BOSTON — Who can imagine childhood without dripping ice cream cones? Or adulthood without an occasional hot fudge sundae?
It's a cold, hard fact: Americans are wild about ice cream. On average, they consume about 23 quarts per year.
But there was a time when the pleasure of ice cream was known only to the elite. In the late 1700s, the creamy treat was the newest taste in high society New York while in Mount Vernon, George Washington supposedly ate $200 worth in a single summer.
First Lady Dolley Madison, a devotee of strawberry ice cream, created a strawberry dessert that brought rave reviews at her husband's second Inaugural Ball.
But it was not until 1845, with the invention of the hand-cranked freezer, that Americans could enjoy the frozen treat in their homes. Other inventions soon prompted commercial production, and by the 1920s, high demand pushed ice cream into mainstream US culture.
Vendors hawked ice cream on the street, and immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were served vanilla ice cream as part of their welcome meal.
With the '50s, '60s, and early '70s came ice cream experimentation and marketing gimmicks. Manufacturers toyed with cream substitutes: an animal or vegetable fat version called "mellorine" and a tofu variation, Tofutti. Product designers responded to ice cream mania by venturing beyond the regulars of Peppermint Stick, Butter Crunch, or Chocolate Chip.
Bryce Thomson, "the last of the great soda jerks" and former president of Miller Dairy Farms in Eaton Rapids, Mich., recalls the dill pickle ice cream his company produced with the ad campaign: "Expecting? You'll Love Miller's Dill Pickle Ice Cream."
Although that wacky flavor was "the world's worst seller," Thomson's company and others like Friendly's, Baskin & Robbins, and Breyers steadily added more "intrusions" to their products.
Over the past two decades, the list of flavor changes in our favorite dessert is as long as the line at the ice cream truck on a summer's day. We've graduated to Bavarian Creme Raspberry Truffle, Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough, Reverse Chip. Even odd tastes like Jalepeo and Red Bean have burst onto the scene to challenge our palates.
Ronald Reagan first designated July as the month to acknowledge ice cream as a nutritious and wholesome food. No doubt he ate his topped with jelly beans.
FRIED ICE CREAM
For a new twist on an old scoop, try frying ice cream, a technique popular in Mexican and Chinese restaurants. Even ice cream crammed with nuts or candy chunks can be fried.
1 quart premium ice cream
1-1/2 cups crushed graham crackers or vanilla wafers
1 large egg
1-1/2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Vegetable oil for frying
Line a sheet pan with waxed paper. Scoop 8 balls of ice cream onto the waxed paper and put them in the freezer until very firm, at least 3 hours. Place cracker crumbs and cinnamon in a shallow bowl and quickly roll ice cream balls one at a time into crumbs. Freeze again, 1 to 3 hours. Save extra crumbs. In a small bowl, beat egg and milk until blended. Quickly roll coated ice cream balls in egg mixture; then in crumbs again. Return to freezer; freeze until firm.
Heat enough oil to cover the ice cream balls to 375 degrees F. in deep fryer or heavy saucepan. Using a slotted spoon, fry each ball individually, turning, to brown all sides. Remove when the cracker coating darkens, about 10 seconds on each side. Serve immediately.
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 beaten egg
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Combine corn syrup, sugar, egg, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil while stirring over medium heat, then boil for 2 minutes without stirring. Remove pan from heat and stir in vanilla and pecans. Serve warm or cold.
Yields 1 cup.
5 sourdough hard pretzels, crushed (set aside 1/4 cup for garnish)
1 cup sugar
1 cup crushed pecans
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 quart ice cream (any flavor), softened
Dessert toppings, any flavor (fresh fruit, crushed candy bars, chopped nuts)
1 cup whipped heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine pretzel crumbs, sugar, and pecans. Set aside. Beat egg whites until frothy and fold pretzel mixture into egg whites. Stir in vanilla. Firmly press mixture into well-greased 9-inch pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool. Spoon ice cream into pie crust. Freeze at least 2 hours or overnight. Garnish with toppings, whipped cream, remaining pretzel crumbs, and cherries.
Yields 6 to 8 servings.
- Courtesy of the Dairy Foods Association