A Random History of Popular Foodstuffs – #2

This is a continuation of a previous posting, which I wrote a couple of years back. And it will cover the histories behind more popular foods which we take for granted today.


Mmm, jelly. Cold, jiggly, wobbly, sweet, wiggly, wriggly jelly! Or, as the Americans call it…Jello, which is actually a brand-name, not an actual foodstuff. But jelly it certainly is.

These days, we associate jelly with dessert, with children, with ice-cream, and with catchy little TV jingles (“I like Aeroplane Jelly, Aeroplane Jelly for me…“). But for centuries, jelly was a luxury food. Incredibly laborious and time-consuming to produce, it could only be eaten by the richest of people, during only the most special of special feasts, dinners, parties, holidays or other significant occasions in a history that dates back to medieval times.

We’re familiar with jelly as that stuff that you buy in a packet. You pour the powder into a bowl, you mix it with water, you pour the sloshy, syrupy mixture into a mold, and then chuck it in the fridge or freezer to cool and set, into pretty, jiggly shapes which are red, and green, and yellow and purple, and which look like everything from flowers to pyramids.

That’s what jelly is today. But in older times, jelly was obtained only after hours and hours and hours of extremely labour-intensive work. Jelly wasn’t simply mixed with water and chucked in a cold spot. It was boiled, and strained, and purified, in a process that would eat up almost all the hours of the day. This is why it was eaten by only the wealthiest people, who could afford the servants and the time to make it.

So how do you make jelly the old fashioned way?

To make jelly as they might’ve done back in the Middle Ages, you first required gelatin. Gelatin comes from collagen, a type of protein. And you get collagen from…


For centuries, well up to the Georgian era, the only way to make jelly was to boil the feet of pigs or cattle. In an incredibly time-consuming process, the salvaged pig’s feet would be placed in a pot of boiling water. The pig’s feet and water would be left to boil for the better part of eight or ten hours. This intense boiling extracted the gelatin from within the pigs’ feet, and mixed it with the water. Once the gelatin had been boiled out, the entire mixture had to be strained. First, it was strained to remove the pigs’ feet. Then it was strained to remove any debris. Then it was strained to remove any fat. Then it was strained to remove any impurities. And then it was strained again. And again. And again.

The repeated straining and purification removed all the impurities from the mixture so that in the end, you were left with nothing but water, and gelatin.

Left on its own in a suitably cool spot, the gelatin would eventually solidify. If you wanted flavoured jelly, then it was simply a matter of mixing in the required fruit-juices, such as lemon, lime, orange, strawberries and so-forth. These extra ingredients being added, the entire mixture was stirred up, poured into a mold, and then dunked in the cellar (or other suitably cold room) to solidify and set.

It seems easy, but when making jelly could take the better part of the entire day, and could require the efforts of at least two people (there’s a lot of water to strain!), you can understand why, for centuries, it remained a food for the wealthy. Poor people simply did not have the time, the money, or the space to dedicate, or waste, on such a frivolous dessert.

It was not until the mid-1800s, when it was discovered that you could dry out the mixture and create gelatin powder, that it was possible to sell gelatin in a convenient packet for the average consumer. All the buyer had to do was mix it with water to help the powder congeal, flavour it to his or her taste, pour the mixture into a mold, and set it. Before that was possible, hardcore boiling and tiresome straining and purifying was the only way to make jelly.


Oooh, we all love sausages. Beef, pork, chicken, lamb…delicious!

These days, sausages are made out of synthetic casings, although there is a significant number of sausage-makers and butcheries, which are manufacturing sausages the old-fashioned way.

We love sausages. Convenient, easy to cook, easy to hold, easy to store and easy to hang up on a peg. We even have gourmet sausages stuffed with herbs and spices and cheese. But the origin of the sausage is far from gourmet.

