Where does a sundae come from?
Malaysia, Yugoslavia, and Persia should all take a bow - but so should Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and a nameless shopkeeper.
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The concept of frozen milk goes back 3,000 to 4,000 years to China. Ancient Roman and Persian nobles also reportedly enjoyed frozen fruit concoctions, and the idea found its way to the rest of Europe.Skip to next paragraph
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It was the Italians who perfected frozen desserts and took them on a world tour - by emigrating throughout Europe and to the United States.
In the 1560s, Roman physician Blasius Villagranca discovered that saltpeter (potassium nitrate) added to snow and ice would freeze cream very quickly. The technology caught on in France, where confectioners developed a fancy frozen dessert of sherbet and fruit layered into a rounded mold called a "bombe glacée" (an "icy bomb").
Although the US was formed in rebellion against royalty, its early leaders - Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson - had a taste for the frosty favorite of the aristocrats. And in the early 1800s, first lady Dolley Madison (wife of James Madison, the fourth president of the US) distinguished herself as a sophisticated hostess by serving bombe glacée at the White House.
Later in the 19th century, ice cream became widely available to the average American. Nancy Johnson invented the hand-cranked ice cream freezer in 1843. Ice and rock salt packed around the outside made the ice-cream mixture freeze quickly. (Not quickly enough, perhaps, if you were the one doing the cranking.) By the late 1800s, Philadelphia, with its many ice cream "houses," was synonymous with the beloved dessert. "The Philadelphia" was a popular egg and vanilla flavor.
Ice cream was becoming serious business. At his Philadelphia home in 1866, William A. Breyer hand-cranked his first gallon of Breyer's All Natural Ice Cream. The Pennsylvania State College began to offer an ice-creammaking course in 1892.
Technological innovations made ice cream even more available, affordable, and important to American culture.
In 1899, French inventor Auguste Gaulin made ice-cream texture smoother by breaking down the globules of milk fat with his "homogenizer." Clarence Vogt of Louisville, Ky., opened the door to mass-producing ice cream when he invented a commercial freezer in 1926.
Italian ice-cream vendors who sold frozen sweets from carts in London were known as "hokey pokey" men, and that nickname was used in America as well. Then, in the 1920s, a candymaker from Ohio named Harry Burt started selling the "Good Humor Sucker."
This popular chocolate-covered vanilla ice-cream bar on a stick was sold by "Good Humor" men, who drove trucks that played a musical tune to alert would-be customers. The era of mass marketing and brand recognition was in full swing.
"Soft-serve" ice cream got its start in the 1930s. Tom Carvel (born Thomas Carvelas) patented the "no air pump" super low-temperature ice-cream machine in 1936 and developed a soft-serve ice cream formula. He created a huge franchise of ice-cream stores all over the country and became as famous for his TV commercials as for his Carvel ice-cream cakes.
In today's America, you have a wide choice of ice cream. You can buy the gourmet, super-premium variety from your favorite small ice-cream shop. You can pick up a low-fat frozen dessert at your local supermarket.
Best of all, perhaps, you can even make your own.
- Maud Dillingham