American Plate - Bite #33: Ice Cream

Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Wow, I'm really whipping through the simple ones, aren't I? I suppose it makes sense to front-load the entries for the Bites that enter my life most often, but at some point, I'm going to have to start tracking down the rarer stuff. Not today, though! Today is all about an American favorite that's all too easy to lay our hands on. Hot weather is upon us, and that means it's time for our annual love affair with ice cream.

Not that the love affair is in any way new. Ice cream arrived on the culinary scene in the late 1600s, and by the mid-1700s, it was being served at fancy colonial parties. Ice cream got its biggest boost from Dolley Madison, who by all accounts was one hell of a hostess. She served ice cream at James Madison's second inaugural ball, and it became a kind of signature dessert served at her White House dinners. That sparked a national craze for ice cream that has never abated.

Still, ice cream was tough to make, requiring a lot of physical labor and a massive amount of chipped ice (a tricky ingredient in itself, at it was difficult to prevent from melting). Enter two unsung pioneers. The first was Augustus Jackson, an African-American cook who had once worked in the White House and invented a prototype ice cream churn in 1832. Unfortunately, he didn't get a patent, but that didn't stop him from establishing himself as a popular ice cream purveyor. In 1843, a Philadelphia woman named Nancy Johnson received the first U.S. patent for a hand-cranked "artificial freezer". Made from a pewter cylinder, it became the basis for all the ice cream machines that have come after. Once ice cream became a more attainable treat for all, its place in America's heart was forever cemented.

The American Plate ends its entry on ice cream there, but as a proud citizen of St. Louis, it would be remiss of me not to mention ice cream cones. OK, fine... There was a 1903 patent for ice cream cones for Italo Marchiony, a New Yorker. But any ice cream lover worth their salted caramel knows that the ice cream cone was independently invented and popularized in America at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. As the story goes, a Syrian immigrant named Ernest A. Hamwi was running a zalabia cart at the fair. Zalabias are waffle-like pastries, and when Hamwi noticed his neighboring vendor Arnold Fornachou had run out of serving dishes for his ice cream, he formed his zalabia into a cone, and the idea took off from there. Later, Hamwi would form the Missouri Cone Company, and the Show-Me state became a manufacturing hub for ice cream's best friend.

These days, there's a huge variety of ways to enjoy ice cream, only a few of which are pictured here: There's the ultra-fancy scoop of vanilla streaked with caramel and topped with salt flakes, and an outstanding standing banana split, as well as a shot of me enjoying a spicy scoop of ginger ice cream that just about burned my taste buds off. In a good way. That's hardly the extent of the ice cream types I've eaten recently, though. From a bland, discount tub of plain vanilla to the rich decadence of chocolate/peanut butter Häagen-Dazs. From the zany mixture of Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby to experimental goat cheese milkshakes from the local sandwich shop. From a high-end scoop of light, refreshing lemon/olive oil verbena to shame-eating Edy's cookie dough in front of the TV, ice cream has been well-represented in this American's diet. And despite my alarmingly expanding waistline, I wouldn't have it any other way.