Imagine a cow, or sheep, or chicken, or a pig. You’ve gutted it, you’ve taken off the ham, the bacon, the ribs, the cutlets, the various cuts of steak, the wings, the legs, the breasts, and everything really worth eating. What did you do with the rest? The carcass that’s left over?

Bones might be used to boil up for soup. Feathers, wool or fur might be removed for clothing. But there’s still the leftover carcass and the organs and innards that nobody wants. Now what?

If you lived in older times, you certainly did not throw it out. Catching and killing animals was hard work, and cooks were encouraged to cook and eat every single part of an animal which was worth eating…even the organs. Or the feet (if they weren’t being saved for jelly…). Or the head. The cheeks. Anything that wasn’t already removed. The offal, basically.

But how to dress the dregs of animals so that they looked appealing?

One way to do this was to take the intestines of the animal, pump water through them, wash them clean, and then fill the intestines with ground up animal leftovers, twist them into convenient lengths…and sell that, if you were a butcher, to your unsuspecting customers, or serve it to your diners, if you were a cook. It was still meat. It was still beef. Or pork. Or chicken. Or lamb. It was just…um…’modified’.

And that’s all a sausage is.

…did I put you off of your dinner yet?

In older times, all the leftovers from a dead animal were diced, sliced and minced up. Then, these animal unmentionables were pumped into the cleaned out intestines of the animal in question. The big long sausage was twisted around, every few inches, to make sausages of convenient lengths, and then the whole thing was cooked up.

Some butchers still make sausages like that today, although most cheaper sausages use edible plastic or synthetic sausage-skins instead. But it is, nonetheless, how it was done.

…Hotdog, anyone?


Pies…Cake is the lie

Mmm. We like pies. Chicken pie, beef pie, steak and kidney, apple, blueberry, custard-cream…sweet, savory, spicy, simple, splendid. We love pies!

One of the reasons we love pies is because they’re fun to make. We love creating pretty, patterned crusts, with cris-crossing strips, vents held open by pie-birds, pastry-leaves, and pretty, rippling, wavering sides.

A pie-bird. These painted clay birdies are stuck into the middle of pies to stop the pie-crusts from sagging during baking, and to provide a vent for steam to escape

But for all the effort, we know that before long, the crust and sides will be broken up, carved up, and devoured. And all our efforts will be dashed in a flurry of gravy, cream, sugar and crumbs.

But our love-affair with pies is only the end of a very long journey.

With pies, cakes and tarts, comes an interesting history.

Takeout Pies

For a long time, pies were not even baked at home. We have a romantic image of pies cooling on the window-sill after they’ve been baked, the wonderful smells wafting around the neighbourhood. Which they may well have done; but it’s a rather modern thing.

For centuries, pies were never baked at home. Until the introduction of the range stove in the 1700s, it was well outside the ability of the ordinary man or woman to do his own baking at home. Most homes did not have ovens. They had fireplaces. Fireplaces are great for roasting meat, for cooking stews, boiling soup and providing heat and warmth, but they’re impossible for baking on. The smoke and flames and soot from the fire would destroy the pie, and the constantly wavering heat from the flames meant that the pie wouldn’t bake properly, anyway.

For a long time, pies were actually sent out to the nearest bakery to be baked. Here, the village baker would bake your pies for you. You dropped them off, and he marked the top of your pie in a manner that made it stand out (so you knew which one was yours, to differentiate it from the dozens of other pies in town!). He baked it, and then you came back later and picked it up.

The nursery-rhyme ‘Pat-a-Cake‘ recalls this era of history:

“Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake,
Baker’s man, 
Bake me a cake as fast as you can,
Prick it, and poke it, and mark it with a B,
And put it in the oven, for baby and me!”

In the rhyme, just like in real life, a cake or pie was marked (‘with a B’, in this case), to differentiate Baby’s cake, or pie, from all the others in town, which were being baked at the same time, in the communal oven.

But before you even baked the pie, you had to put something into it. Filling! Back in medieval times, pie-fillings were a little more creative than what they are today. Two of the most common filling-choices gave us two of the most lasting, pie-related nuggets from history.

