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Ice Cream You Scream History

Updated on July 23, 2013
Strawberry Ice Cream with berries
Strawberry Ice Cream with berries
Amethist  Nero playing a lyre
Amethist Nero playing a lyre | Source
Roman banquet in Pompeii
Roman banquet in Pompeii

Ancients Enjoyed Frozen Treats

Frozen desserts have a surprisingly ancient history. Chinese are probably first with some evidence pointing back as far as 3000 B.C. Moving on to the Western world by 400 B.C. Alexander the Great was enjoying the first Slurpee made of snow flavored with honey and fruit.

The Romans were eating desserts made of sweetened snow at least as early as the first century A.D. When Nero wanted a break from killing Christians or fiddling (lyring?) while the city burned, his slaves would come with snow from the mountains to be sweetened and served with fruit.

Marco Polo costume tartare
Marco Polo costume tartare

Middle Ages and Renaissance

There is a story from the Middle Ages that Marco Polo came back from China in 1295 with a recipe for a dessert made with frozen sweetened milk. Before Marco ever went to China, Crusaders were returning from the Middle East bringing exotics from the Arabs, sherbet and sugar were among the many new things they brought. Marcowas a remarkable man but he didn’t bring us pasta or ice cream. By the 14th century, the Italians were enjoying real ice cream, not just snow cones.

The next story appears when the Italian Noblewoman Catherine de Medici married King Henry II of France in 1553. Catherine’s chefs brought ice cream to France along with an entire cuisine to teach to the French Court. No doubt, there is some truth behind this legend and Catherine was responsible for introducing some new dished to France but the French were no culinary slouches at the time. Chances are that this early Italian ice cream was more like gelato than our ice cream. The difference between gelato and ice cream are primarily that gelato has a lower fat content and more sugar to prevent crystallization and gelato has less air churned into it. These differences make the flavors of gelato stand out more because there is less fat to coat the tongue and dull the flavor.

During the 1600s, King Charles the First of England visited France where he tried that delicious flavored frozen milk dessert. In France at the time ice cream was already available to the Parisian masses after a Sicilian named Francisco Procopio opened up a shop on Rue de l’Ancien Comédie on the left bank. Charles knew a good thing when he tasted it so he asked the Italian chef to sell him the recipe (culinary espionage?). Soon England was flipping over frozen treats. Charles got rid of his ice cream headache the hard way, Parliament chopped his head off and installed Oliver Cromwell as head of a new English Commonwealth.

Hannah Glasse Art_of_Cookery
Hannah Glasse Art_of_Cookery
Image by_Suat_Eman
Image by_Suat_Eman

1760 Recipe

By the end of the 17th century recipes for ices were showing up in Italian and French cookbooks but it was in 1718 when Mrs. Mary Eales's Receipts cookbook was published with recipe for a true ice cream (made with cream).
In 1760, Hannah Glasse published a recipe for ice cream in her book Compleat Confectioner;
“Take two pewter basons, one larger than the other, the inward one must have a close cover into which you put your cream, and mix it with what you think proper, to give it flavor and colour, as raspberries etc, then sweeten it to your palete, cover it close and set it in the larger bason: fill it with ic, and a large handful of salt, under and over and round about: let it stand in the ice three quarters of an hour, uncover and stir the cream well together, then cover it again; let it stand half an hour longer, and then turn it out on your plate.”

This was in a time before the invention of the mechanical ice cream maker with the paddles and crank so this would be quite coarse and icy but it does show how early we were serving ice cream in this country. By 1776, the first ice cream shop opened in New York City.

Dolly Madison often is cited as the first to serve ice cream at the White House but records show that Thomas Jefferson had already served it. In the summer of 1790, George Washington spent $200 for ice cream at Mt. Vernon. 200 dollars in 1790 adjusted for inflation would be worth $5000.00. No wonder ol’ George he had no teeth.

