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  • Writer's pictureSusan Welsh

Fathers, Aunts, & Emperors of Ice Cream

Summer, 2020. Here's to a season of uncertainty, drive-through graduation ceremonies, face masks, sanitizers, and daily pandemic news, myths and memes.

On a sweeter note, it's also the season for ice cream---a confection rich in origin stories. Roman Emperor Nero purportedly had runners collect ice from the Apennine Mountains for his sorbets mixed with honey and wine (YUM!) and during the Tang Dynasty, a version of ice cream was made with cow, goat, or buffalo milk.

European settlers introduced America to ice cream sometime in the 1700s but it wasn't until 1813 that Aunt Sallie Shadd, a freed black slave, opened a catering business in Wilmington, Delaware, and caused a sensation with her ice cream. Aunt Sallie combined both frozen cream and frozen milk to achieve superior smoothness and texture. First lady Dolley Madison became so enamored of it, she served it at her husband's inaugural ball.

Almost two decades later Augustus Jackson, a former White House chef, discovered a modern way to manufacture ice cream by adding salt to lower and control temperatures. Jackson packed his confections in tins and sold them for a dollar a quart. A native son of Philadelphia, Jackson was dubbed "The Father of Ice Cream" and is credited with inventing flavors still popular to this day including strawberry, vanilla, and mint.

Of course, a cold, creamy scoop of whatever flavor you favor is only as good as the utensils you have to get it into your bowl or cone. For this, we have Alfred L. Cralle to thank. While working as a porter at the St. Charles Hotel in Pittsburgh, he noticed the difficulty involved in scooping and serving ice cream to patrons. His patent #576,395 filed in 1897 for the "Ice Cream Mold and Disher," solved the problem. This marvel of efficiency is still the design primarily used to this day.

All this talk of ice cream has me longing for a little dairy decadence. The more flavors, the better. Life may be a "box of chocolates," but it's also an ice cream parlor filled with rainbow sprinkles and assorted toppings. My next ice cream order will echo the words of Louis Prima, "spray the whipped cream for at least an hour and pile it high as the Eiffel Tower."

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