No cooking involved in this recipe for homemade ice cream using just cream, sugar, and…
The History of Ice Cream
Legend has it…
Legend has all sorts of fanciful stories about Marco Polo bringing ice cream from China and Catherine de’ Medici introducing it to France and King Charles I having his own personal ice cream maker; all wonderful stories, but sadly there is not a scrap of historical evidence to back up any of these legends. Marco Polo didn’t introduce either ice cream or pasta to Europe and worse still, he probably never even went to China. Most of these myths seem to have been introduced by the Victorians.
The earliest evidence of anything approaching ice cream being made was in China in the Tang period (A.D. 618-907). Buffalo, cows’, and goats’ milk was heated and allowed to ferment. This ‘yogurt’ was then mixed with flour for thickening, camphor (yes camphor!) for flavor, and ‘refrigerated’ before being served. King Tang of Shang had a staff of 2,271 people which included 94 ice-men.
Early methods of freezing food…
The early methods of freezing food need some explanation. Freezing of foods was achieved by mixing salt with ice. Mixing salt with ice reduces the freezing point and it is quite easy to achieve temperatures lower than -14C. Just who discovered the process is unknown, but it was probably invented by the Chinese. It was written in India in the 4th century, and the first technical description of ice-making using various salts was by an Arab medical historian Ibn Abu Usaybi (A.D. 1230-1270).
But the process did not arrive in Europe until 1503, in Italy where it was considered a chemist’s party trick, using various acids, water, and salts. However, it was not used for food until water ices (sorbets) appeared in the 1660s in Naples, Florence, Paris, and Spain. Later in 1664 ices made with sweetened milk first appeared in Naples.
In the UK…
In this country, Ice Cream was served at a banquet for the Feast of St. George at Windsor Castle in 1671. It was such a rare and exotic dish that only the guests on King Charles II’s table had ‘one plate of white strawberries and one plate of iced cream.’ All the other guests had to watch and marvel at what the Royal table was eating.
Such was the interest and demand for ice cream that wealthy people built ice houses on their estates. Ice, ‘farmed’ in winter from lakes, ponds and rivers were stored under straw and bark, until the summer when it was used for cooling drinks, making water ices and ‘iced creams’. The ice was of such poor quality that it was never actually put in food, it was only ever used to chill and freeze food and drinks.
Ice cream making was a closely guarded secret and the knowledge of how to make it would have been a meal ticket for life, which is why the first recipe in English did not appear until 1718.
The technique of making custard-based ice cream using egg yolks started in France around the middle of the 18th century and this is the origin of custard-based ice cream. The Americans had to wait until 1800 to get their first taste of ice cream.
The introduction of the ice cream machine
In the 19th century, ice cream manufacture was simplified with the introduction of the ice cream machine in 1843 in both England and America. This consisted of a wooden bucket that was filled with ice and salt and had a handle that rotated. The central metal container, containing the ice cream was surrounded by the salt and ice mixture. This churning produced ice cream with an even, smooth texture. Previously it was made in a pewter pot kept in a bucket of ice and salt and had to be regularly hand stirred and scraped from the side of the pewter pots with a ‘paddle’ which is a sort of miniature spade on a long handle.
The key factor in the manufacture of ice cream was ice. Where was it to come from? In the early 19th century importation of ice started from Norway, Canada and America, this made ice cream readily available to the general public in the UK. Ice was shipped into London and other major ports and taken in canal barges down the canals, to be stored in ice houses, from where it was sold to ice cream makers. This burgeoning ice cream industry, run mainly by Italians, started the influx of workers from southern Italy and the Ticino area of Switzerland to England.
In London, they lived in the most appalling conditions in and around the Holborn area. The huge ice house pits built near Kings Cross by Carlo Gatti in the 1850s, where he stored the ice he shipped to England from Norway, are still there and have recently been opened to the public at The London Canal Museum.
The advent of mechanical refrigeration using electricity and gas, at the end of the last century, is what made the ice cream industry what it is today. No longer were huge quantities of ice necessary and it was now possible to transport and store ice cream. Previously ice cream had to be eaten within a few hours of it being made as it required too much ice to keep it frozen. Ice cream quickly became a mass-market product and many of the old flavors became best sellers. It is interesting to point out that most of the flavors heralded as ‘new inventions’ by go-go chefs, can all be found in the history of ice cream.
By Robin Weir
Co-author of Ices – The Definitive Guide