Lily forages the history to unravel the origin of ice cream. The granddad of modern medicine Hippocrates advocated eating ice to his Ancient Greek patients as “it livens the life juices and increases wellbeing.” During the 5th century BC, Greeks ate snow blended with honey and nuts, in Athens. In 400 BC, the Persians served their royalty a chilled food made of vermicelli and rose water during summers. Fruits, saffron and other flavours were also moved with ice. Close to 200 BC, the Chinese ate a mix of frozen rice and milk. The Roman Emperor Nero famous for his fiddling while Rome was burning, had ice specially brought from the mountains and converted to chilled delicacies with various fruit toppings. During the 16th century, Mughal emperors had a relay of horsemen to transport ice from the Hindu Kush Mountains to Delhi. This was made into different fruit sorbets. Ice cream became popular and inexpensive in England, in 1851. Ice cream soda was invented, in 1870, and ice cream sundae, in the late 19th century. Read more about ice creams, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Trudging up from Sector 8 in Chandigarh to the Sector 17 Kwality Restaurant, where they had a softy ice cream machine! That was what childhood was all about. The first lick from the cone was sheer bliss. The other memory is that of the ice cream vendor outside our school, Carmel Convent, in Sector 9. The long queue of sweaty girls of all sizes with neatly braided hair waiting for that manna from heavens, the low priced, ubiquitous Orange-bar, an ice lolly like none other. The tell-tale orange colour that coated the tongue, not letting one lie to hawk-eyed mothers. The other image is that of the Sukhna Lake, in Chandigarh, where ice cream carts were lined up for walking enthusiasts. The Choco-bar competed with the cake lined Cassata for attention.
Yes, I am going to be foraging history to unravel the origin of ice cream this Wednesday.
The granddad of modern medicine Hippocrates advocated eating ice to his Ancient Greek patients as “it livens the life juices and increases wellbeing.”
During the 5th century BC, Greeks ate snow blended with honey and nuts, in Athens
In 400 BC, the Persians served their royalty a chilled food made of vermicelli and rose water during summers. Fruits, saffron and other flavours were also moved with ice.
Close to 200 BC, the Chinese ate a mix of frozen rice and milk.
The Roman Emperor Nero famous for his fiddling while Rome was burning, had ice specially brought from the mountains and converted to chilled delicacies with various fruit toppings.
I was rather overawed to read that during the 16th century, Mughal emperors had a relay of horsemen to transport ice from the Hindu Kush Mountains to Delhi. This was made into different fruit sorbets.
In Europe, ice cream came to France via the Italian Duchess Catherine de Medici, when she married Henry the Second, of France. She brought her Italian chefs, who knew the recipes of flavoured ice or sorbets. After almost 100 years, the English King Charles was so bowled over by the frozen snow that he bribed his chef with a lifetime pension to keep the recipe a secret. Well, he wanted these cool concoctions to be only the royal folks’ prerogative.
The United States was introduced to ice cream by Quaker colonists. During the colonial era, confectioners sold ice cream in New York and other cities. Many American presidents were partial to it. The First Lady, Dolley Madison, served it at her husband’s inaugural ball.
Small scale hand cranked ice cream freezers were invented in England and in America by 1840.
According to surveys, vanilla and chocolate are the most popular flavours in America.
Ice cream became popular and inexpensive in England when a Swiss immigrant, Carlo Gatti, set up a stall at Charing Cross, in 1851. He built an ice well to store ice that he cut from Regent’s canal.
Ice cream soda was invented, in 1870, and ice cream sundae in the late 19th century.
Four towns lay claim to be the birthplace of the sundae – Buffalo, Two Rivers, Evanston and Ithaca.
The popularity of the ice cream cone and the banana split came about in the 20th century.
This century also saw the soda fountains, ice cream sodas, and the ice cream parlours. During American prohibition, ice cream parlours replaced bars and saloons.
Cheap refrigeration gave impetus to ice cream. Manufacturers competed by offering more flavours. Baskin Robbins offers 31 varieties.
With mass production, ice cream became popular worldwide. Retailed on beaches and in ice cream trucks or vans with music blaring to attract the children was soon a common sight.
My fondest memories are waiting for the vendor with his cart blaring a raucous horn and yelling out in a familiar sing-song manner “iaaaaaice creeeeeem”. Summer afternoons were spent waiting up for this magical moment. One vendor had Hindi film songs playing at deafening volume to attract his salivating customers. Another fun memory is of the antique ice cream making machines, which I bumped into as an army wife in the various regiments we were posted in. Since cantonments are in remote border areas or inhospitable terrain, we preferred to rustle up something by ourselves with ingenious use of available fruits and the ration milk powder or depend on the army cook to hunt out the bucket-like contraption, it had to be kept chilled with ice and salt and was churned by hand, it might be a relic of the Raj but I have yet to taste a creamier ice cream.
My happy association with the Ice Popsicle is actually a crushed ice ball with a wooden stick inside it, drizzled generously with sherbets and flavours ranging from a terribly sour “Kaala khatta” to the mildly fragrant rose. This was the treasure trove on a cart lovingly known as the Gole Waala Bhai di Rehiri. (The ice pop vendor’s push cart).
Let’s quickly run through them various desserts that could fall under the category of a frozen desert. In America very few qualify to be called ice cream.
Ais kagang popular in Malaysia and Singapore made with red beans along with shaved ice and syrup.
Booza, Dondurma, which is Turkish, frozen custard, Halo a Filipino dessert, Gelato, which is Italian with less milk fat content, frozen custard, ice cream sandwich and the delicious kulfi, which came with the Mughal conquest of the 16th century. It had Arab and Mediterranean roots.
Maple toffee, Mellorine and the Kosher Parevine are others.
There is the immense pleasure even as an adult to stand before an array of ice cream tubs and taste each one greedily, finally coming to a reluctant conclusion. Another mysterious occurrence is the ice cream headache one sometimes acquires after gulping down a hasty dollop of the cold stuff.
Professional ice cream taste testers use a gold spoon to ward off any flavours left over in other normal spoons. How rich it must taste!
So here’s to a huge decorative glass with your favourite scoops interspersed by fruit, nuts and syrups. Life is not measured by inches around your waist but by the smiles around your eyes.
Chak de phatte, Biba!
Picture from the internet.
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Lily Swarn won the Reuel International Prize for Poetry 2016, Global Poet of Peace and Universal Love, Global Icon of Peace from Nigeria, Virtuoso Award and Woman of Substance. A postgraduate in English from Panjab University, she taught at Sacred Heart College, Dalhousie. A gold medallist for Best All-round Student from GCG Chandigarh, she has University Colours for Dramatics. Widely published and interviewed, she authored, A Trellis of Ecstasy and Lilies of the Valley.