Before people got the idea of grinding up animal-guts and turning them into sausages, animal entrails were chopped up, boiled, and stuffed into a pie-casing. This pie was baked in an oven, and then served to the peasantry, low-ranking servants, and paupers. Entrails and guts and organs were called “umbles”. Serving “umble pie” to the poor gave the peasantry a constant reminder (as if they ever needed one!) that they were on the lowest rung of the social ladder, because all they could eat was…’Umble Pie”, or “humble pie”, as it eventually became to be called.

These days, we’re used to separating sweet from savoury. You’d hardly have a beef and custard pie, would you?

…would you?


Believe it or not, but in medieval times, pies that mixed sweet with meat, were pretty common! Beef would be mixed with raisins and dates and prunes, and baked together in a pie. This wasn’t necessarily because people liked it…but rather because it was one of the few ways that people had, to stop food going stale!

The natural sugars found in fruit were used as a preservative to prevent the meat from going rotten. And often, fruit and meat were baked together, for this purpose.

These days, we don’t bake our meat and fruit together in a pie anymore. But we do have a leftover from that period – the Christmas “mince pie”. There isn’t any beef mince in these pies, but they’re called mince pies because they were originally made with meat, with the fruit acting as a preservative. Over time, the beef was removed, giving us a simple fruit ‘mince’ pie, the kind we know today.

Empty Shells

No, not shotgun-shells or bullet-casings…pie-casings!

The tradition of eating a pie, sweet, savoury, or a mix of the two, together with the crunchy pastry crust and casing, is actually a pretty modern development.

For much of history, when a pie was eaten, the pastry lid was removed, the contents (today, the fillings) eaten, and then the pie-casing (and the lid) was put back in the kitchen to be reused!…Again…and again…and again! For as long as the crust and casing remained fresh.

Why bother using the crust and casing when you have a pie-dish, though?

You have to understand a couple of things here…

This is a time before widespread refrigeration. Meat had to be cooked and eaten within 48 hours of being purchased fresh from the local market. There was nowhere to store it for longer than overnight without it going stale (unless you froze it, smoked it, or salted it).

To prevent meat going bad, cooks would bake it in a pie. And cooking the meat meant that it lasted longer and you could eat it, of course!

But why save the pie-crusts?

Until relatively recently, flour, the main ingredient in pie-casings, was an expensive commodity. Very expensive. In medieval times, the only way most people could get flour was to grow their own wheat, thresh their own grain, winnow their own wheatgrain, and then grind it by hand, or grind it at the mill owned by the local landlord (for which the peasantry had to pay taxes to use!). Even in later times, flour was expensive, and only the wealthy could afford to eat the fine, sifted, refined white flour which we love so much today. This was because the extra effort required to refine it made it more expensive.

The result? Most people couldn’t afford enough flour to bake a pie for every day of the week. You’d use up your flour to bake your pie and the meat inside. Then you’d use the same pie-crust over and over and over again until it started going bad, before eating it on the last night of the week. This was to make your flour last for as long as possible.

And the pie-crusts of older times are a lot different to the ones made today. Most people would complain…loudly…if you served them a pie with a crust that was too thick, since it would be impossible to crunch into, or get a fork or knife through. In the days of serfdom and lords, pie-crusts could be upwards of an inch or two in thickness! This was so that they would last through the repeated bakings without burning and charring in the oven.


Not for nothing is bread nicknamed “the staff of life”. For centuries, millenia even, all over the world, mankind has survived on bread of some variety. Whitebread, wholemeal, mixed-grain, sourdough, rice-bread, cornbread, pita-bread…the list is almost endless. But what is the history of bread?

