You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

One of my all-time favorite desserts is ice cream. I mean, I could literally enjoy a bowl of ice cream every night of the week, year ’round. And when it comes to this light, creamy, frozen lusciousness, I’m really not very picky about the flavor–vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, banana nut, peach–almost any flavor will do.

kids making ice creamSome of my fondest childhood summertime memories revolves around neighbor and family backyard gatherings where we almost always made home-churned ice cream. The women would set about mixing eggs, milk, sugar and flavoring, while the men would break out the large hand-cranked mixers, ice and salt. And we kids knew that our job would be to take turns perching on top of the mixer so it wouldn’t “walk away” while my father or one of the other men turned the handle–a sort of love-hate thing, because while you loved the final results, you hated freezing your butt off to help make it happen. I could never understand why one of the women didn’t sit on the mixer. After all, they were heavier than us and would have made the mixer much more stable.

When the handle could no longer be turned, the men would drain the mixer of most of its salty water and carry it into the kitchen where they would carefully remove the dasher, repack the bucket with more ice and salt, and wait another twenty or thirty minutes before letting anyone indulge in the fruits of their labor. This last step was said to have allowed the remove_paddleice cream to become really hard. The truth is, I never understood this final ritual because the ice cream never seemed to get any harder than before, not to mention it always seemed to be the longest twenty or thirty minutes in my young life. Nevertheless this was a ritual my father stubbornly declared must be endured before anyone got to taste that wonderful concoction.

There are a number of myths dating ice cream’s origin back to the first century A.D. with tales of Roman emperor Nero, and later in the same century, China’s King T’ang sending runners to the mountains to bring back snow and ice for frozen desserts flavored with honey, wines, and fruits. And while there may be truth in these stories, what these nobles made was certainly not ice cream as we know it, but more like ices or sherbets. It was also a treat reserved only for royalty.

Lemon-SorbetAs we fast forward to seventeenth century Italy, we saw the creation of sorbetto, or sorbet as it’s now known. In the mid 1600s, Antonio Latini of Naples is credited with being the first to write down the recipe for a sorbetto. He was also responsible with coming up with a milk-based sorbet (gelato) most culinary historians consider to be the first true ice cream. Then in 1686, a Sicilian by the name of Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli opened Procope, Paris’ first cafe, where he introduced the French to their first taste of gelato.

It was also about this time that the French began to experiment with a frozen dessert of their own called fromage, which despite its name did not contain cheese. One fromage recipe, taken from the book La Maison Reglee by French confectioner Nicolas Audiger, included cream, sugar and orange flower water in its ingredients. Audiger also suggested stirring fromage during the freezing process to create a lighter, fluffier texture.

It’s hard to say exactly how and when ice cream came to this country, but it most likely arrived with European settlers in the early 1700s. And almost from the start, ice cream became one of America’s most popular desserts. In fact, the first ice cream parlor opened in New York in the summer of 1790.

Even governors, politicians, and presidents were among those Americans who craved ice cream–Maryland Governor Tom Bladen served ice cream and berries to the State’s VIP guests, George Washington had a collection of tin and pewter ice cream pots, and Thomas Jefferson built ice houses designed to hold sixty-two wagonloads of ice, much of it for the purpose of making this frozen treat. And Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary often hosted parties, both before and after he became president, in which cake and ice cream were served.

ice cream makerUntil 1843, ice cream was commonly made using the “pot-freezer method” in which the cream mixture was placed in a large bowl placed in a tub filled with ice and salt. However in September of that year a Philadelphia housewife by the name of Nancy Johnson designed and patented the hand cranked ice cream freezer, a design still very much in use today. Five years later William C. Young patented his “improvement in Ice-Cream Freezers.” These hand cranked churns were not only faster than the pot method but made the ice cream smoother.

Up until the mid-1800s commercial ice cream was produced in small batches and sold only by small restaurants, confectioners and caterers. Then in 1851, milk and dairy broker Jacob Fussell built the first large ice cream factory as a way of utilizing his surplus cream before it spoiled. His venture was so successful that within two years he moved from his small factory in Pennsylvania to a larger facility in Baltimore and soon afterward began opening factories in a number of other cities. As word of new081411churningIceCream2Fussell’s success traveled, others built and operated their own ice cream plants throughout the country, a move that not only reduced the cost of ice cream but added greatly to its popularity as well.

soft serve bowlWith advances in refrigeration and technology, the 20th century saw many improvements not only in ice cream quality and consistency, but in its distribution, storage and marketing as well–the creation of the ice cream soda and sundae, an explosion of flavors, the creation of retail chains such as Howard Johnson’s and Baskin-Robbins. One of the most dramatic innovations from this time period was the invention of the soft ice cream machine, resulting in ice cream parlor giants like Dairy Queen, Carvel and Tastee-Freez.

While serving ice cream in edible vessels was mentioned in French books one hundred years earlier, it was only in the early 1900s that they really became popular in America.

