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The History of Ice Cream

December 31st, 2012 Seasonal

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! Dating as far back as the 2nd century B.C., ice cream has been a perennial favorite for civilizations across the ages. A quick glance at the evolution of this heavenly dessert reveals that its tempting taste and powerful allure have captivated some of history's most decorated and iconic figures.

European roots

According to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), ice cream has a rich historical fan base. Alexander the Great was known to have a soft spot for snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar, while Nero Claudius Caesar, who ruled the Roman Empire from A.D. 54 to 86, was in such thrall of this cold treat that he frequently sent runners into the mountains to fetch him snow. The snow was later mixed with fruits, honey and nuts to create a one-of-a-kind dish fit for an emperor.

The source notes that the modern-day recipe for ice cream may have developed sometime during the 1500s. Referred to as cream ice or water ice, the Italian-born Catherine de Medici may have introduced this dessert to the French when she married Henry II of France. Ice cream remained a luxury enjoyed by the affluent until after 1660, when the first cafe in Paris, Café Procope, began to offer it to the general public.

Coming to America

It's unknown when ice cream first hit the shores of America, but National Geographic reports that the first reference of it dates back to 1744, when colonist William Black noted that it was served at a dinner party in Maryland. Thomas Jefferson is reputed to have been a lover of vanilla ice cream, which he may have been exposed to during his time as a diplomat in France. According to the Library of Congress, his personal recipe for making it included the use of cookies. reports that Martha Washington likely served dishes of ice cream at Mount Vernon. In 1784, she and her husband acquired a "cream machine for ice" and began building an ice house. The dishes she served it in were likely pewter - the IDFA reports that two pots were found among Washington's effects after his death that were meant for serving ice cream.

The etymology of sundaes

Similar to European trends, this sweet treat most likely didn't become available on a widescale until the first ice cream factory opened in the 1850s. Headed by a Baltimore-based entrepreneur named Jacob Fussell and his partner James Horton, National Geographic suggests these gentlemen may have been singularly responsible for generating America's infatuation with this cool dessert.

In 1874, ice cream received another boost when it paired with soda pop to form the modern-day float, according to the IDFA. This dish quickly became a beloved favorite, yet when religious leaders levied criticism against parishioners for consuming these sweetly carbonated delights on Sundays, ice cream manufacturers answered back by creating the ice cream Sunday. Created in the late 1890s, this name was later changed to sundae.

Present-day allure

In 1904, ice cream found its soul mate at the World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, when cones were first introduced to the world by Syrian-born inventor Ernest Hamwi. Over the 1940s and 1950s, America's fixation with ice cream grew, making it a staple of many diets.

President Ronald Reagan took this love affair to the next level in 1984 when he designated July as National Ice Cream Month in the United States. Furthermore, the third Sunday of the month was decreed a national day for ice cream, reports the IDFA.