02 March 2024

The delicious history of ice cream

I REALLY wanted to buy a beautifully hand painted pair of Coalport porcelain ice pails, c1802. An orange ph­eas­ant with golden wings perched on branches blooming with red and gold flowers. Then see panels of deep cob­alt blue containing swirl­ing gold leaves and flower med­allions. On the top of each lid was a pagoda style cottage next to streams and trees. Imari col­ours of iron red, blue and green, with rich gold covering the scrolled han­dles and the twisted branches, were exotic. These porcelain coolers were trad­it­ionally placed on the din­ing-room side­board, the bottom was filled with ice, then cream & fruit were added. [Most pairs of Georgian ice pails sold for $2,500-10,000, sadly for me].

Coalport porcelain ice pails, c1802,
1stDibs New York

And royal porcel­ain fact­ories like Sèvres near Paris produced ice-cream cups and saucers for shops and homes, as wealthy families joined the ice-cream excitement.

This led to me reading histories of ice-cream, the best being Al­fon­so Lopez who explained that cold treats went back to the ancient wor­ld. Chinese people, for example, en­joy­ed a frozen syr­up. By 400 BC, sharbat was a popular Persian treat, featuring syr­ups made from cher­r­ies, quinces and pom­­e­g­ranates cooled with snow. Thus the mod­ern words sh­er­bet, sorbet and syrup. Alexander the Great enjoyed ices sweet­ened with honey in 330 BC. Roman Emp­eror Nero enjoyed cold fruit juices mixed with honey at his ban­quets.

If icy products first ev­ol­ved in Asia, they may have been introd­uc­ed to Europe by Marco Polo after he arrived home from China in 1295 AD with rec­ip­es for flav­oured ices. Chinese dealers procured ice from cold, mount­ain­ous areas, hand­lers packed it with straw to reduce melting and carried it to urban areas. Finally it was stored in icehouses.

The best known British recipe for ice-cream was pub­lish­ed in LadyAnn Fanshawe in the mid 1660s. Presumably Lady Ann, whose husband Richard was Charles II's ambassador to King Phillip IV’s Spanish court, learnt about iced refreshments at the Madrid court. Her ingredients, mace and orange-flower water, became popular. Fruits and herbs, tea or coffee, honey and crumb­led bis­cuits were also  added.The term ice-cream in English first appeared in May 1671, among other elaborate dishes served at Windsor’s Feast of St George.

Ice cream was exclusively for the upper classes when it arrived in Britain
Dream Scoops

The C17th saw ice drinks being made into frozen desserts. With added sugar, sorbet was created. Antonio Latini (1642-92) was working for a Spanish Viceroy in Naples, and cred­ited with being the first per­son to print a sorbetto recipe. And he was responsible for creating a milk-based sorbet, which most culinary historians call the first official ice-cream. In Nap­l­es, cli­m­ate and culture came together and in 1690 a book on sorb­etti app­eared: New and Quick Ways to Make All Kinds of Sorbets With Ease.

Latini's book, 1694
New and Quick Ways to Make All Kinds of Sorbets with Ease

By the C17th private European estates had ice­houses, then large public icehouses were built in cities. In some cities the ice trade was regulated by the authorities, who set prices & penal­t­ies for illegal sales. Then Sicilian Francesco Procopio dei Colt­elli opened a Paris café in 1686, Il Procope. The site became a meet­ing place for noted intellectuals eg Benjamin Frank­lin, Victor Hugo, Napoleon. A perfect com­binat­ion: intell­ec­t­ual soc­ial life and ice-cream! The café introduced gel­ato, the Ital­ian ver­sion of sorbet, to the French public. It was ser­ved in small porc­el­ain bowls resembling egg cups. Thus Procopio became known as the Father of Italian Gelato.

Europe’s growing middle classes discover­ed the pleas­ures of frozen sweets in local shops. Along with sorbetti i.e ices churned during freezing, there were granitas (fruit and ice), and sorbetti con crema (milk added).

An ice-cream recipe book was published in France in 1768: True prin­c­ip­les for freezing refreshments.

