The History of Ice Cream

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Thanks to my accidental discovery of the International Ice Cream Association this week as I researched various ice cream related issues for this month’s Best Lick! Ice Cream Contest, I now know a bit of ice cream history. Fascinating stuff; here’s a summary:

It seems ice cream can be traced back as far as the second century B.C. Good ol’ Alexander the Great was known to enjoy snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. Nero Claudius Caesar was known to send his footmen into the mountains for snow, which was then flavored with fruit and juice for Caesar’s pleasure.

The actual recipe for ice cream may have come through Italy, in the hands of Marco Polo, in the form of a sherbet, eventually becoming more ice cream-like in the 16th century. In the 17th century, King Charles I was known to enjoy “Cream Ice,” and Catherine de Medici brought frozen desserts to France in 1553 when she married Henry II of France. Ice cream stopped being an exclusively royal delicacy in the 17th Century when the Sicilian Procopio introduced a recipe blending milk, cream, butter and eggs at Café Procope, the first café in Paris.

The first evidence of ice cream in our neck of the woods comes from a letter written in 1744 by a guest of Maryland Governor William Bladen. A New York City merchant’s records show that President George Washington spent approximately $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790. President Thomas Jefferson, known for his epicurean tendencies, was also a fan.

With the invention of insulated ice houses around 1800, an industry was able to form around ice cream manufacturing. A steady stream of other technological advances in the 19th century allowed the industry to grow. By the late 19th Century, soda fountain shops began to appear all over the U.S. However, criticism over eating those richly sweet ice cream sodas on Sundays prompted the invention of the ice cream “Sunday” by leaving out the soda (which seems like the least sinful part of the dish). Eventually, the name was changed to “sundae” to disassociate itself from the Sabbath.