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Vintage Cookbooks: Ice cream thrills date from 16th century

Thursday, July 01, 1999

By Alice Demetrius Stock, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When I was 3 or 4 years old, a woman we called Aunt Net taught me to chant: "You scream and I scream. We all scream for ice cream."

I learned recently that New York City ice cream vendors of the late 19th century hollered those same words to attract customers. But frozen treats were cooling tongues much earlier.

Rulers of the ancient world from the Mongol khans to the Roman emperors enjoyed something like shaved ice when they sent runners to gather snow off mountain tops, flavoring the slush with fruit and honey syrups or sweetened milk.

But the history of the creamy, rich confection we know as ice cream begins in the 16th century. In 1533, Catherine de Medici of Florence brought her recipes, including those for Tuscan sherbet, to the French court when she married Henri II.

Once a well-kept secret reserved for royalty, the recipes for sherbets and ice creams eventually made their way to French cafes in the 17th century and to American colonists about the time of the American Revolution.

In the 1770s, Benjamin Franklin sampled ice cream in Paris and wrote back home, "I am making an effort to acquire the formula so we may sample this lovely fare upon my return to Philadelphia."

Though the first ice-cream freezer on record in the colonies belonged to George Washington -- in 1784 he spent one pound, 13 shillings and six pence on "a cream machine for making ice" (or sorbetiere in French), it was Thomas Jefferson who popularized ice cream.

Here's part of Jefferson's recipe from "Thomas Jefferson's Cookbook," Maria Kimball, 1938: "Put the cream on a fire in a casserole first putting in a stick of vanilla. When near boiling, take it off and pour it gently into a mixture of eggs and sugar. Put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent burning. When near boiling, take it off and strain through a towel. Put it in a sorbetiere, then set it in ice an hour before serving."

French vanilla ice cream of the 18th century probably didn't taste much different than the frozen custard of today, but the tedious stirring and freezing processes improved in 1846 after Nancy Johnson of New Jersey invented the hand-cranked ice cream freezer.

By 1850, such ice cream freezers were a common household item. The next year, Jacob Fussell of Baltimore opened the first retail ice cream business on record.

In 1874, Robert M. Green created the ice cream soda; ice cream cones first made an appearance at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904; and the Dixie Cup Co. first put ice cream in a cup in 1923.

From World War II until now, the basics -- vanilla, chocolate and strawberry -- have been joined by an unlimited array of other flavors and flavor combinations from Green Tea to Apricot Brandy.

As early as 1899, five million gallons of ice cream were being produced commercially in America. Consumption peaked in 1946 when post-war Americans, starved for treats, consumed an average 20 quarts each that year. Today, it's about 15 quarts per person -- still America's favorite dessert.



No food is more American than ice cream. In honor of Independence Day, have salad for supper and banana splits for dessert topped with real whipped cream, lightly toasted, shredded coconut (or salted nuts) and fresh, sweet cherries (not preservative-heavy maraschinos).

Use these patriotic red, white and blue sauces, warm or cold, on your favorite vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice creams.

Red Sauce

1 16-ounce package sweet- ened, frozen strawberries
1/2 cup currant jelly
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed into 2 tablespoons cold water
1 or 2 tablespoons sugar or to taste (optional)

Melt jelly in a saucepan and add berries.

Add additional sugar to taste if necessary. Bring to a boil.

Add cornstarch-water mixture and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until clear, two or three minutes.

Refrigerate. Makes about 2 cups.

White Sauce

16 large marshmallows
2 tablespoons liquid honey
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until marshmallows begin to melt, about two minutes.

Remove from heat and stir until entirely melted.

If sauce becomes too stiff to pour after cooling, whisk in a little hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Makes about 1 cup.

Blue Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 16-ounce package frozen blueberries
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons water

Melt butter in a saucepan. Blend in all other ingredients. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring until berries disintegrate and thicken, about five minutes. Makes about 2 cups.

Adapted from "Good Housekeeping's Book of Ice Creams and Cool Drinks," 1958



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