The origins of bread go back to the dawn of civilization. And its importance is just as up-there as its history. Hell, the Romans even created a whole ROOM just for bread. Ever wondered why your kitchen has a ‘pantry’? It comes from the Latin word ‘Panna’ or…bread. A ‘pantry’ was the room in which bread, a staple of life, was stored. But here’s a few things you may not know about bread…

The Upper Crust

The “upper crust” is a common expression meaning those of a higher social status, up there in the upper-class economic group. But have you ever wondered where the term ‘upper crust’ came from?

Yep. Bread.

Before the first modern stoves were invented in the Western world (Ca. 1700), baking bread was a hot, dangerous and ashy affair. Here’s how it was done…

The dome-shaped bread oven was filled with wood, which was then set on fire. The oven door was left open and the huge fire inside the oven was allowed to burn for hours, until it finally burnt out. Once the fire was out, the baker had the unenviable task of raking out the hot ash, charcoal and cinders, and shoving in dozens of loaves of bread at a time, using those big, wooden baking-paddles (so he didn’t burn his hands).

Burning a fire in the oven, and letting it burn down to ash made the brick (or stone) inside the oven extremely hot. And it’s this heat, and not the heat from the fire, which actually bakes the bread. Once the bread was shoved in as quickly as possible, the oven door was shoved on, and extra bread-dough was stuffed around the edges of the door. This had the double-job of sealing in the heat, but also acting as an oven-timer. You could tell when the bread inside was baked by checking whether or not the dough on the door was also baked.

When the bread was baked, the door was ripped off, and the bread hauled out on paddles again.

Everything about baking bread relied on speed. It took so long to build, light and burn down the fire that bakers wanted to get the ash out of there, and the bread in there, as fast as possible. The result is that there was always a thin layer of ash on the oven-base. And during baking, this ash and soot would stick to the bottom of the loaves of bread. Eugh!

Picky rich people who wanted the best bread, would slice the loaves horizontally instead of vertically, so that the burnt, sooty bottom crust of the bread was given to the poor – the paupers, beggars and lepers, while they…the rich…kept the crunchy, soft, soot-free…upper-crust…for themselves!

Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree…

Anyone who’s ever baked bread at home will know that one of the most frustrating things is the wait while the dough rises. After the bread-dough has been mixed and kneaded, it’s necessary to leave it alone so that the yeast inside the dough can expand and let off gas, which allows the dough to rise, before it can be put into the oven.

But what if you didn’t have yeast, one of the key ingredients in breadmaking?

If you don’t have yeast, you could do what medieval bakers used to do. Take the bread out into the back yard, or nearest available orchard, find a suitable apple tree, and stick the yet-to-rise bread-dough underneath it! And let nature take its course, as they say.

Yes. This actually works. And it works because apples, which grow on apple trees (see, you learn something reading this blog…), are full of yeast. And apples on the ground, rotting off, let off yeast fumes, which will help your flaccid loaf to fluff into life before its date with destiny. The yeast in the apples is the same reason why it’s possible to make alcoholic apple cider; yeast is also a key ingredient in beer!

Hungry for More?

The “If Walls Could Talk” documentary episode “The Kitchen”, and the documentary “Tudor Feast” will supply you with some tasty information.


What’s that Tune? The stories behind famous pieces of music

You hear them all the time on television, in kids’ cartoons, in movies, in advertisements on the radio and in the ad-breaks between your favourite TV shows. But what are the stories behind these iconic pieces of music? Here’s a selection of some of the most famous pieces of music you might not know anything about, and the stories behind them.

Title? Ride of the Valkyries
Who? Richard Wagner
When? 1870
What? From the opera “Die Walkure

Commonly used in cartoons, and TV shows to symbolise impending doom, destruction or the coming of some great conflict, the Ride of the Valkyries dates back to 1870. It was originally written for the German opera “Die Walkure” (“The Valkyries“), by Richard Wagner. The Valkyries was one of a series of four operas written by Wagner at the time.

