants offering “mother’s recipes” or “old-world flavours”. And ice cream has come a full circle.

The scoop

Ice cream scoop_SSSo popular was the all-American ice cream soda that by 1880, it was a regular treat on Sundays. This prompted the rather pious community of Evanston, Illinois, to frown upon this indulgence and issue a law against serving it on Sabbath day. Ice cream parlours found a clever way of circumventing it by creating a new delicacy – scoops of ice cream drizzled with flavoured sauces and syrup, sprinkled with fruit and other toppings with a cherry on the top. Sold only on Sundays, to begin with, it came to be called ice cream sundae. And by 1900s, it was sold on all days all over the country, almost edging out ice cream soda. Why sundae? It’s another spelling of Sunday. Or was someone bending another rule to avoid commercialising “Sunday”? Anyway, it’s one of the many stories swirling around this delicacy, with many “inventors” laying claim to it. And oh, the jump rope rhyme makes sense now, doesn’t it?






(The writer is the Associate Editor of Climate Control Middle East.)

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