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We All Scream for Ice Cream!

July 19, 2011

Not too long ago I posted a recipe for Demi-glacé aux Fraises that included a recipe for ice cream. To help keep you cool down during this sweltering week,  I thought I would tell you a little more about ice cream from the 19th century standpoint.

Ice cream production involves ice, and while our farm does not have an ice house, it does have a cellar where large chunks of ice could be kept after being cut in the winter.  The other alternative, would be to purchase ice in a town and bring it to the farm.  That may have been the case on special occasions like Independence Day or Threshing.  The town of Cedar Falls, for example, had an ice house for the city.  The Cedar Falls Historical Society has turned that into a nice regional museum demonstrating some of the methods of getting natural ice from water sources.

Futhermore, the ice used to make something like citrus ice or ice cream, can be “dirty” ice because it doesn’t actually get eaten.  The ice in the ice cream freezes the cream from the outside.  It wouldn’t matter, then, if the ice had been packed in straw since February.

By 1900, ice was also being used in refitted boxcars on the railroad to transport meat and other perishable goods.  While these used natural ice for quite some time, after the turn of the century, the technology of refrigeration redefined the ice industry.  While there is still money to be made in sale of ice (think your coolers at the Fourth of July picnic), it is no longer the industry it once was due to electronic refrigeration techniques made popular in the 20th century.

Who cares about the ice? We want the ice cream!

From what I can find about ice cream, the origins are steeped in folklore.  Thanks to the International Dairy Food Association for much of the information shared below.

Some sources say that Nero Claudius Caesar enjoyed snow flavored with fruit and juice in 54-86 A.D.  and that Marco Polo brought a sherbet-like recipe back to Italy from his Far East travels.  Early versions of ice cream become popular at famous European tables such as that of Charles I and Catherine de Medici, though at the time it is reserved for the highest tables.

Ice cream travels to North America and is seen in advertisements in newspapers as early as 1777.  George Washington enjoyed a scoop now and again in 1790 with one merchant record showing that he spent nearly $200 on the treat that summer.  In 1813 guests of the White House enjoyed strawberry ice cream at the table of Dolly Madison on the occasion of her husband’s second inauguration.

According to the U.S. patent museum, in 1843 a Philadelphia woman by the name of Nancy Johnson obtained the patent for the first crank ice cream freezer.   [women always come up with the most useful things!]  It was patent number 067.8.  Nancy eventually sells the patent to a man named Jacob Fussell who pioneers production in the 1850s.

The empty ice cream freezer, showing all the different parts.

Freezing ice cream in 1900 involved a little more than finding room in the freezer.  The mix is made, then put into a can which is put into a bucket.  The bucket is filled with ice and rock salt, the lid is put on, and the handle is turned, around and around.  That spins both the dasher, a whisk like scraper, inside the can and the can itself.  Depending on the day, or the recipe, this can take various amounts of time.  It usually takes us about an hour.  Luckily, modern kitchens are able to use a new version of the same machine.  It has the ice and the can, but an electric motor means you can have homemade ice cream in a short amount of time and with little effort.

The ice cream freezer with the lid and handle. The ice and salt would go in the bucket with the mix would be in the can. The ice cream would be made by cranking the handle which would turn both the can and the dasher inside.

By 1900, many different recipes and flavors abound.  Like today, vanilla is very common, but you see recipes for other flavors as well.  In fact, most fruits were being put into ice cream, especially with their availability on the farm.  As an example, I want to share with you some of the recipes from Hood’s Practical Cook’s Book For the Average Household.  The copyright on this particular copy is 1897 and it was published in Lowell, Massachusetts by C.I. Hood & Co.  In reading the introduction, you learn that the publishers take pride in the fact that this cookbook is for the average household.  Yet there is still an entire chapter on ice cream!  The chapter starts off with a basic recipe:

Ice Creams

A standard rule for ice cream, one that is rich, and at the same time economical, that may be used for the base for all fruit ice creams, and which will make two quarts when frozen, is: One pint of cream, one pint of milk, one-half pound of sugar, and whatever you wish for flavoring, adding more sugar if the fruits are sour.   Put the milk and cream into a double boiler, and when just at the boiling point remove from the fire and stir in the sugar until thoroughly dissolved. Allow this to cool before adding fruit or flavoring.  Put into the freezer and freeze, then take out the dasher, cover tightly and let it stand in the ice two hours.

The cookbook goes on to give you different variations on that recipe with such flavors as Banana Ice Cream, Philadelphia Peach Ice Cream, Apricot Ice Cream, and Chocolate Ice Cream.  I’ve picked out a few to share with you:

Custard Ice Cream – Stir the yolks of six eggs beaten with the sugar into the cream and milk just before removing from the fire.  Stir until it thickens, then remove it and add one tablespoon of lemon juice, and freeze.

Pistachio Ice Cream – Blanch, chop, and pound to a paste one cup of pistachio nuts and one-quarter of a cup of almonds, and add to the cream.

Coffee Ice Cream – Put one-quarter of a pound of coffee into the milk and cream and bring to a boil, let it stand until cold, strain, then add the sugar and freeze.

Unfortunately, we don’t make ice cream all that often on the 1900 farm.  (I am thinking I might change that).  I’ve never tried to make Hood’s Coffee Ice Cream, so I have no great tips for you.  If anyone tries it at home, please let me know, and I am definitely putting it on the menu for August, I’ll try and let you know how it goes.

If you want the simple recipe, the one without cooking, you can find it here.

Enjoy playing around with the ice cream, and let me know if you create any new fun flavors.  For example, this past weekend I tasted some Lavender Ice Cream, Ginger Ice Cream, and Balsamic Vinegar Ice Cream (it was awesome!).  Let your imagination go with this popular dessert that farmers back in 1900 were enjoying!

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