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black and white photo of ice cream truck

The History of Ice Cream

Arnauds in New Orleans sells a $1.4 million bowl of strawberries (don’t worry, it also comes with a diamond ring), and in 2014 Krispy Kreme created a golden doughnut worth a cool $1,685. But did you know that up until the 19th century, ice cream was the cream of the crop when it came to expensive and decadent desserts? When Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake,” at least she didn’t suggest ice cream.

You’re probably wondering what made this divine dessert fit only for kings. One word: Ice. Before the 19th century, ice was hard to come by and even harder to keep frozen. Harnessing ice before the discovery of the endothermic effect (a process that allows you to make something cold or frozen without the use of ice. Yay science!) was challenging and expensive.

In summary: The history of ice cream is the history of people going to great lengths to enjoy an incredible dessert.

Let’s take this back to the first century AD…

54 – 86:

Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar enjoyed a popular Roman dessert of mixed snow, flavored with fruits and juices. He frequently sent runners into the mountains to collect the snow.

618 – 907:

During the T’ang dynasty in China, Emperor T’ang reportedly kept 94 men on hand to haul ice to his palace. This ice was used to make a frozen dish of fermented milk, flour and camphor (Dictionary.com: Camphor is… “a white volatile crystalline substance with an aromatic smell and bitter taste”. Yum).

1625 – 1649:

A dish referred to as “Cream Ice” appeared regularly at the table of Charles I of England (…right up until his execution in 1649).

1642 – 1692:

Antonio Latini of Naples created the oldest recipe on record for a dessert called “sorbetto”. Yes, you smartie pants! That’s the dish known today as sorbet. Antonio also created a milk-based sorbet, which is arguably the first “official” ice cream.

1660:

A recipe of milk, cream, butter, and eggs was sold to the general public at Cafe Procope in Paris. This establishment is frequented by Benjamin Franklin (always knew he was a smart guy…)

1718:

The royal confectioner to Queen Anne of England, Mrs. Mary Eales, released a cookbook that included a recipe for ice cream.

1744:

At a dinner party in Maryland (hosted by Governor William Bladen), the first official account of ice cream in the New World is penned. A guest later describing the event wrote, “a Dessert…Among the Rarities of which it was Compos’d, was some fine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most deliciously.” (Poetry?)

1790:

President George Washington spent approximately $200 for ice cream this summer. That’s roughly $3,000 today! This was just one year into his first presidential term. The perks of being president, I guess.

1800:

Insulated ice houses are invented, making ice cream more attainable to the masses.

1806:

Thomas Jefferson celebrated July 4th by hiring a servant to turn his ice cream maker. Happy Independence Day, Tommy.

1843:

Nancy M. Johnson of Philadelphia patented an “artificial freezer” design that is still widely used today.

1851:

Jacob Fussell became the first ice cream tycoon, opening the first commercial ice cream factory in Baltimore, Maryland. He is known as the father of the wholesale ice cream industry (and something of a hero of ours <3).

1874:

Soda fountain shops popped up across America. These shops were responsible for inventing and popularizing the Ice Cream Soda.

1890:

Religious criticism for “sinfully” rich ice cream sodas prompted merchants to create the ice cream “Sunday” by removing the carbonated water. Later, the name was modified to ice cream “sundae” to remove any connection with the Sabbath.

1930’s:

Ice cream appeared in grocery stores across the country.

1939 – 1945:

During World War II, ice cream became a vehicle for morale in the military, each branch trying to outdo the other in serving the dessert to its troops. In response, Mussolini banned the dessert in Italy (…what a loser).

1946:

Americans consumed over 20 quarts of ice cream per person this year, celebrating victory and the lifting of dairy product rationing.

2017:

Alcohol infused ice cream is invented by Arctic Buzz in Baltimore, Maryland. Woohoo!

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