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History of Ice Cream


Jump to :-     Predecessors of Ice Cream The 1st "Iced Cream"  |  19th Century Ice Cream | 20th Century Ice Cream  | Ice Cream Cones  |



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Whilst there are all sorts of spectacular stories about the origins of ice cream including Marco Polo bringing it to Europe from China or Catherine de' Medici introducing it to France there doesn't seem to be any real evidence to substantiate and of these theories.

It is true that various ancient civilisations used ice in desserts and that the
Ancient Persians even had the equivalent of giant  "refrigerators" known as yakhchals which were naturally cooled structures used to  store ice through the summer which had been gathered in the winter from nearby mountains but what these peoples ate were more akin to ices rather than ice cream.


Predecessors to Ice Cream


Evidence of the predecessors of today's ice cream being made was in China during the Tang period(618-907 A.D.),  when milk was heated and allowed to ferment to something similar to 'yoghurt' which was then mixed with flour and camphor and chilled  before being served.  However the first technical description of ice making using various salts which were mixed with ice to get low enough temperatures to freeze liquids in a container, was by an Arab medical historian Ibn Abu Usaybi c1230-1270 A.D.

The process didn't reach Europe until 1503, in Italy where it was initially considered more of a magician's trick and the results were not used for edible food until the 1660s when sorbets were eaten in Naples, Florence, Paris and Spain.



The First "Iced Cream"


The first ice cream made with milk didn't appear until 1664 in Naples and in the UK, ice cream was served at a banquet at Windsor Castle in 1671 however it was such a rarity, that only the guests on King Charles II's table got to sample it.  It was after this time that wealthy people wishing to emulate their king, built ice houses on their estates when ice which was gathered in winter from lakes, ponds and rivers was stored under straw and bark, until the summer when it was used  to make 'iced creams' using the salt freezing method  so the dubious ice was  never actually eaten. The first recipe in English did not appear until 1718.

The making of custard based ice cream using egg yolks appeared in France in the middle of the 1700s and this is the origin of custard based ice cream and was introduced to America in the early 1800s.


19th Century Ice Cream

Ice cream became readily available to the masses in the UK in the early part of the 1800s due to the importation of ice from Norway, Canada and the US in the early 19th century.


In America, around 1832, Augustus Jackson, an African American confectioner, not only created multiple ice cream recipes, but he also invented a superior technique to manufacture ice cream.


The ice cream machine was introduced in 1843 in both England and America. This new contraption consisted of a wooden bucket filled with ice and salt, a handle which rotated and a central container which would be surrounded by the ice mixture and which would contain the ice cream mixture. The churning action produced ice cream which had a smooth texture.


Italy continued to be the European leaders in ice cream making and Italian immigrants to the UK  brought  their expertise, setting up businesses selling ice cream often wrapped in waxed paper and known to the English as Hokey pokey - a play on the  Italian  phrase 'ecco un poco' meaning 'here is a little' .  They were also sold in small glasses known as a penny lick which were wiped clean and re-used. However due to public health concerns,  these were made illegal in 1926 in the UK.


At the end of the 19th Century, mechanical refrigeration utilising gas or electricity took the ice cream industry to new heights as it became possible to transport  and store ice cream.


20th Century Ice Cream


The second half of the 20th century saw the popularity of ice cream proliferate worldwide mainly due to cheaper refrigeration. Not only were there more outlets selling it, but there was also an explosion of  flavours and types.

Another 20th century development was the introduction of soft ice cream.  A team of chemical researchers in Britain (which somewhat surprisingly included ex-prime minister Margaret Thatcher) discovered a method of doubling the amount of air in ice cream, enabling manufacturers to use less ingredients which reduced their costs.  The airy lighter texture of soft ice cream was a hit with consumers in particular when it was "piped" into a cone directly from soft ice cream machines.

However, as with many new ideas, in the 1980s, old-style thicker ice creams made a come-back with brands such as Ben and Jerry's and Häagen-Dazs taking the market by storm.


Ice Cream Cones


The first recording of cones being used to serve ice cream was by an  Englishwoman called Mrs Marshall in her cookery book "Fancy Ices of 1894" - 10 years before the St. Louis World fair which many previously thought was its birthplace.


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