Ride” plays at the start of the third act in the opera. Its dramatic and triumphal melody is designed to accompany the arrival of the valkyries (characters of viking mythology), whose task it is to select which viking warriors will die in battle, and the souls of which, the valkyries deliver to the god, Odin, ruler of Valhalla, the Viking world of the dead, where warriors who have died in battle are honoured for their bravery and skill.

Today, the “Ride” is most famously remembered from the film “Apocalypse Now”, but its fame dates back over a hundred years to the grand opera-houses of Germany and Austria.

Title? Tocata & Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565
Who? Johanna Sebastian Bach
When? Ca. 1704
What? Organ piece

Although most people have never listened to the whole thing, the first eight notes of Bach’s Tocata & Fugue in D Minor are recognised around the world, for their haunting, eerie, creepiness. Used in cartoons and other TV shows for setting the scenes in scary old Victorian houses, isolated haunted mansions, spooky abandoned castles, and grandmother’s dusty basement, where the lightbulb never seems to work properly, the Tocata & Fugue in D minor has remained famous for over 300 years!

Exactly WHEN Bach wrote the Tocata & Fugue is unknown. The closest date that anyone can figure is ca. 1704/5. In fact, it’s not even established that he wrote it. See, the problem with Bach’s collection of work is that he never signed any of his compositions! So it’s almost impossible to say if he wrote anything at all. The only method of determining what works can be genuinely attributed to him, is by reading the diaries, letters and other accounts left by his contemporaries.

Indeed, almost no copies of Bach’s original compositions, penned by his own hand, survive. Nearly all of the oldest copies which we have today, were once copied out by Johannes Ringk. Ringk (1717-1778), was a German composer, organist and music-teacher. And its his copies of Bach’s works which are among the oldest known to survive. Ringk’s copy of Bach’s famous organ-piece is likely taken from another copy, by Ringk’s fellow organist, Johann Peter Kellner (1705-1772), who copied the original Bach composition, ca. 1725. The original composition, which Kellner likely copied, has been lost to history, and no copies of the Tocata & Fugue, as penned by Bach, survive today.

Title? In the Hall of the Mountain King
Who? Edvard Grieg
When? 1876
What? From the Norwegian opera “Peer Gynt

One of the most famous operatic orchestral pieces in history, ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ is recognised instantly from its tiptoe start, its gradual increase in volume, and the eardrum-busting crescendo! But what purpose does this piece of music serve?

Mountain King” comes from the 1873 opera, “Peer Gynt“, a fantastical theater play, or…fairytale!

Originally, the story was called “Per Gynt” (“Peter Gynt”), and was a traditional Norwegian fairy-tale. Norwegian dramatist, Henrik Ibsen used the fairy-tale as the basis for his grand masterpiece theater-production, and Edvard Grieg’s famous piece of music was written for one of the scenes.

In the play, the main character, Peter Gynt, is disgraced. After dashing the hopes that his mother had held, for him to marry the daughter of a wealthy local farmer, Peter is banished from his community.

During his travels, Peter meets a wide range of people, and finds himself inside an enormous mountain, ruled by a troll-king, hence the title of the piece.

Peter meets a girl who is daughter of the troll-king. When the courtiers find out, and realise that Peter might have made her pregnant, everything goes awry, shown by the dramatic change in the piece of music during its later stages.

Title? Overture – The Barber of Seville
Who? Giaochino Rossini
When? 1816
What? From the Italian comic opera “The Barber of Seville”

The overture to the Barber of Seville is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. To most people, it’s the soundtrack to a certain Bugs Bunny cartoon that came out in 1950…

The overture (‘opening piece’) to the Barber of Seville has remained one of the most famous and iconic pieces of music ever written, and its various elements has been used in TV, movies and commercials for years.

Title? Overture – 1812
Who? Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 
When? 181…no. 1880
What? Commemoration

Jangling church-bells and the reports of cannon-blasts going off is the most famous part of the 1812 Overture, one of Peter Tchaikovsky’s most famous works. But what is it actually about?

