Howard Johnson, purveyor of casual foods and ice creams wrote a jingle, published in 1927 that went “I scream, you scream; We all scream for ice cream”, which became one of the top tunes of that year and engrained in the memories of successive generations. Indeed Americans love their ice cream. But do we eat the right forms of ice cream?

Today, commercial ice creams come in a variety of qualities from the inexpensive that’s more chemical than cream, to the premium variety, which uses few chemicals, but still does few people justice. Ben and Jerry’s is among the few brands to continue selling premium product in full pint containers, while Haagen Dazs has reduced the pint to 14 ounces, a concept many others have adapted.  The more commonly sold brands have integrated high fructose corn syrup, gums, and preservatives into their products yielding a chewy, artificially flavored result we don’t think deserves the name ‘ice cream’ at all.
Ice Cream - Flavors
We are a stubborn lot at Epicurus, believing that foods should be developed in test kitchens, not chemical laboratories. So this month, we’re putting forth a series of fabulous recipes, from a custard base to complex flavors that make ice cream an absolute treat and let you make it fresh and free of bad ingredients. Don’t feed your children ice cream with corn syrup, give them fresh fruit and cream, and hearty, natural ingredients.

History in Your Bowl

Emperor Nero, the tyrannical madman who burned Rome and martyred countless Christians, sent teams of slaves to the alpine regions of Italy to bring back huge boxes of packed snow for him to enjoy with flavorings. Alexander the Great is recorded as having eaten snow flavored with honey and nectar. Since the second century B.C., mankind has enjoyed some form of frozen dessert flavored with natural ingredients. But only the highest elite, such as emperors and kings enjoyed these delights.

In 1553, Catherine de Medici brought an adapted Sicilian recipe from Florence to France, where the French adapted it further to local flavors. The original Sicilian recipe of butter, cream, eggs and milk was introduced to French society at Caf̩ Procope, the very first cafe in Paris Рopen since 1686.

It was at Café Procope where Thomas Jefferson was first introduced to sorbet and ice cream, while working with John Paul Jones and Benjamin Franklin to secure support for American Independence.  It was also at the Café that the term “café society” was coined.

Though recipes for ice cream reached America as early as the 1750s, it was our future 3rd president who made it known among the American elite. Jefferson brought the recipe for ice cream home to America, but it didn’t become popular because of the lack of resources to properly make it.  As time went on, and progress changed made more resources available, ice cream grew in stature, which in turn led to the development of new technologies.

Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison popularized it in American society by creating and serving a superb strawberry ice cream at the White House for her husband’s second inaugural banquet.  So impressed with it, that many began to copy it, and replace strawberry with other flavors.  Today, there’s a commercial brand of ice cream named for Dolley, but it is not the same quality as homemade.

By 1851, technology had made it possible for Jacob Fussell, a Baltimore milk dealer to manufacture ice cream. Before him, all ice cream was made at home and served immediately.  This prompted advancements in freezing, storing, and other processes to make ice cream on a commercial scale.

Over the next few decades, ice cream became increasingly popular in America, and with commercial manufacturing reached the masses.  Finally, after four centuries, anyone could afford a scoop.  This spawned the ice cream parlor and the ice cream counter at the local drug store.  Ice cream paired with phosphate sodas to make taking your medicine easier, and soon the ice cream soda, malted, and float were invented – for medicinal purposes, of course.

With the ice cream parlor, came the ‘soda jerk’, so named for pulling the handle to dispense the soda from the fountain when making ice cream sodas or mixing a Coca-Cola, which was then a pharmaceutical syrup for the relief of headaches.  New ice cream concoctions and flavors were invented, many by the soda jerks, who, on creating the Banana Split, the Sundae and the Malted, can hardly be called jerks anymore.

Ice cream came into world prominence by the early 20th century when great chefs like Auguste Escoffier used it in several famed recipes such as Peche Melba.  As chefs adopted the luscious confection, recipes using ice cream spread globally, and today it is one of the most used dessert products, with an infinite variety of flavors.

In 2004, while visiting the small city of Ludlow, in Shropshire, England, Claude Bosi, now a famous London chef, gave me a taste of savory Asparagus ice cream, and Foie Gras and Black Truffle ice cream.  I remember the reaction of many chefs back home when I explained these, and their disdain for the idea, but today, chefs are constantly creating new savory and sweet ice creams.

Today

Ice cream is found in most every country on Earth, with each national cuisine and even local regional ones marking their imprint on the history of the dessert.  Italian Gelato is but one example. I’ve tried ice creams from as far away as South Asia, China and Australia, each with its own marvelous complexities of flavor. Lychee nut, caramelized corn, candied shallot, passion fruit, pineapple and so many others evoke the best flavors of their point of origin. Once exported, these ice creams often speak for the entire national cuisine to the rest of the world.

When we think of ice cream today, we must open our minds to new flavors and experience far more than those found in our supermarkets.  Seek out a local ice cream shoppe and give them your custom, trying many of their unique and individual flavors. If you cook, and are a little daring, buy an ice cream maker and make your own.

Whatever you do, don’t be meek about flavors.  Combine them to make interesting experiences.  For example, coffee, chocolate and pistachio, combined, make Camouflage ice cream.  Herbs, olives, spices, meats, shellfish, nuts, vegetables and so many other ingredients create new an unique experiences.  Beef Jerky and Bourbon ice cream, anyone?

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