An American Classic Ice Cream : The Night They Invented Ice Cream : * Origins: How sailors, doctors and giddy aristocrats helped develop the all-American treat--with no help from sultans or Marco Polo.


Ice cream came from the Orient, we’re often told. The words sherbet and sorbet are from the Turkish language, and Marco Polo is sometimes pictured bringing back ice cream recipes from China.

It’s always enchanting to hear about wonders arriving from the East, but in this case the stories are wrong. The Turkish word serbet means syrup--either fruit-flavored or medicinal, like our cough syrups. When Turks tell you that you have “sherbet in your veins,” they mean that you’re delightful company, not that you’re frozen solid.

Drinks have long been cooled with ice or snow in China and the Near East, but that practice didn’t lead to the invention of ice cream. When you put ice in a drink, the drink doesn’t freeze; it cools down, but at the same time the ice is warming up and melting. In order to freeze a liquid, you actually have to create a temperature below freezing, and there’s no evidence that anybody knew how to do that until around the 16th Century.


The invention of artificial freezing followed the discovery by European sailors that when ice formed on the deck of a ship, you could melt it by scattering it with a salt, such as table salt or saltpeter. Salts lower the melting temperature of ice, which is another way of saying they lower the freezing temperature of water. The first (by his own account) to divulge artificial freezing mixtures was Blas Villafranca, a Spanish doctor practicing in Rome, who published his report in 1530.

Even with this knowledge available, the idea of freezing desserts evidently didn’t occur to people for some time. It had to wait until a craze for iced drinks swept Italy in the late Renaissance--originally a self-conscious attempt to revive the Roman practice of icing drinks, using ice stored in insulated underground pits. Once there was plenty of ice around, freezing your sorbetto could occur to somebody.

In 1979, the English food writer Elizabeth David published a series of articles on early French and English ice cream in the magazine Petits Propos Culinaires. According to her research, the earliest evidence of an organized profession of people involved in freezing procedures is the title page of a book published in 1615, where the author, Ottaviano Rabasco, describes himself as a member of the “Academy of Gelati in Bologna known as the Assurance.”

David takes this to mean that frozen desserts were being made by that time. It’s certainly true that Italians took freezing to France about 50 years later, and that in the 1660s ices were fantastically popular at the court of Louis XIV. Since the Sun King was the trendsetter of Europe, frozen desserts spread to all the royal courts in short order.

They were great favorites at the English court. When Charles Stuart returned from exile in France to become Charles II of England, one of the first things he did was to build a royal ice house. His brother, James II, was even more devoted to ice cream; when he was camped at Hounslow Heath during the civil war that would depose him, he had ice cream on the menu.

Both sorbet (syrup) and sweetened cream were being frozen. In French, ice cream had the curious name fromage glace , or frozen cheese, probably because it was solid like cheese. This occasionally led to eerily named products such as fromage glace de Parmesan-- which was frozen in molds with the traditional pie-wedge shape of a piece of Parmesan, not flavored with Parmesan cheese.

Many familiar flavors were already being made: cherry, raspberry, chocolate, coffee, pistachio. But there were also some delicate flavors that have fallen out of popularity: orange blossom, lemon peel, coriander. They would have seemed particularly delicate because it was not until the 1720s that the French started using custard as the basis of their ice cream mixtures, rather than simply sweetened cream.

These products were not much like a modern sorbet or ice cream. They were frozen solid, more or less flavored lumps of ice or frozen cream. The great innovation that led to modern ice cream was first published, Elizabeth David writes, in the 1692 book “La Maison Reglee.” The author, Audiger, had already created the fashion for petits pois at the French court. In this book he pointed out that if you scrape the sides of the fromage glace container from time to time while the freezing is going on, the texture stays smooth.

As a result of this discovery, the typical 18th-Century ice cream maker was the sorbetiere, a bullet-shaped pewter mold that you stuck down into a salt and ice slush and twisted back and forth with a handle on the lid to keep the contents stirred up. Every few minutes you had to take off the lid and scrape away at the sides. No wonder ice cream was such a luxury in the 18th Century, even for people who could afford ice.


In fact, some people couldn’t be bothered, or possibly didn’t care. Unstirred ice cream was still made in the late 18th Century under the name fromage aux epingles. “A frozen cream or cheese with pins (icicles) is sufficiently expressive,” writes David, “to tell us exactly what these fromages were like.”