Ice-Cream-ConesOn December 13, 1904 a patent was issued to Italo Marchioni of New York for a mold used to form pastry ice cream cups. Three years later Abe Doumar, in an effort to keep up with the demand for his ice cream cones sold at the St. Louis Exposition, designed and had built a four-iron cone baking machine. Later he bought a 36-iron semiautomatic machine which produced 20 ice cream cones per minute. Then in 1912 Frederick Bruckman, an inventor from Portland, Oregan, patented a machine for rolling ice cream cones. Bruckman sold his invention and business to Nabisco in 1928 and as of 2012 the original machine was still being used to make cones.

DrumstickOther 20th century ice cream advancements include the first filled and frozen ice cream cone sold in grocery stores. Known as the “ice cream drumstick,” this frozen novelty was created in 1928 by J. T. “Stubby” Parker in Fort Worth, Texas. Parker sold his company in 1991 to Nestle. And in 1959 an Italian ice cream manufacturer invented the process of applying a layer of sugar and chocolate to the inside of the waffle cone to insulate it from the ice cream. This cone (the Cornetto) has become the most popular in the world.

soft serve coneToday more than 1.6 billion gallons of ice cream and frozen dairy products are sold in America each year. That’s an average of four gallons of ice cream per person annually. And nobody has to freeze their butts off to enjoy it!

Buy em: Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, Blue Bell, Breyers, Edy’s

Try em: Eddies Sweet Shop, Forest Hills, NY; Bi-Rite Creamery, San Francisco; Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, Seattle; Sabastian Joe’s, Minneapolis; Taos Cow, Arroyo Seco, NM; Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream, Denton, TX

Make em: Sugar’s Vanilla Ice Cream, Ricotta Ice Cream

Hummingbird: The Cake That Doesn’t Last

My younger sister, while an accomplished pianist and singer, was not especially blessed in the art of cookery. In fact, I’ll never forget her first attempt at baking. One day while our mom was at work, Sis thought she’d surprise everyone that evening with a freshly baked cake. The recipe Sis chose was from a community cookbook our mom had that was published in 1950 by an Amarillo radio station, and included a recipe for Aunt Mattie’s kitchen-klutzcornbread and Mom’s hot rolls (the joke was both recipes were submitted by my aunt, as my mom didn’t make rolls). Unfortunately many of the recipes were difficult to understand because of the publishers use of a dash rather than a forward slash when writing numerical fractions. So when Sis, a young girl in high school, got to the part calling for “1-2 dozen eggs, separated,” she read it as one to two dozen eggs and thus added about a dozen more egg whites than the recipe called for.

When mom arrived home, she smelled the cake just beginning to bake and quizzed Sis about what was cooking. Sis proudly announced she was making the family a cake for dinner.

Now the kitchen and den of our small house was separated only by a stovetop island that also contained a wall oven. So as mom sat in the den watching television she began hearing noises coming from the kitchen. Blub! Blub, blub! Gurgle, blub! Gurgle! When she investigated the origin or the noise, mom discovered the cake bubbling, blubbing and running over just as in one of those slapstick movie scenes. After cleaning up the mess, everyone including Sis got a good laugh out of the situation. However, that experience ended my sister’s culinary ventures for years afterwards.

hummingbird-cake-lSis eventually met and married an Arkansas farm boy who, in addition to other fine qualities, was an extremely talented cook. And over the years under my brother-in-law Larry’s tutorage Sis began to hone her cooking skills. Then one summer day in 1978 at a family get-together, Sis presented her contribution to the meal–a scratch-made Hummingbird Cake, which until then no one had ever heard of. The cake was absolutely delicious, more than making up for what had become known as her Three Stooges cake.

The recipe for Hummingbird Cake was first published in the February 1978 issue of Southern Living magazine, submitted by Mrs. L. H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina. Following its printing, Mrs. Wiggins’ cake recipe won numerous awards and accolades including the Favorite Cake Award at the Kentucky State Fair in August of 1978, and Southern Living’s Favorite Recipe Award in 1990. In fact, the Hummingbird Cake recipe became the magazine’s most requested in its forty-eight year history.

original-hummingbird-cake-recipe-lThere has never been an explanation for how this delicious banana layer cake with pineapple, pecans, and cream cheese frosting got its name, but perhaps it stems from a sugary richness reminiscent of the sweet nectar hummingbirds feed on. And it’s this richness that allows for small portions, making it perfect for parties, weddings, and other large gatherings. The Hummingbird Cake is also easy to make and stores extremely well.

hummingbird-bundt-cake-lThroughout the years, there have been a number of versions and variations of this popular cake–a light version, an organic version, recipes using walnuts instead of pecans, and the incorporation of other fruits. In fact, one poll taken several years after the recipe was first published not only resulted in more than seventy-five variations in ingredients and methods, but in its name as well: Never Ending Cake, Nothing Left Cake, Jamaican Cake, and Granny’s Best Cake.

But the name that fits this cake the best, the one that best describes its delicious goodness, the name that best tells what happens each and every time my sister brings this cake to a party or social get-together, the cake that turned her into the family’s favorite baker is . . . The Cake That Doesn’t Last.

NOTE: This story is lovingly dedicated to my sister – Happy Birthday, Sis!

Make Em: Mrs. Wiggins’ Original Hummingbird Cake, Hummingbird Pancakes