The major leap forward for ice cream came in 1843 when Nancy Johnson patented the first hand cranked ice cream freezer, the basic design of which is still with us. Johnson sold the patent to William Young and by 1851 ice cream makers were being sold in stores. During 1899, 5 million gallons of ice cream were produced in the U.S. by 2000 we produced 1650 million gallons. That comes out to 58 gallons per person so, either one of you is eating my share or we’re exporting a lot of frozen desserts.

National Ice Cream Month and Day

National Ice Cream Month is celebrated each year in July in the United States. President Ronald Reagan designated July 1984 as National Ice Cream Month and July 21, 1984 as National Ice Cream Day with Presidential Proclamation 5219. 90% of people in the US eat ice cream and President Reaganstated that these events should be observed with "appropriate ceremonies and activities." Today, National Ice Cream Month is celebrated each July and National Ice Cream Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in July.

Ice Cream Cones

The ice cream cone may have been invented at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Four different vendors claimed that they were the one that ran out of paper cups and asked a nearby waffle booth to make some thin waffles they could roll up to hold ice cream. Trouble with the story is that ice cream cones were already know in Europe at the time.

Premium or Super Premium

Today and premium and super-premium brands are pushing low fat, ice milk and sherbets out of the way in the supermarket freezers. Consumers buy ice cream based on their tastes, not their waists. Demand for low fat treats has plummeted by 12% since 1995 as Americans fight to hold the title fattest people on the planet. We’re number 1 Yipee!

What separates the “premium” and “Super-premium” ice creams from the rest? The high end ice creams achieve their results by using good ingredients. They use the same ingredients that you might use at home to make your own, ingredients like cream, eggs and sugar. First of course is the butterfat content, super premium ice cream will have up to 16% butterfat and a cheap ice cream may be as low as 10%.

The next big difference between cheap and premium ice cream is air. Adding air to ice cream is called overrun. Air is absolutely essential to make ice cream. Ice cream without air entrained in the mix would be as hard as a block of ice. If you hold a container of premium ice cream in one hand and a cheap brand in the other hand and you will notice the cheap brand weighs less, air is cheap! Not all that air is necessarily a bad thing; it lends a light smooth mouth feel you will pack the pounds on more slowly by eating air. The air increases the volume from as low as 20% in premium brands to 100% in the bargain brands. We buy ice cream by volume not weight thus when you buy ice cream with a lot of air you actually get less ice cream.

Cheap ice cream uses emulsifiers and stabilizers to try to duplicate the mouth feel of real ice cream. Emulsifiers are products that help maintain a mixture of water and fat. We are all familiar with mayonnaise which uses egg yolks to hold oil to make a creamy sauce. Two emulsifiers predominate in cheap ice cream: mono- and di-glycerides: derived from the partial hydrolysis of fats or oils and polysorbate 80: consisting of a glucose alcohol (sorbitol) molecule bound to a fatty acid, for further water solubility. Some emulsifiers are also used in premium brands but to a lesser degree. We have become so accustomed to eating emulsifiers and stabilizers that some of us reject the real thing! When you eat natural ice cream, without emulsifiers you will notice that it dissolves quickly on the tongue where an emulsified ice cream will leave a slight coating on your tongue. Apparently, they haven’t quite managed to match the melting temperature of cream and egg with chemical emulsifiers.

The additives in your ice cream come from such taste tempting treats as seaweed, wood, algae, bushes and beans and most of these have been classifies as GRAS, generally recognized as safe. GRAS is how the government tells us we’ve been eating it for a long time and we didn’t check the safety.

Times Square Howard Johnsons
Times Square Howard Johnsons

Howard Johnson’s

In 1925, Howard Deering Johnson borrowed $500 and used the money to take over the operation of a small patent medicine store, soda fountain and newsstand, in Quincy, Massachusetts. The store sold just three flavors of ice cream-vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Johnson wanted more flavors but first he started tinkering with the recipes he had. Howard doubled the butterfat content and used only natural ingredients, he knew his ice cream was good and customers soon followed. Johnson met the demand by opening ice cream stands on beaches and he gradually worked up to the now famous 28 flavors. Ho Jo was an early pioneer developing new flavors; ice cream was usually just vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. By the time Johnson retired in 1959, HoJos was the largest private restaurant company in the land. In 1979, the company was sold, and in the following years, it has been sold, divided and sold again. At the moment there are only 2 Ho Jo’s restaurants in operation. Fairfield Farm Kitchens, in Brockton, MA. still make some of the freezer foods like Toastees. The ice cream is still made, at Boynton Beach, Florida by The Ice Cream Club, Inc

