Ice Cream: America's favorite dessert! How did it all begin? Where did it come from? How did this plentitude of diverse flavors develop?
Back in the early 1600's, confectioners of royal families in Europe first created ice cream. Only the wealthy few could afford the necessary ingredients. Ice, a scarce commodity at the time, and salt were required to freeze the cream. Sugar, an integral part of the formula, was an extremely expensive commodity. The early ice creams were molded like elaborate confectionery pieces and served at royal banquets, such as swans, flowers, birds and even vegetable bouquets.
Flavors developed from what foods were available and when they were in their freshest form. Early frozen dessert recipes describe flavors such as pear, strawberry, raspberry and ginger iced creams. Well-received at the time were unusual flavors such as cucumber, brown bread, saffron, marmalade and Spanish nut and rice ice creams. Early sorbet preferences included black currant, apricot, orange and even a tomato flavored water ice. Nuts were often used, including pistachios, almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts and maroons were often used. Chocolate was the first flavor to gain enormous popularity. Early royal families were populated with chocoholics.
Vanilla, the nation's favorite flavor, was unknown until the mid 1600's. In the one hundred years following the introduction of ice cream into the European menu, vanilla eventually replaced chocolate as the most popular flavor. Vanilla was well accepted because of its clean, pleasant, palate-pleasing flavor. Vanilla beans were quite scarce as they had to be imported from Mexico. Cortez, who brought the flavor to Europe from Mexico, told of the enormous positive effect vanilla had as an aphrodisiac among the natives. Vanilla was created without the modern extraction process we use today. Beans were covered in sugar for many days in order to develop a "vanilla sugar." As sugar and vanilla beans by themselves were expensive and scarce, this new "vanilla sugar" was much more rare and precious.
Although not credited with its original creation, ice cream manufactured in this country is superior in quality and demand for a variety of technical reasons. As you have most likely experienced, America offers an enormous variety of ever changing wonderful flavors of ice cream. Today, American ice cream has become the standard by which all others throughout the world are judged.