Contrary to popular belief, the 1812 Overture has NOTHING to do with the War of 1812. That’s a sheer coincidence.

The 1812 Overture, written in 1880, commemorates the Russian defeat of Napoleon’s forces in 1812, driving back the French emperor from the Russian homeland. The cannonfire for which the piece is so famous, commemorates the Patriotic War of 1812, the Russian name for the failed French invasion of Russia, from June to December of that year.

Title? The Typewriter
Who? Leroy Anderson
When? 1950
What? Novelty orchestral piece

‘The Typewriter’, from 1950, is one of the most famous pieces of novelty orchestral music ever written. It is unique because of the one instrument that it uses which isn’t an instrument: a typewriter.

Anderson wrote this quirky little piece to immortalise one of the most important inventions in the history of mankind, the humble typewriter. It is the typewriter’s clacking keys, the famous ring of the warning-bell, and the grating sound of the carriage being pushed back at the end of each line that people remember in this piece of music. However, there’s more to this piece than that.

To actually perform this piece, you require the orchestra, a functional typewriter, and a call-bell. The call-bell is there to facilitate the extra bell-chimes which the typewriter itself, cannot provide. And when the piece was first performed and recorded, a modified typewriter with only two functional keys, was used to provide the sound-effects!

Title? Galop – Orpheus in the Underworld
Who? Jacques Offenbach
When? 1858
What? Dance

Today, most people just know this piece as the Can-Can. Written in 1858, the Galop from the opera ‘Orpheus in the Underworld‘, by Jacques Offenbach, is one of the most famous pieces of dance-music ever produced.

A ‘galop’ is a French term, and the title of a type of dance. It comes from the word ‘gallop’, as in a galloping horse. The title reflects the lively, quick pace of a style of dance which became popular in the 1820s, which was full of speed and activity.

Title? “Music for Royal Fireworks”; ‘La Rejouissance’
Who? George Frederic Handel
When? 1749
What? Fireworks Accompaniment

George Handel’s ‘Music for Royal Fireworks‘, was written in 1749, to accompany a fireworks display being put on by King George II of England. This huge public spectacle was to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, the year before. Sadly, the fireworks were not as spectacular as the music, which remains popular even to this day, nearly 300 years later. It’s well-known for its use in triumphal, royal scenes depicting splendor, pomp and ceremony.

Title? Symphony No. 40., in G Minor (1st Mvt)
Who? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
When? 1788
What? Nokia ringtone…?

Anyone who’s ever had to answer their mobile or cellphone will probably be familiar with this tune. Written by child prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in 1788 (by which time he was in his 30s), this tune remains one of Mozart’s most famous compositions. It was also one of his last; Mozart died in 1791, at the age of 35.


Sweet, Cold and Delicious: The History of Ice-Cream

As I write this, the second-southernmost state of the Commonwealth of Australia is steadily being slow-roasted into hellish oblivion. For the third week in a row, we’re having temperatures over 30’c. And that is what has inspired this posting about the history of ice-cream.

Heaven, I’m in Heaven, and my heart beats so, that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek… 

Where Does Ice-Cream Come From?

Variations of ice-cream have existed for centuries. Cold, sweet foods which contained ice as a main ingredient date back to ancient times, in cultures as far apart as China and Ancient Persia (Iran, today), all the way to the Roman Empire. But how did ancient man produce these sweet, cooling treats, without freezers or refrigerators?

The First ‘Ice-Cream’

The first versions of ice-cream, which emerged in these ancient cultures, used crushed snow as the main ingredient. To the snow (stored in caves during hot weather, or harvested from mountains which remained cold all-year-round), various ingredients were added, depending on the tastes of the consumers, and the country of manufacture.

The first ice-creams of a sort, were fruit-based, and one of the main ingredients were fruit-juices, or purees. Of course, you could add anything you wanted to the ice; other ingredients included rosewater, saffron, or the crushed pulp of berries.

