Celebrating National Ice Cream Day: You Scream for Ice Cream

Introduction: In this article – just in time to celebrate National Ice Cream Day this Sunday – Gena Philibert-Ortega gives a brief history of ice cream and provides some delicious ice cream recipes she found in old newspapers. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.

Are you ready for some ice cream? My guess is that the increasing summer heat will make the answer to that question a resounding YES! Ice cream may seem like a more recent dessert choice because of the need for freezers – but you may be surprised to learn that your 18th century ancestors also enjoyed ice cream.

Photo: ice cream dessert
Photo: ice cream dessert. Credit: Lotus Head; Wikimedia Commons.

Ice Cream History 101

Ice cream has evolved from earlier desserts made of sweetened ices. Alexander the Great ate sweet-flavored snow and ices centuries before the Roman Empire’s Nero Claudius Caesar (A.D. 54-86) consumed snow flavored with fruits and juices.*

Now those treats sound more like modern-day “snow cones” and less like the ice cream dairy desserts we are familiar with, so you may be wondering which generation of your ancestors ate something similar to the ice cream of today. If we search old newspapers, like GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives, we can pinpoint when the words “ice cream” started appearing in print in the United States.

In November 1773 Rivington’s New York Gazetteer announced the arrival from London of “Monsieur Lenzi Confectioner.”   Aside from the candy he had available, Lenzi also offered “ice cream and fruits.” No specific flavors are mentioned.

An ad for Lenzi's sweets shop, Rivington’s New York Gazetteer newspaper advertisement 25 November 1773
Rivington’s New York Gazetteer (New York, New York), 25 November 1773, page 4

Lenzi’s newspaper advertisements for ice cream continued. In 1777 Lenzi was advertising his various fruits, cakes, jellies and even preserved milk, as well as “ice cream of what sort they will please to order.”

An ad for Lenzi's sweets shop, Rivington’s New-York Loyal Gazette newspaper advertisement 8 November 1777
Rivington’s New-York Loyal Gazette (New York, New York), 8 November 1777, page 4

By 1829, readers could find “receipts” (an early word for recipe) for ice cream in the newspaper. The following recipe provides a base made from boiling eggs, cream, and sugar that could be flavored with anything from “lemon, rose, venilli [sic], strawberries, chocolate, &c. as you like it.”

An ice cream recipe, Eastern Argus newspaper article 5 June 1829
Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 5 June 1829, page 2

Understandably, ice cream remained a rare treat until technological advances made the storage of ice cream more affordable and widely available. Eventually, as the frozen dessert became more popular, variations on flavors and ways to serve ice cream evolved to include sundaes and ice cream cones.

An ad for Mrs. Schneider's ice cream parlor, Daily Nebraska Press newspaper advertisement 29 August 1876
Daily Nebraska Press (Nebraska City, Nebraska), 29 August 1876, page 2

Unique Flavors

How willing are you to try more unusual ice cream flavors? While we tend to think of ice cream flavored with chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, there are more interesting sweet as well as savory flavors available.

An article about bubble gum ice cream, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 13 April 1970
Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 April 1970, page 22

When I was a child I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me try bubble gum ice cream. Like most parents, they initially said no and told me that I wouldn’t enjoy it, but I persisted. I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like bubble gum ice cream. Well as you can probably guess, I didn’t like it. The multitasking required to eat the ice cream and chew the bubble gum at the same time was too much for me.

Like bubble gum ice cream, other unique ice cream flavors exist. In some cases, ice cream makers get creative and concoct flavors that are more savory than sweet. One example is the garlic ice cream that can be found at the Gilroy (California) Garlic Festival. Another flavor that might not be familiar to most of us is found in the following Texas newspaper article. Winning recipes of a 1982 ice cream recipe contest are featured, including a recipe for Avocado Sherbet for which the writer states: “It sounds odd but tastes lightly wonderful.”

An article about an ice cream recipe contest, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 1 July 1982
Dallas Morning News ((Dallas, Texas), 1 July 1982, page 103

Ice Cream Desserts

Besides making your own ice cream, you can take store-bought ice cream and craft your own desserts. This 1992 newspaper article includes such favorites as Baked Alaska, Banana Split, and Mud Pie.

(At the end of this article, I’ll enlarge these recipes so that you can try them at home.)

An article about ice cream recipes, Arkansas Democrat newspaper article 11 March 1992
Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas), 11 March 1992, page 81

My Favorite Flavor

I’m not too picky when it comes to ice cream – but if I had to choose, my favorite flavor is Rocky Road. Rocky Road has an interesting history, as documented in this newspaper article honoring the 65th anniversary of the creation. According to the article, the founders of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream experimented by adding almonds and marshmallows to ice cream. Because there were no mini marshmallows in 1929 they ended up using their wives’ sewing scissors to cut the marshmallows to size!

An article about Rocky Road ice cream, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 7 December 1994
Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 7 December 1994, page 1

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? Do you prefer to stop by the store for a half gallon, down to the ice cream store for a cone, or make your dessert at home? I’d love to hear your favorites in the comments section below.

And now, as promised, here are some of those delicious ice cream recipes:

A Strawberry Baked Alaska recipe, Arkansas Democrat newspaper article 11 March 1992
Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas), 11 March 1992, page 81
A Coffee Ice Cream Pie recipe, Arkansas Democrat newspaper article 11 March 1992
Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas), 11 March 1992, page 81
A Banana Split recipe, Arkansas Democrat newspaper article 11 March 1992
Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas), 11 March 1992, page 81
A Mud Pie recipe, Arkansas Democrat newspaper article 11 March 1992
Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas), 11 March 1992, page 81

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* The History of Ice Cream. International Dairy Foods Association. http://www.idfa.org/news-views/media-kits/ice-cream/the-history-of-ice-cream

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