Cool tales of icy sweets

On a hot day, even a short trip to the fridge can seem too long. But at least you don't have to scale snowy peaks or crawl into underground vaults for a cool treat. That's what people used to have to do.

The history of frosty desserts includes tales of happy substitutions, unintended inventions, and super-successful recipes that are still secret. It's also a history that begins in ancient China where, in many cases, they had it first.

Here are some of those stories – and a few easy recipes, too – to help keep you cool this summer.

The scoop on ice cream

About 4,000 years ago, the Chinese are said to have developed the first resemblance of what we now know as ice cream. They had just figured out how to milk farm animals. They were also discovering ways to transport snow from the mountains to make frozen dishes.

The result? A pasty ice milk made from overcooked rice, spices, milk, and snow – packed hard so that it would solidify. Because milk was still so rare, only the nobility could afford it.

Many centuries later, in AD 62, Roman Emperor Nero reportedly sent teams of slaves to the Apennines mountains to collect snow so that he could flavor it with nectar, fruit pulp, and honey.

By the 1200s, what we would recognize as ice cream began to spread throughout Italy and other parts of Europe. But the frozen phenomenon was still out of reach of commoners. Ice-cream recipes were kept secret by chefs to the wealthy. Refrigeration was nearly nonexistent. Ice had to be harvested in the winter and then stored in underground caves or vaults to use in the summer.

But by the late 1500s there had been a breakthrough. A Spanish physician living in Rome found that adding salt to ice caused a chemical reaction that made the ice-salt mix very, very cold. Now ice-cream recipes could be frozen much more quickly.

Soon, ice-cream vendors all over Europe were pushing salt-and-ice-cooled carts to the masses.

The first ice-cream parlor opened in New York in 1776. Today, Americans eat an average of 15 quarts of ice cream per person every year. That gives ice cream the title of "America's favorite dessert."

Waffles are tasty ... plates

Waffle cones and ice cream may seem as logical as peanut butter with jelly (another combination from the early 20th century). But someone had to invent it first, and the invention may have been the result of desperation.

It happened at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. The fair featured, among other things, the first demonstration of electric cooking – including that of waffles.

According to one version of the story (there are several, though they all take place at the 1904 fair), a teenager named Arnold Fornachou was working at an ice-cream stand. It was a hot day, and he ran out of dishes. What to do? His ice-cream stand was right next to a waffle stand. Ice cream had been served on waffles for centuries. So he bought some waffles, rolled them into cone shapes, and filled them with ice cream. A sensation was born.

Waffle cones were rolled by hand until 1912, when a machine was invented to do the job. Some 10 years later, one-third of all the ice-cream consumed in the United States was eaten atop cones.

Pop goes the fruit juice

One year after the waffle cone's invention, an 11-year-old happened upon the Popsicle.

Frank Epperson had left a cup of fruit-flavored punch outside on the porch. The punch, made from water and powder mixed together, still had the stirring stick in it. The next morning, after an especially cold night, Frank found his drink frozen to the stick – and it tasted good! In 1923, Mr. Epperson patented his concoction and called it the "Epsicle ice pop." His children later renamed it the Popsicle.

(Epperson may have gotten a patent, but the ancient Chinese probably beat him to the invention. They were the first to make treats out of fruit juice and snow – about the same time they made "ice cream" out of milk, rice, and snow.)

They all scream for egg cream

The original recipe for a bubbly drink called an egg cream was a secret. In fact, it's still a secret. But that hasn't stopped people from coming up with their own versions of it.

An egg dream, which contains neither eggs nor cream, is like a frothy, chocolate ice-cream soda.

In the 1890s, New York candy-store owner Louis Auster invented the egg cream. The beverage, which he sold at his store in Brooklyn, became quite a hit. A line of customers would snake down the street and around the corner. The store was packed – and so began the tradition of drinking an egg cream while standing up.

In the 1920s, Mr. Auster declined an offer from a national ice-cream chain to buy the rights to his recipe. Hearing his response, an executive from the chain insulted Auster's Jewish ethnicity. Auster vowed to never reveal his recipe.

Today we are told that one person does know Auster's recipe: his grandson. So far, Stanley Auster has only confirmed that the original recipe had neither eggs nor cream in it – and that the origin of the confusing name has been lost.

