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Ice Cream Through the Ages

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We all love any frozen dessert we can get our hands on, but how much do we really know about their history?

Do you ever wonder what early ice creams tasted like, or how people managed to make them before the invention of the ice cream maker? We did. And would you ever consider using a microwave to make your custard base? One of us might. Today, we're taking a historical look at ice cream. 

Ice Cream

1768: Fromage aux Eplngles ou à l'Anglois: Pin or English Ice Cream

Back when anything in France referred to as "L'Anglois" was considered fashionable, a funny little recipe popped up in the cookbook L'Art de Bien Faire Les Glaces d'Office by a man mysteriously only known as M. Emy. Instead of emphasizing smoothness and creaminess -- historically the two most appealing qualities of ice cream -- this recipe called for milk, sugar, and cream, frozen solid. This allowed large ice crystals to form -- on purpose! The crystals melt immediately as you eat the ice, giving a tingling sensation on the tongue (hence the "pin" reference in the title). It was considered a novelty back then, and we'd have to agree.

Don't let the name "fromage" in the title fool you, however; cheese ice creams didn't pop up until 1817. 

1778: The Oldest Sorbet

The oldest sorbet recipe we could find also dates back to the 18th century -- a time when frozen treats were only made for royalty and aristocracy because ice and cream were rather expensive. In a cookbook called Il Credenziere du Buon Gusto, Vincenzo Corrado included several recipes for sorbets, but the one that really that stuck out to us is his Sorbetto di Candito d'uova, or Egg Candy Sorbet. The recipe calls for thirty (30!) egg yolks and thirty-six ounces of sugar syrup. He suggests flavoring it with cinnamon water or oil, but that's optional. We usually think of sorbet as fruity and egg-free -- but back then super sweet and super rich were all the rage. 

Mrs. Marshall

1885: Mrs. Marshall's "Cheap" Ice Cream (and Cones Too)

Let's jump ahead to Victorian England and take a look into the life of Mrs. Agnes B. Marshall, a prominent ice cream monger who did a lot to bring ice cream to the masses. Mrs. Marshall patented her own ice cream maker, and tinkered with using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream. Her Book of Ices includes a recipe for "Cornets with Cream," which may be the first publication of the ice cream cone.

But our favorite recipe is the ice cream Mrs. Marshall gave the title of "Cheap." It consists of four ingredients: cornstarch, sugar, whole milk, and vanilla extract. The exclusion of eggs and cream makes this recipe not only "cheap" but easy to make too, since there's no need to worry about overcooking a custard base. Thanks to Mrs. Marshall, cooks of all skill levels and economic standlings were able to enjoy frozen desserts made in their own homes. For that, we raise our ice cream cones to her. 

Alice B Toklas Cook Book Nora's Ice Cream

1880s: Alice B. Toklas's Treasured Ice Cream Recipe

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book was published in 1954, but includes recipes from much earlier. There's a chapter called "Treasures" -- we think everyone should think about recipes this way -- and naturally, ice cream and other desserts appear early in the chapter. Her explanation for this is simple: "My collecting of treasures began with Sweets ... For when one is young, that is what interests one most; the rest follows. So this is one of the earliest." 

Toklas grew up in San Francisco in the 1880s and her treasured ice cream recipe came from her mother's cook, Nora. Nora's recipe requires no cooking and no churning, just some whisking and folding, and it's only four sentences long. Want to see it? Here it is: 

1 quart whipped cream sweetened with 3/4 cup icing sugar. Add 1 1/4 cups raspberry jelly slightly melted. Fold in the beaten whites of 5 eggs. Freeze.

We made this recipe in the test kitchen and are happy to report that it tastes great, but its texture is more like mousse than ice cream. It's also very rich, almost buttery, and "coats your tongue the way custard coats a spoon" as Kenzi put it. We'll attribute the heaviness to the whole pint of cream (which is fun to whisk by hand). Nora's ice cream tastes old-fashioned, and if you're interested in that kind of thing, we suggest you try it. 

Rocky Road

1929: Rocky Road Ice Cream

Toasted almonds and marshmallows mixed in with chocolate ice cream? Genius, we know. The combination of chocolate, almonds, and marshmallows was born first in a Rocky Road candy bar -- and was later adopted by William Dreyer, the Professor of Advanced Ice Cream Manufacturing at the University of California in Davis, in 1929 (yes, that profession existed). The flavor has been an American bestseller ever since. Since cutting up marshmallows was such a pain for Dreyer, a supplier began developing mini-marshmallows solely for the purpose of being mixed into ice cream -- and yet another American classic was born.

1980s: Microwave Ice Cream

Remember when microwave cooking was all the rage? People even found a way to make ice cream -- yep, ice cream -- in the microwave. You make a custard base in the microwave, just like you'd make on a stove, then cool it and freeze it. If you watch your base like a hawk, you can even make it with eggs, but cornstarch is usually the safer option. 

Be honest, have you ever tried this? Would you ever try it? 

Want more ice cream history? Check out our favorite book Ice Creams, Sorbets, and Gelati: The Definitive Guide by Caroline and Robin Weir. 

Tags: ice cream week, food history, ice cream, Alice B Toklas, how-to & diy

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