Lady of the house, examining the trays of icecream prepared by the household staff.
Valencia 1775

Sorbetiera were Naples street vendors who sold sorbetto. Trav­ellers to Nap­les often remarked on sorb­etto in their scenes of the city’s street life. In 1839 the Count­ess of Bl­essington wrote: The gaiety of the streets of Naples at night was unparall­eled. The ice-shops and cafes were crowded by the beau monde, the portable barr­ows in the streets were surrounded by more ordinary people. Naples alone had  43 legal ice sellers.

Naples street vendor selling sorbetto,
18th century

Al­though the craze soon sp­read to the North American col­onies, it was still an expen­sive lux­ury in the C18th. A New York merchant sh­owed that Pres. George Wash­ington sp­ent c$200 for ice-cream in sum­mer 1790! But the USA was where ice-cream finally became afford­able to the mass­es. In 1843 New Yorker Nancy Johnson in­vented the first hand cranked ice-cream maker that drastically re­duced production time, receiving the first US patent for a small-scale ice-cream freezer. American firms improved on her design and built new mach­ines that lowered production costs. In 1851 Jac­ob Fussell of Baltim­ore Md built the first ice-cream factories!

By mid-C19th, ice-cream saloons were plentiful along New York’s avenues, experimenting with different productions. Parkinson’s on Broadway created pistachio ice-cream. Pat­ent Steam Icecream Saloon, named for its steam-operated freez­ing unit, catered to mid­d­le class women, wives of substantial trades­men, mechanics and art­is­ans. And Salem!

Af­ter America’s Civil War (1861–5), ice-cream’s popularity exp­loded across U.S, with special­ist shops appearing for the middle classes. Their ice-creams, sorbets and sher­berts were still a bit exot­ic: Mrs DA Lincoln produced several edit­ions of pam­phlets, including Frosty Fancies 1898 and Frozen Dainties 1899, pub­lished for the freezer man­ufacturer White Mountain. She used ice-creams made with arrow­root, cornstarch and gelatin, not eggs.

Although American street vendors started selling ice-cream only a few decades after France and the UK, America’s industrial rev­ol­ution had to focus on the re­frigerat­ion issue. So note that in the US, continuous refriger­at­ion became a reality with electrical freezers in 1926.

London ice cream cart

Photo credits: Dream Scoops.


Katerinas Blog said...

what an amazing story of ice cream. Certainly ice cream containers are beautiful works of art now. Thanks for the journey through the history of Ice Cream! Have a nice weekend!

jabblog said...

The Coalport ice pail is beautiful.
I really enjoyed this post as my particular favourite is sorbet. I don't have it very often so I appreciate it all the more when I have some.

roentare said...

Columbarium is the first thing that comes to mind when I saw the first image. So exquisite!

I think you wrote a piece on ice cream in the past. This one is also very interesting.

Deb said...

Do you remember when Leo's offered a range of gelatis in the front of his shop in the late 1950s? What a light and fresh taste that was.

DUTA said...

What a cool and sweet topic!
Ice cream is one of the simplest, cheapest, tastiest treats that people all over the world enjoy licking it, mainly in hot summers. Both children and adults adore this frozen dessert.

River said...

The ice buckets are so beautiful. I love ice cream and used to eat far too much of it even in winter. Even in summer now I don't even buy ice cream every week anymore. When I do, it is always vanilla.

Margaret D said...

How interesting to read about the icecream. I personally don't care for gel­ato icecream I have been know not to eat it. I love normal icecream as I call it.

Andrew said...

How interesting and icecream is something I've never wondered about. The ice bucket is very beautiful. If you husband is reading this, when is your birthday?

Once the Australian invented refrigeration, it became quite easy to make icecream but it must have a huge struggle in warmer climates without ready access to ice.

Hels said...


the porcelain ice pails must have been very beautiful, placed by staff on the dining room table and used only by the wealthy families who could afford them. I was never going to eat out of them, or allow the grandbabies to touch them, but I would have placed them in pride of place in the porcelain collection I had back then.

Hels said...


Very wise. Ice cream was always based on milk whipped up with a lot of air. Sorbet, on the other hand, had no milk and no air, so it was dense and full of flavour. So apart from its fresher, fruitier taste, sorbet was served as a lower fat alternative to ice cream.

Hels said...


Bless your heart :) In writing "Did Australia invent the Milk Bar?" I wanted to talk about a great book called Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of Australia by Leonard Janiszewski and Effy Alexakis. Early milk bars (1930s and 1940s) were bars where the key service was creating a non-alcoholic milkshake. Icecreams inevitably became very important.