Ice cream was first served in this country in 1744 at a banquet given by the wife of the British governor of Maryland. Something about it has always appealed to Americans; in a single summer, George Washington is said to have spent $200 on ice cream (a lot of money in 1790).

In the 19th Century, America became the ice capital of the world. New England traders were shipping ice to India and Malaya. Thanks to the invention of the ice cream maker in 1846, it was no longer quite so tedious to make, and Americans went wild for ice cream.

In fact, with our soda fountain heritage and our status as the biggest ice cream eaters in the world (an average of 15 quarts per year per person), we are strongly identified with ice cream abroad. To the English, “an ice” means an English ice cream, and “ice cream” suggests something from our side of the Big Pond. In the 20th Century, ice cream comes from the West.

This Italian ice cream is so rich it freezes smoothly in the refrigerator. Turn the refrigerator to its highest freezing point, put the mixture in ice cube trays, cover them with foil and stir the contents very thoroughly after one half hour. Recover with foil and let freeze another 2 1/2 hours. The result will be stiff but still creamy, and so rich that portions should be small. It is likely to be too tart for some tastes; add more sugar, if desired.

GELATO DI ALBICOCCHE (Apricot Ice Cream) (From Elizabeth David,”Italian Food”)

4 egg yolks

1 cup whipping cream

6 tablespoons sugar

1 pound fresh apricots or 1/4 pound dried apricots

Beat egg yolks in bowl until light. Add cream and sugar and mix thoroughly. Place in small saucepan (preferably copper) or in top of double boiler over simmering heat. Cook slowly, stirring continuously with whisk until just thickened. (That is, when you stop stirring and mixture stops circulating immediately.)

Scald apricots few minutes. Peel and seed. Puree in blender. If using dried apricots, soak in water until tender, then drain and puree. Pass through sieve. If somewhat liquid, heat in skillet over low heat until reduced. Stir puree into custard. Place in freezer container and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Makes 6 servings.


These waffles--which were once available in five and dime stores in most American cities--are one of the world’s great food combinations. They are best eaten as soon as the waffles come out of the pan, so that the soft warm waffles are a perfect contrast to the cold, hard ice cream.


2 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

2 cups milk

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat eggs in mixing bowl. Beat in sugar, milk, butter and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into liquid ingredients just until blended. If batter seems thick, stir in little additional milk.

Bake waffles according to manufacturer’s directions.

To serve, hold waffle in hand, slightly folded. Spoon ice cream into center, press waffle to fold and eat like sandwich. Makes 4 to 5 waffles.


For chocolate waffles, increase sugar to 1/3 cup and stir in 1 cup grated bittersweet chocolate.

The Port in this recipe adds just the right sweet/sour note, bringing out the tartness of the plums. The color of this ice cream is so beautiful that it provides a festive finish to any meal.


12 to 14 plums, cut in half (about 4 cups)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup Port

1 cup milk

1 cup whipping cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine plums, 1/2 cup sugar and wine in saucepan. Heat and stir to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until plums are very tender, about 20 minutes. Pass through sieve.


Stir remaining sugar into mixture and cool. Stir in milk, whipping cream and vanilla. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Makes scant 1 quart.

Taken from “The Complete Book of Homemade Ice Cream, Milk Sherbet and Sherbet” by Carolyn Anderson (Saturday Review Press: 1972), this ice cream is sweet, rich and just slightly tart. Lemon lovers may want to add extra zest.


2 cups sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

5 cups whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon yellow food color, optional

Combine sugar, lemon juice and zest. Whip cream lightly, then add to lemon mixture. Add food color, mixing well.

Churn freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Makes 1/2 gallon.

If you can find them, you may want to substitute fresh boysenberries in this recipe. And then you’ll probably want to sprinkle a few on the top.


1 (1-pound) package frozen boysenberries, thawed

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons blackberry brandy

3 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup sugar

2 cups milk

1 cup whipping cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Combine boysenberries and 1/4 cup brandy in saucepan. Heat and stir to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until boysenberries are very tender, about 10 minutes. Pass through sieve. Cool.

