If pizza is the king of comfort food then ice cream is the Emperor of desserts, for what else can you have as a dessert on its own at any time with no justification? What else goes with jelly, cake, wafers and comes in a galaxy of colours and flavours? Ice cream is the Tsar of all deserts, Kaiser of pudding and it was made by the Emperor of all the Romans. Or no wait, was it the Chinese?
This dish is so universally appreciated it seems to have organically emerged in two completely different parts of the world at a similar time. Marco Polo brought an apparently revelatory recipe back from his travels but, it had been enjoyed by the rulers of the Italian peninsular for over a millennia already.
Humanity has always craved cold refreshment in the heat of summer but, until recently it was only the upper most echelons of any society that could afford to freeze their tantalised taste buds.
Whether they were Roman or Chinese the imperial masters of an ancient society would send their slaves up into the mountains to collect snow to mix with fruit and honey. The amount of snow needed was vastly greater than the ”ice cream” produced, due to one of the simpler aspects of thermodynamics.
For this simple reason ice cream, or rather for numerous centuries more like a snow-cone or fruit sorbet was the treat of the super-rich in the Mediterranean. The dairy aspect of ice cream was allegedly first synthesised in the 16th Century when the venerable Catherine D’Medici married the French King Henry II. As any self-respecting renaissance noblewomen would, she transported her entire and revered kitchen staff along with their ice cream makings skills to France.
Here in the self-acclaimed world capital of cuisine (aided very much by a dairy friendly temperate climate) the age-old recipe was reinvigorated with milk and eggs into something more recognisable as the Haagendaas in your freezer. Still there was the seemingly insurmountable problem of sourcing ice and storage.
And so in the 1850s enter….. surprisingly not those stalwarts of Industry the English but, the emerging Americans who provided the technology if not the market. Dairy trader Jacob Fussell invented a machine in 1851 to turn his excess milk and cream into ice cream.
But it was in England that the commercial market boomed. In that same year- 1851 there was a stall at Charings Cross in London. By the 1880s a decade after Carl von Linde had invented industrial refrigeration ice cream was being marketed as the dessert for the English middle-classes. It became the fashionable dessert for those taking afternoon tea on the lawns of the long summer afternoon of the belle époque .
The English however, had loved ice Cream (whenever they could get their hands on it) for well over a century. But the stories of Charles I secret obsession and his hoarding of all the recipes from his subjects is historical fallacy. Although it you’re going to rebel against the crown and oversee over 100,000 deaths, lack of access to ice cream is as good a case as overthrowing despotism.
What is a matter of historical record is that Elizabeth Eales printed a recipe for dairy ice cream in her 1718 cookbook, the first of many to be printed that century. The British aristocracy went mad for this revelatory dairy product, what with their milk, creams and cheeses being so monotonously dull.
However, like with so many things us British kept ice cream simple, none of this ”fancy bollocks” as one might say. Simple, traditional flavours, maybe stretching to some exotic vanilla from the colonies and eaten maybe, with some cake. It was the Americans who jumped upon ice cream sending it through the weird and wonderful of the U.S consumer market. When it arrived back in Britain it was not quite so suited to a middle-class afternoon tea.
The wafer and the sundae, the banana split, the gallons of sauce and multitudes of flavours are all American innovations. Not that I begrudge these at all, bar the banana split. And to go back to the start of this piece, like pizza, ice cream is now a truly global dish. It’s cooling properties leave it desired from Paris to Papua, but as with all these dishes it’s success can be attributed to one simple thing, best summed up by Homer Simpson….’’mmmmmmmm Ice Cream’’.