The History of Ice Cream: Background information when reading The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

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The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

by Susan J. Gilman

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan J. Gilman
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2014, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 528 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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Beyond the Book:
The History of Ice Cream

Print Review

Blue Bell Ice CreamA year ago, the big hullabaloo among residents in my city of Henderson, Nevada was the arrival of Blue Bell Ice Cream from Texas. It is a godsend for the Texans who live here, and a curiosity for the rest of us. Beforehand, supermarkets like WinCo had signs announcing it was coming. The anticipation would not, could not, melt. And then, it was here. And it was good. Especially their Buttered Pecan flavor.

Blue Bell was established in Brenham, Texas in 1907, beginning life as a creamery for excess cream from farmers in the area. At that time, the end product was butter. A few years later, they began making ice cream and delivering it by horse and wagon. But, of course, Blue Bell did not invent ice cream. Who did?

Catherine de MediciLet's go further back in time. Back to the second century B.C. There, Alexander the Great liked honey and nectar over ice and snow. But that's not ice cream. How about the Roman Empire, 54-86 A.D.? Emperor Nero dispatched runners to get snow from the mountains so he could put juices and fruits on them. But that's still not ice cream. In the late 13th century, Marco Polo came back to Italy from the Far East, bearing a recipe for what we know as sherbet. It is said that Catherine de Medici, who married the future King Henri II, introduced ice cream to the French in the 16th century. But the truth of these early accounts is that there isn't a lot of historic basis to them and many were likely dreamed up by nineteenth century salesmen to sell ice cream.

Cafe ProcopioThe historic record gets clearer in 1660 when Procopio, a Silician restaurateur working in Paris, created and served an iced dessert for his wealthy customers, which combined butter, cream, milk and eggs. For a long time ice cream was strictly for the wealthy, because it was very costly to buy and store ice in order to be able to make ice cream in the summer months.

In the United States, the first recorded mention of ice cream is in a 1744 letter by William Black of Virginia, who enthused at the "rarity" of a dessert of ice cream and strawberries he enjoyed while dining with Maryland governor William Bladen. In the summer of 1790, President George Washington spent $200 on ice cream, according to the records of a Chatham Street, New York merchant.

During the time that her husband was Secretary of State in the Jefferson administration, Dolley Madison was revered as one of the greatest hostesses in Washington. She loved ice cream and served it as often as possible, including a strawberry ice cream creation at her husband's second inaugural banquet in 1813.

Blue Bell Buttered PecanFrom there, the history of ice cream keeps evolving - perhaps the biggest change coming in the early 20th century with freezers that allowed ice cream to be transported and stored, which led to the emergence of national brands of ice cream including, in the early 1960s, Haagen-Dazs, which Lillian's son Isaac perceives as a threat to Dunkle's in The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. Yet that kind of competition is what will always benefit us. Lots of flavors to choose from – like Blue Bell's Buttered Pecan. Yum.

Blue Bell logo, courtesy of wikipedia.
Painting of Catherine de Medici by François Clouet.
Cafe Procopio, courtesy of Paris 16.
Blue Bell's Buttered Pecan ice cream, courtesy of Target.

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This article was originally published in June 2014, and has been updated for the July 2015 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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