Baskin Robbins

Two brothers-in-law, Burton "Burt" Baskin and Irvine "Irv" Robbins, founded Baskin Robbins in 1946. Their idea was to build a scoop shop that would be a neighborhood-gathering place for families. The pair merged Burt's Ice Cream Shop and Snowbird Ice Cream but it wasn’t until 1953 that they dropped the separate identities of Snowbird and Burton's and became Baskin-Robbins. BR now claims to be the largest ice cream franchise on the planet. At the time of the merger, Snowbird already offered 21 flavors, that was quite unusual at the time but they upped the flavor count to 31 flavors to compete with Ho Jo’s 28. They have continued to develop new flavors with over 1000 flavors developed to date. BR continued to expand through the years and by the mid-1960s, the company had become an ice cream empire with more than 400 stores throughout the United States. In the 1970s, the chain went international, opening stores in Japan, Saudi Arabia, Korea and Australia,Baskin-Robbins now sells ice cream in over 30 countries. Baskin Robbins is still privately owned.

Gelati Hagen-Dazs
Gelati Hagen-Dazs


The 70s were a good decade for ice cream, Häagen-Dazs, founded by Jewish-Polish immigrants Reuben and Rose Mattus in the Bronx in 1961, opened their first retail store in ’76. The name Häagen-Dazs is simply two made-up words meant to look Scandinavian to American eyes. Mattus’ daughter Doris Hurley told PBS documentary An Ice Cream Show (1999) that her father sat at the kitchen table for hours saying nonsensical words until he came up with a combination he liked. Pillsbury bought Häagen-Dazs in 1983 then General Mills bought Pillsbury in 2001. In the United States and Canada, Häagen-Dazs products are produced under license by Nestlé subsidiary Dreyer's. Häagen-Dazs is a super premium brand using all natural ingredients and to offset increasing costs Häagen-Dazs announced that in January 2009 it would be reducing the size of their ice cream cartons in the US. This reflects well on the company, they didn’t cheapen the product or start using emulsifiers and stabilizers and they didn’t even put a false bottom in the containers they told the public about the changes and the reasons. Sadly, this level of honesty and respect for their customers is revolutionary in American business

Cherry Garcia
Cherry Garcia

Ben & Jerry’s

Lifelong friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield completed a correspondence course on ice cream making from the Pennsylvania State University's Creamery. Ben and Jerry opened their first scoop shop in 1978 in an old gas station in Burlington VT. They built a company with a social conscience that engaged in issues like ecology and the needs of children. By 1984 Häagen-Dazs was feeling the competition and they tried to limit the availability of Ben & Jerry’s by forcing an exclusivity deal on supermarkets. Ben & Jerry’s filed suit against the parent company, Pillsbury, with the “What’s the Doughboy Afraid of?” campaign. The entire process was repeated in 1987 but finally we are all allowed to buy our brand of choice. In April 2000, Ben & Jerry's was acquired by British-Dutch multinational food giant Unilever. Unilever said it hopes to carry on the tradition of engaging "in these critical, global economic and social missions." Ben and Jerry are no longer involved with the company. In September 2010, the company agreed to stop labeling their ice cream and frozen yogurt as "all natural." due to the company's use of corn syrup, alkalized cocoa, and other chemically modified ingredients.

Eskimo Pie

A boy's indecision in a confectionery store in 1920 led to the invention of the Eskimo Pie. A boy struggled with a decision of whether to buy ice cream or a chocolate bar. Christian Kent Nelson owned the store and he inquired as to why he did not buy both. The boy replied, "Sure I know-I want 'em both, but I only got a nickel." Nelson went to work and after much experimenting found that cocoa butter helped chocolate adhere to ice cream. Immediately, he produced 500 ice cream bricks with a chocolate candy coating. He called his invention "I-Scream Bars" and began searching for companies to manufacture his product. In 1921, Nelson and chocolate maker Russell C. Stover entered into an agreement to market and produce the product as Eskimo Pies.

