History of ice cream

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2001

As food historians are quick to remind us, the history of ice cream goes back to the first century A.D. when the Roman Emperor Nero dispatched runners to the Italian Alps to fetch the ice and snow needed to make sherbet.

With modern refrigeration, runners have been eliminated from the scenario, and sherbet and its rich cousin ice cream have become big business rather than an emperor's luxury.

Dolley Madison was the first to serve ice cream at the White House - it was strawberry - as one of the desserts at the second inaugural ball in 1812. She was official White House hostess both for Thomas Jefferson (then a widower) and for her husband James, fourth president of the United States. She was noted for the magnificence of her entertainments. Maintaining an ice house enabled cooks to serve a wide variety of molded, frozen or gelled sweets as well as iced beverages.

During that era, ice cream was essentially being made in the Roman way: Put "base" or "pudding" in a small metal bowl. Set this into a larger bowl full of chopped ice. As the mixture inside the small bowl chills and thickens on the surface closest to the ice, the thin sheets of frozen mixture are scraped into the middle. Continue stirring until the entire pudding is frozen. The process is easy - if you have a kitchen staffed with servants who can take turns scraping and stirring.

In 1843, a New England housewife, Nancy Johnson, invented the hand-crank ice cream freezer, which added paddles to the inner container and a cover, gear and handle to the top. Johnson patented her invention but lacked the capital to manufacture and market the dessert churn herself. She sold her patent for $200 to a Philadelphia kitchen wholesaler. The most famous hand-crank brand around the turn of the 19th century was the White Mountain. It is still being made, but is now available in an electric model as well as a hand-crank version.

The latest in ice cream makers avoids the necessity for ice altogether. Gourmet Alaska in the Nugget Mall sells a $49.95 model that makes one and a half quarts. It's manual, but manpower is given an assist by freezing the container ahead of time.

Fred Meyer sells a four-quart electric ice cream freezer by Rival. The freezer takes its trendy appearance from those translucent, neon personal computers - blue, green and violet. It's $21.99 in the housewares department. Other stores also sell a variety of ice cream makers.

Get creative with this week's produce specials such as seedless watermelon, cantaloupe and nectarines, and make your own ice cream history.

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