On the occasion of National Ice Cream Day...
Ice cream molds from the Encyclopédie, Plate IV
July might well be the last month of the year on the list of when to eat chocolate. Creamy chocolate bars consist of about 40% cacao butter so that they melt in your mouth. Naturally, they also melt in the sun, a less desirable side effect if your goal is to eat it rather than slurp it. But of course, for the vast majority of its history since the Maya (or perhaps the Olmec before them) people took chocolate as a tonic consumed in liquid form. It was the brainchild of northern Europeans in the 19th century to bind the beverage so that it could be eaten as a solid, only so that it could return to its unctuous state when it hits your tongue. From the early age of the bean-turned-liquid to the advent of the bar, two centuries of recipes proposed ways of transforming cacao into pleasurable food.
Once chocolate was cleared by the medical establishment in Europe, circa 1630, it was confected into a host of culinary delicacies across the spectrum of texture and mass. There was the straight up spiced chocolate water the Spaniards learned to make from the Aztec, the British panache for adding a raw egg to thicken it, and the medical recommendation of pastilles, small chocolate lozenges with sugar and cinnamon, that melt when lightly chewed. And, perhaps because chocolate came from one of the warmest climates on earth, Europeans early on had a mind to freeze it. Chocolate ice and chocolate ice cream were created and served on elite tables long before the chocolate bar could even be imagined. History serves up some fascinating icy stories for National Ice Cream Month and today, July 15, National Ice Cream Day.
The ménage à trois of chocolate, milk, and ice had its frosty debut in the early eighteenth century. Earlier, roundabout 1665, the staple marriages that would be its ingredients—chocolate + milk & chocolate + ice—were consummated. While credit often goes to Hans Sloane for the creation of Old Regime chocolate milk (credit for which myth goes to Cadbury), that beverage found earlier advocates in England through the writing of both Henry Stubbe and Bolisco Armuthaz in 1662 and 1663, respectively (discussed here).
Ice cream, for its part, though not new in the seventeenth century, had a signature preparation attested early on in family cookbooks and later on, for the public, in one of the early home economics manuals printed in France. Grace Carteret, the first Countess Granville’s and Lady Ann Fanshawe’s family books both contain recipes for orange blossom flavored ice cream that likely date from the mid-century. What Fanshawe calls “the icy cream” (MS.7113, f.158r) consisted of putting cream sweetened with sugar and 3 spoons of orange flower water in a bath of what Carterert calls “pretty lumps” of ice and saltpeter (potassium nitrate, to speed the freezing) until it freezes. Do not leave it for more than two hours, Carteret warns, or, presumably, it will be too hard to serve. That said, chilled two hours it must be “quick to your table” lest it melt (MS.8903, f.9).
Lady Ann Fanshawe's Icy Cream Recipe, Wellcome Library
As late as 1692, Nicolas Audiger’s The Well-Run Household, or the Art of Managing the Home of a Great Lord (La maison réglée, et l’art de diriger la maison d’un grand seigneur…) recommends a process to make la crème glacée, iced cream, that is so simplified it omits key steps, such as filling the tub with ice and saltpeter. The omission suggests that by the end of the century the bath turning cream to ice needed little introduction:
To make iced cream, take a half-pint of milk, a quarter-pint of good cream—or even half that—with 6 or 7 ounces of sugar and a half-spoon of orange flower water, then put it in tub made of iron, earthenware, or other, to turn it to ice.
Pour faire de la Cresme glacée Prenez une chopine de lait, un demi-septier de bonne Cresme douce, ou bien trois poissons, avec six ou sept onces de sucre & une demi-cueillerée d’Eau de fleur d’Orange puis la mettrez dans un vaisseau de fer blanc de terre ou autre pour la faire glace. (260)
Edward Montague, dubbed the first Earl of Sandwich by Charles II has a role to play in this history. No, it is not the ice cream sandwich, poetic as that would be. In fact, we look to his great-grandson many years later for the innovation of the sandwich. In his day, the mid-seventeenth century, he reported a recipe for iced chocolate luxurious enough to be served with imported Naples ‘Biskett’ (sugar cookies flavored with rose water) as an accompaniment. According to his journal entry on chocolate in 1668, the idea was to first make the drink, what he calls “Chocolatti,” then:
…Putt ye vessel that hath ye Chocolatti in it into a Jarraffa [carafe] of snow stirred together with some salt, & shaike ye snow together sometyme & it will putt ye Chocolatti into tender Curdled Ice & soe eate it with spoons, and eat also Naples Biskett alonge with it.” (Mapperton House)
Snow is the the language used in England and France for, well, actual snow, which could of course be the ice base of any sort of frozen dessert in the winter. It also served poetically to describe shaved or crushed ice, which could be had in warmer temps if it were properly stored in an ice house, such as this one in Colonial Williamsburg.