Ice cream truck

Are you old enough to remember the ice cream truck bell?
Are you old enough to remember the ice cream truck bell?

Good Humor

Good Humor is a brand of ice cream novelties sold from ice cream trucks as well as stores and other retail outlets. In the1920s, in Youngstown, Ohio, Harry Burt created a chocolate coating for ice cream. His daughter said it good but it was too messy to eat. Burt’s son suggested freezing the ice cream on sticks to make a handle and a brand was born. The companies peak was during the 1950s when the company operated 2,000 "sales cars" In 1961, Good Humor was acquired by Lipton, a subsidiary of Unilever Corp and by 1978, the truck fleet was sold but their products are still available in retail stores.

Dippin Dots

Dippin Dots headquartered in Paducah, Kentucky is one of the newest entrants in the field of ice cream. Invented by Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate Curt Jones in 1987. Dippin Dots are made by flash freezing liquid ice cream mix in liquid nitrogen; consequently, Dippin' Dots contain less air than conventional ice cream.

Dairy Queen, or DQ

DQ is a chain of soft serve and fast food restaurants owned by International Dairy Queen, Inc, who also owns Orange Julius and Karmelkorn. DQ began at a time when franchising was new and fast food was unheard of on August 4, 1938, in Kankakee, Illinois. A father and son, John Fremont "Grandpa" McCullough, in Green River, Illinois, had been developing a soft frozen dairy product for some time. They contacted Sherb Noble, and together they ran an "all you can eat" trial sale at Noble’s ice cream store. Within two hours, he dished out more than 1,600 servings of the new dessert. Noble and the McCulloughs went on to open the first Dairy Queen store in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois. DQ was an early pioneer in franchising and the store grew into more than 5,700 stores in 19 countries. DQ was acquired by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 1998. DQ’s soft serve is a low fat frozen dessert and not exactly a true ice cream, DQ lists low fat milk, milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, vanilla flavoring, and stabilizers plus in the nutrition list you will see small amounts of trans fats.

Make your own Dippin Dots

Recipe Chocolate Ice Cream Yield: 2 qt

12 each Egg yolks
12 oz Sugar
2 tsps Vanilla extract
1 qt Whole milk
1.5 Cups Heavy cream
¼ tsp salt
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
4 oz semi sweet chocolate

1. Beat egg yolks and sugar until mixture becomes thick and lemon colored.
2. Heat milk to a simmer, remove from heat then slowly beat into egg mixture, a little bit at a time.
3. Heat mixture in a double boiler, over barely simmering water, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens slightly
4. Stir in cold cream, then season with salt.
5. Melt unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate over a double boiler, then gently stir into custard.
6. Refrigerate custard until cold. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions


When you eat frozen food, you may get a very painful headache. This is caused by blood vessel spasms which are triggered by the intense cold from the ice cream. The resulting headache is much the same as a migraine - the spasms interrupt the blood flow and cause the vessels to swell. The nerves involved are on the roof of your mouth so to avoid the headache, keep Ben and Jerry away from the top of your mouth (no idea how to eat without involving part of the mouth) or just eat your ice cream more slowly.


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    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Craig

      From my own recent experience soft serve, at Dairy Queen at least, is barely even a dairy product

    • profile image

      craig nr 

      8 years ago

      As the ancients no doubt knew , "Don't Eat Yellow Snow" ...A valuable lesson to be learned in northern NH......

      Is soft serve considered Ice Cream ? Freeze it and it is !


    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Peter

      I forgot about Dairy Queen, I'll have to do a bit more digging and add it

      Glad you stopped by


    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      8 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Great Hub, only Dairy Queen isn't represented but they may not be considered ice cream at all! Thanks Chef,



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