Ice Cream in a Bag

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups ice cubes (about two large handfuls)

6 tablespoons salt (rock salt is best, but table salt is fine)

1 sandwich-size, sealable plastic bag (make sure it seals tightly)

1 quart-size or larger sealable freezer bag (make sure it seals tightly)

1 pair of oven mitts or a dish towel (so your hands don't get too cold)

Pour the cream into the sandwich-size bag. Add the sugar and vanilla extract. Seal the bag, making sure it's tightly closed. (Stop here, if you like, and store the bag in the refrigerator overnight. This will 'cure' the ice cream mix, giving it a richer, fuller taste.)

Place the closed sandwich bag inside the freezer bag. Pour the ice into the freezer bag. Pour the salt into the freezer bag. Now seal the freezer bag – tightly.

Put on your oven mitts; or wrap the dish towel loosely around the freezer bag. Shake, rock, roll, and squeeze the bag for a full five minutes. (Note: The bag will get very cold, between 18 and 20 degrees F.)

Now open the freezer bag, and remove the sandwich bag. Quickly wipe off any salt and water from the outside of the sandwich bag. (The ice will have almost completely melted, so the outside of your bag of ice cream will be wet.) This will keep the salt and water out of your ice cream when you open the bag.

Open the sandwich bag and enjoy! You can eat the ice cream right out of the bag, or spoon it into a bowl.

– From 'We All Scream for Ice Cream! The Scoop on America's Favorite Dessert,' by Lee Wardlaw (HarperCollins, 2000), used with permission.

Chocolate Egg Cream

1/4 cup chocolate syrup (Some insist on Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Flavor Syrup, made in Brooklyn.)

1/2 to 3/4 cup milk

Seltzer water (Use a fresh, unopened bottle for the best effect)

No one knows the real recipe for certain, as it's still a secret. But here's one way: Pour the chocolate syrup into a tall glass. Add milk and stir. Add about 1/3 cup of seltzer and stir some more. Now slowly add 2/3 cup more of seltzer while stirring briskly. This will create a head of foam on top, so be careful not to spill. Serve immediately. Serves one. (Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you dare.)

Black Cow

Some people insist that a genuine 'black cow' can be made only with sasparilla (a root beer-like soda) topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Most would agree that root beer is OK, now that sasparilla has gone the way of the Old West. For a twist, try putting the ice cream and root beer in a blender and mixing it for a moment or two.

Frozen Candy Bars

Simply insert a clean craft stick on the end of your favorite wrapped candy bar, and freeze! Unwrap and enjoy. It will last longer – and cool you off, too.

Rocky Road Pops

Mix one package of chocolate pudding according to directions. Add 1/2 cup of miniature marshmallows and 1/4 cup peanuts. Stir. Carefully pour into popsicle molds and freeze. (If you don't have popsicle molds, try pouring the mixture into small paper cups. Put a well-washed wooden craft stick in each cup before putting the cups in the freezer.)

– From Kim Tilley of FrugalMoms.com

Orange-cream Icicles

Mix 1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 cups of milk. Fill popsicle molds (or small cups – see recipe above) and freeze.

Party Popsicles

Use your imagination! Try leftover juice, soda that has gone 'flat,' or chocolate milk to make ice pops. Add ice-cream sprinkles, chocolate chips, miniature marshmallows, nuts, or coconut. You can make them wild colors by adding food coloring. Try making multicolored ones by partially filling molds with one color, freezing them, then adding another color, putting them back in the freezer, and so on.

Between fruit juice; yogurt; Jell-O; and chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio pudding mixes, you can come up with virtually every color in the rainbow.

Chocolate-Covered Banana Nut Treats

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler over the stove. (You will need a grown-up's help to do this.) Dip peeled bananas into the chocolate, then roll them in chopped peanuts. Insert a clean craft stick in one end. Place the coated bananas on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Freeze. When the bananas are frozen, wrap them individually – and tightly – in aluminum foil.

Raspberry-yogurt Smoothies

Put one cup (8 oz.) of your favorite yogurt, one cup of orange juice, one fresh or frozen banana, and one cup of frozen raspberries in a blender. Blend, and serve immediately. (Serves two.)

Add more juice or more berries to make the mixture thinner or thicker, as you prefer. Try using chocolate or caramel yogurt (if it's available in your area), milk or soy milk instead of juice, or frozen mixed berries. Frozen mango or pineapple are good, too. You can even pour the mixture in a popsicle mold and freeze it.

Smoothie-sicles, anyone?

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