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Ice Cream: A Sweet And Glorious Past
by Marjorie Dorfman

Where did the wonderful concoction known as ice cream come from and who were the first to indulge in its wondrous delights? Read this delightful tale in comfort, as there are no calories in its consumption.

Some say that the Roman Emperor, Nero, consumed the very first dessert, back in the 4th century B.C, which he managed to do before he played the fiddle as his city burned to the ground. As the story goes, this concoction was a mixture of snow retrieved by his slaves from the nearby mountains, nectar, fruit pulp and honey. Still others claim that it was Marco Polo who brought back water ices to Europe from his adventures in the Far East. These ices had been consumed in Asia for thousands of years and could be traced back to King Tang (A.D.618-97) of Shang, China.

These as well as many other stories cannot be fully substantiated and may be true or not. The problem is that no written records of these events were made until the 19th century, long after everything, ice cream, facts and truth, melted away into the mists of time. Here they are though, ready or not, with or without sprinkles.

One legend about the origins of ice cream concerns the chefs of Catherine de Medici who supposedly took this magical concoction with her to France where she traveled to join the Duc d’Orleans in matrimony. Within the framework of the same story, it was said that Charles I rewarded his own ice-cream maker, a cook named DeMirco, with a lifetime pension on the condition that he did not divulge the secret of making ice cream to anyone. After poor Charles lost his head in 1649, the chef supposedly used his and didn’t keep his promise.

Whatever the delicious truth, it is known that American colonists were the first to use the term, "ice cream". The name is derived from the phrase "iced cream" that was similar to "iced tea". The name was later abbreviated to the more practical "ice cream" that we have come to know and love today.

In 1700, Governor Bladen of Maryland served ice cream to his guests and in 1774, a London caterer named Phillip Lenzi announced in a New York newspaper that he would be offering various confections for sale, among them ice cream. Some two years later, the very first ice cream parlor in America opened in New York City. One first lady, Dolly Madison, had quite a fondness for it, and her namesake is to this day a famous brand of ice cream. This wife of James Madison created quite a sensation when she served ice cream as a dessert in the White House at the second inaugural ball in 1812.

It was another woman, a New Jersey housewife named Nancy Johnson, who invented and patented the hand-cranked ice cream freezer in 1843. She did not, however, have the financial resources to market her idea and so she sold the patent for $200 to a Philadelphia kitchen wholesaler who by 1847, made enough freezers to satisfy the growing demand. In 1851, Jacob Fussell established the first commercial ice cream plant in Baltimore and between the years 1847-1877 more than 70 improvements were made to Nancy Johnson’s original idea.

In the 1880s and 1890s, drinking soda water was considered highly improper and "unlady-like." (God only knows why!) Some towns even went so far as to ban its sale on Sundays in respect for the Sabbath. But an enterprising mind owned by a druggist thrived in Evanston Illinois, and he concocted a legal Sunday alternative containing ice cream and syrup but no soda. He called it a sundae, changing the spelling so as not to offend judgmental Sabbath observers.

At the turn of the last century, Italo Marchiony was an ice cream vendor who sold his wares from a pushcart on Wall Street in New York City. He baked edible waffle cups with sloping sides and a flat bottom, which reduced overhead costs caused by customers either breaking or walking off with his serving glasses. In 1903, he patented his idea, which became the ice cream cone! Despite this recorded proof, others link the invention of the ice cream cone to the 1904 World’s Fair, which took place in St. Louis. As the story goes, an ice cream vendor didn’t have enough dishes to keep up with his customers, so he teamed up with a waffle-maker who rolled his ice cream into "cornucopias".

The invention of the ice cream soda is a bit clearer and is always attributed to Mr. Robert M. Green, a native Philadelphian who operated a soda water concession in October of 1874 at the semi-centennial celebration of the Franklin Institute. He was selling soda fountain drinks from a three-foot square dispenser, which was a mixture of sweet cream, syrup and carbonated water. At some point, he ran out of cream and began substituting vanilla ice cream.

The drink became very popular with his customers as evidenced by the fact that Green had been averaging about $6 dollars a day with the first drink and was taking in over $600 dollars per day for ice cream sodas by the end of the exhibition! The man knew a good thing when he saw one (even before Martha Stewart spoke of them), and he went on to make a fortune as a soda manufacturer. When Green died in 1920, his will provided for a large monument to be erected over his grave with the inscription:


And so it would appear that ice cream was not so much an invention as it was an evolution down through delicious time to become a favored dessert. Show some respect the next time you scoop a serving. Salute your chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or rocky road as you slurp it down, realizing that there are few moments more delectable in life than the one you are now in!

Happy Ice Cream.

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