The Earl does not recommend the frozen cream for July, however, recalling cautionary wisdom about the habit of taking cold foods “for pleasure” in the summer heat. Indeed, humoral healers grappled with the idea of taking spicy or hot chocolate in warmer months for much of the century. William Hughes voiced the wisdom of the mid-century in 1672 when he noted that when pores are open, as in summer, the body needs to replenish the heat lost to perspiration, not cool itself down. Hot and spicy chocolate good, iced cream bad. Legendary French cookbook writer François Massailot also listed not hot, but cool chocolate-water among the liquors “proper for the winter season” in 1691.* Whence the Earl’s wonderfully humoral suggestion following the recipe that one drink hot chocolate after partaking in chocolate ices in the summer so as not to fall ill.
Thus, recipes for icing cream and for mixing chocolate with milk or ice to create a more nourishing beverage or a cool treat circulated before 1700. Milk, cacao, and ice found themselves snuggling up to each other not long afterwards, in none other than Audiger’s La maison reglée. There is no recipe for chocolate ice cream per se in this guide to managing a kitchen staff and distilling spirits. Instead, Audiger rather ingeniously opens the door to dozens of flavors of ice cream this way: first, he presents all the eaux (water) or liquor preparations, which include the recipe for drinking chocolate. Then he offers a brief reminder of how to make la crème glacée followed immediately by directions for “icing” any of the aforementioned distilled waters presented in the book (261).
The proximity of the recipe for iced cream and that of the method for icing waters suggests that any of the waters could also be substituted for the traditional orange flower water in the frozen cream treat. Incidentally, Audiger learned his liquor and icing trades in Italy—à la mode d’Italie, he notes in his long title—suggesting that the Earl of Sandwich’s recipe for iced chocolate, whose origins are not documented, logically came from the land of Sicilian granita, as well.
So, who first made and enjoyed chocolate ice cream? Rumor (that is to say, dozens of commercial and popular websites) has it that the first recipe appeared in Antonio Latini's The Modern Steward (Lo scalco alla moderna), published the same year as Audiger's French guide to managing a royal household, 1692. The discerning reader will note that although recipes for what he calls sorbetta di latte, sorbetto with milk, do appear, they are flavored with citron or pumpkin--yum!--but not chocolate. The precise detail of the first chocolate ice cream remains a mystery.
What we can say is that the name by which we know the dessert today dates from at least the mid-eighteenth century. Again, Pierre Buc’hoz (see the last two month’s posts) provides the most comprehensive repertoire of recipes culled from his century’s obsession with chocolate. And it is he who provides what may be the first explicit French recipe for glace de chocolat, chocolate ices made with cream instead of water (127). It consists of cream, sugar, chocolate....and 4 egg yolks. This light and airy dessert was served frozen.
Buc'hoz, Dissertations sur l'utilité, et les bons et mauvais effets du tabac,
du café, du cacao et du thé, Paris: 1787
Just around the time of Buc’hoz’s publication, the French Royal Manufactory at Sèvres paid homage to both the taste for ice cream and its paramount importance—as Audiger had decreed almost a century before—in the well-run royal household. This set of ice cream cups belongs to the the most extensive, luxurious, and last porcelain service created by Sèvres in the eighteenth century: the Cameo Service, named for the series of cameos that sit poised along the decorative border of each piece. Yet, it never graced the tables of Versailles.
It was instead commissioned for the Imperial Palace by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, in 1776 and took so long to make, the Revolution happened before it could be completed in 1792. The date of these cups means they were among the earliest pieces to be cast. In any case, few symbols capture the decadence and popularity of pre-industrial ice cream like a plate of cups destined to serve it to a Russian empress in already-plenty-cold St. Petersburg. Happy National Ice Cream Day!
* François Massialot, Le Cuisinier roïal et bourgeois (Paris: Claude Prudhomme, 1691), Trans. The Court and Country Cook (London: W. Onley,1702).
Bibliography of a sort
Full title of Audiger's guide to royal home economics:
La maison reglée, et l'art de diriger la maison d'un grand seigneur & autres, tant à la ville qu'à la campagne, & le devoir de tous les officiers & autres domestiques en general. Avec la veritable methode de faire toutes sortes d'essences, d'eaux & de liqueurs, fortes & rafraîchissantes, à la mode d'Italie. Ouvrage utile à toutes sortes de personnes de qualité, Gentilhommes de Provinces, Etrangers, Bourgeois, Officiers de grandes maisons, Limonadiers & autres Marchands de liqueur. Paris, M. Brunet, 1692.
[The Well-Managed Home, or the Art of running the home of a Great Lord and others, both in the city and in the countryside, and the job of all the household staff members and other servants, in general. With the proper method for making all sorts of essences, waters, and liquors, strong and refreshing, in the Italian style. A book useful to all persons of quality, Gentlemen of the Provinces, foreigners, Bourgeois, staff members of elite households, bartenders, and other sellers of liquor.]