Combine eggs, sugar and milk in saucepan. Heat just to simmering, stirring constantly until slightly thickened. Be careful not to allow mixture to curdle. Remove from heat. Stir in whipping cream. Cool. Stir in vanilla, berry puree, lemon juice and remaining 2 tablespoons brandy. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Makes about 1 quart.


This recipe was so well-loved that it disappeared from our test kitchen in about three seconds flat; you may want to make extra.


1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup butter

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup toasted salted pecans

Combine whipping cream, brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring. Simmer until sauce thickens, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in vanilla and pecans. Makes 1 3/4 cups.

A really wonderful version of an All-American favorite.


8 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup whipping cream

Melt chocolate and butter in top of double boiler over simmering water, stirring frequently. Add cocoa powder and whisk until dissolved. Using slotted spoon, gradually stir in sugar. (Mixture should be consistency of wet sand.) Cook, stirring occasionally, over simmering water 20 minutes.

Gradually stir in milk and cream and keep stirring until completely blended. Continue cooking and stirring (replenish water in double boiler, if needed) about 1 hour. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.


Add 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract, 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

This is a classic dessert that seems to have disappeared. It deserves a better fate: What could be better than chocolate cake rolled up with vanilla ice cream? Only the same cake--topped with chocolate sauce and cherries.



1/3 cup sifted cake flour

8 tablespoons cocoa powder

3 egg yolks

2 whole eggs

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups vanilla ice cream, slightly softened

Chocolate Sauce

Cherry Sauce

Line bottom of greased jellyroll pan with parchment or wax paper. Grease again and flour lightly, tapping out excess.

Stir together cake flour and 7 tablespoons cocoa powder in bowl. Combine 3 egg yolks, 2 eggs and sugar in mixer bowl. Beat on high speed 5 minutes or until thick and triple in volume. Beat in vanilla.

Sift flour mixture, 1/2 batch at time, over egg mixture and fold in gently.

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until foamy. Add remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, beating until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter just until blended. Turn into prepared pan. Bake at 450 degrees about 7 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

Loosen edges with knife and lifting by long edge of paper liner, carefully flip onto clean dish towel sprinkled with remaining 1 tablespoon cocoa. Roll up tightly with towel and cool on rack. Place empty jellyroll pan in freezer to chill.

Unroll cooled cake onto cold jellyroll pan. Quickly spread vanilla ice cream over, leaving 1 inch margin around edges. Roll up cake and set on pan, seam side down. Cover with foil and freeze overnight.

To serve, spoon some Chocolate Sauce onto dessert plates. Cut chocolate roll in 1-inch slices and place each on plate. Spoon over Cherry Sauce. Makes 8 to 10 servings.


Chocolate Sauce

12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

1 3/4 cups whipping cream

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons brandy or Frangelico

Break chocolate into pieces and process in food processor until fine. Heat cream to boiling point. With motor running, pour through feed tube in steady stream. Process few seconds until smooth. Transfer to bowl and cool completely. Stir in butter and brandy. Makes about 2 3/4 cups.

Note : Sauce may be stored up to 2 days at room temperature or 2 weeks in refrigerator. Chilled sauce should be warmed in microwave oven just to soften.

Cherry Sauce

1 pint fresh cherries, pitted

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar or to taste

1/4 cup kirsch or to taste

Combine cherries and 3/4 cup water in saucepan. Quickly bring to boil and remove from heat. Drain cherries into bowl or jar. Add sugar to liquid in pan and boil until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Add kirsch and boil 2 minutes. Pour over cherries and mix well. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

This recipe from food writer Edythe Preet is an ice-cream basic. It goes with fruit, it goes with cake, it’s the perfect finishing touch for almost any dessert. Preet suggests trying it with Old Virginia pound cake and brandied peaches, a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. That recipe and other Fourth-of-July presidential favorites are on H10.


1 1/2 cups milk

2 1/2 cups half and half

1 vanilla bean

8 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Scald milk, half and half and vanilla bean in top of double boiler over simmering water. Remove vanilla bean. Whip egg yolks with sugar and salt until thickened and lemon-colored. Stir in some scalded milk and slowly add to mixture in double boiler. Cook, stirring, until thick enough to coat metal spoon.

Remove from hot water and set in ice to cool quickly. Chill thoroughly, stirring occasionally. Freeze in ice cream freezer following manufacturer’s directions. Makes 1 1/2 quarts.