Hels said...


yes indeed! Gelato (4-8% fat) was made using less cream and more milk than ice cream (15-25%), and didn't contain ANY egg yolks or eggs. No wonder our parents preferred gelato which was lighter and healthier than ice cream.

Hels said...


absolutely! Icecream is easy to make at home, easier still to buy in the supermarket, healthy with fresh fruit for sweets, perfect for vegetarian and fish eaters, and open to just about any exotic taste (eg honey and ginger; walnuts; coffee).

Hels said...


I hear you sister - a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. So I would certainly recommend _not_ eating cakes, puddings, crepes and pies for sweets. But fresh fruit and one scoop of icecream sounds both delicious and healthy.

Hels said...


The world was still using ice boxes when James Harrison had a eureka moment leading him to invent a mechanical ice-making machine in 1854. It developed into a vapour-compression refrigeration system he patented as a "refrigerating machine"!! Clever man.

I cannot think of a better place to invent a refrigerating machine than in a hot country like Australia.

Hels said...


it often depends on where your family came from. Russian icecream, plombir, is ice cream made with vanilla, eggs and sugar. On the other hand our Italian friends have never heard of plombir and love gelato for its egg-free, intense flavour.

My name is Erika. said...

You had me at the title. Ice cream is a favorite of mine. In the area where I live we have ice cream stands in practically every town. Although most of them are closed now since it is still wintery, it won't be long until they open again and I can't wait. Thanks for sharing this. It was really interesting.

Hels said...


There is something very special about going to a favourite location to eat a favourite icecream. For me, I love the icecream stands along the beaches right around Port Phillip Bay. Even in the months when it is not hot enough to swim in the Bay, the sand and water make eating icecream a perfect activity.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Although I am a collector of dairy memorabilia, those Coalport creations are likewise out of my price range. When I could eat ice cream (I am now sadly dairy intolerant) my favorite flavors were vanilla and coffee. Here in Taiwan there are jelly-like desserts such as dou-hua (made from tofu and usually peanut flavored) and ai-yu, made from the seeds of a kind of fig, and usually lemon-flavored. I discovered that these can be frozen and eaten as a kind of ice-cream or sherbet. Dairy-free, but now I am cutting out sugar also!

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

That ice pail looks so pretty but it also costs a pretty price.
I love ice cream but I doubt if the ice cream of today would taste anything like it did way back when it was first created. Ice cream like pretty much everything has changed and evolved over the centuries into what we have today, which includes the horrible fake ice cream that is sold in some supermarkets.

Hels said...


Not eating sugar is perfectly sensible but being dairy intolerant is very inconvenient. Thank goodness Taiwan has jelly-like desserts that are new to me, but sound terrific. Of the two best fruit tastes in the world, lemon and figs have to be near the top!

It goes to show what flexible and wonderful foods icecreams are.

Hels said...


agreed! Fake everything tastes horrible, even if it was introduced on health grounds. Handmade bread used to be made with heaps of flavour and cultural significance; now pre-sliced, pre-wrapped bread reminds me of eating cardboard :(

bazza said...

Isn't it interesting how a seemingly 'everyday' topic can be a gateway into a fascinating history of various aspects of world history, social mores and culinary delights. Although I do enjoy ice cream if my favourite flavours are available, I find it quite resistible if they aren't; Leah, on the other hand loves ice-cream...
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fairly fallacious Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

hels said...

I suspect the fascination originally comes from exotica that was changed in each country it moved to. Especially if the food was too expensive for ordinary families. There would not have been the same interest in cabbage, for example.

Mandy said...

The Coalport ice pail is beautiful. What a fascinating history of ice cream. I often remark how I eat ice cream in all seasons, but of course ice cream (and related delicacies) was a winter treat before the advent of refrigeration

Hels said...


I've never thought of the connection between temperatures in a country and that country's love of ice cream. So having snow might or might not influence a taste for ice cream:

#1.New Zealand where each person consumes 28 litres every year.

#2.United States where each person eats 26 litres annually.

#3.Australians eat 18 litres per capita each year.

#4.Finland Even during snowy winters, each Fin consumes 14 litres annually.

#5.Sweden Even in the snow, each Swede eats 12 litres treat each year.

#6.Denmark. They eat 10 litres each per year.

What a mixture. See