Living in the boiling climates that they do, it was the Arabians who developed ice-cream as we might know it today. Originally, the fruit that they added to crushed ice was not only to give it flavour, but also to sweeten it.

Eventually, Arabian innovators changed the recipe to improve taste and texture. To do this, sweetened milk was added to the ice instead of fruit, to create bulk and substance. And they used pure sugar, rather than the sugars found in fruit, to provide the sweetness. For the first time in history (about 900A.D.), we had our first ‘iced cream’, which literally combined ice, and cream (okay, milk…), to form a dessert that would remain popular for millenia.

The Spread of Ice-Cream

It took a while, but by the early 1700s, ice-cream was becoming popular all over the world. Recipes varied from country to country, but it was catching on fast. There were a few false starts and mistakes during the early years, but even these apparent failures gave us desserts which have survived the test of time, and became regional varieties of ice-cream; Italian gelato is one example of this.

Ice-cream became very popular in Europe. In France and Italy, and then eventually in England, too. By the late 1600s and early 1700s, ice-cream recipes had appeared, printed in a number of languages, including French and English. One of the earliest recipes for ice-cream in English dates to 1718! “Ice Cream” first appears as a dictionary-entry in 1744!

During the 1790s and the early 1800s, French aggression (remember a little chap named Bonaparte?) on the European mainland was driving Italians away from their homes. Italian refugees fled across the Channel to England, bringing their ice-creaming technology and skills with them.

Even before then, however, the popularity of ice-cream was spreading even further, and this sweet, cool dessert reached the Americas in the mid-and-late 1700s. The first ice-cream parlour in the ‘States opened in New York City in 1776. Ice-cream had been introduced to the colonials by Quaker migrants from Europe. Thomas Jefferson’s favourite flavour was supposedly vanilla.

How Do you Make Ice-Cream?

I hear you. How do you make ice-cream? They didn’t have freezers back then. They didn’t have fridges. And surely you can’t get ice and snow all year ’round? How did they make it in the summer, for example, when ice-cream would’ve been most popular? What, and more importantly, how, to do, when all the ice and snow is gone!?

Come to our aid, O great science of chemistry.

As far back as the early 1700s, housewives and professional ice-cream sellers had cracked the code of making ice-cream without all the fancy freezing and chilling apparatus which we take for granted today. Here’s how it’s done.

First, you need a pot or a can made of metal. Into this can, you put the ingredients of your ice-cream. The cream or milk, the flavorings and so-forth.

Find a larger pot. Line the bottom of the pot with ice. Lots of it. Put the smaller pot inside the larger pot, and pack in the space on the sides with even more ice. Now, just add salt.

A LOT of salt.

One particular recipe calls for a whole pound of salt.

what happens here, you ask?

The salt mixes with the ice, and the ice begins to melt.

The salty water is kept cold by the ice that hasn’t melted yet. And since salty water has a lower freezing temperature than pure water, the remaining ice can act on the salty water for a lot longer than it might otherwise do. And this drives the temperature of the salt-water-ice mix down even further.

This whole process is aided by putting the entire concoction of ice, salt, water and ice-cream, into the basement or cellar. The cold air slows down the melting of the ice that hasn’t already melted, and so the whole process is prolonged and lengthened out. The result is that the ice and saltwater slurry chills the sides of the interior pot or canister inside the main ice-pot. This, in turn, freezes the ice-cream mix inside the inner pot. Once the process is complete…you have ice-cream!


Okay, not so simple.

The problem with this method is that, while it worked, it took a very long time. Up to four hours. When’s the last time you waited four hours to eat ice-cream?

A faster method of making ice-cream was needed. And in the early 1800s, that method arrived, in the United States…

Machine-Made Ice-Cream!

Since the early 1700s, ice-cream had been made the slow way. You filled a can with ice-cream, you sat it in a basin of ice and salt, and let basic laws of science do the rest. It produced a great result, at the expense of a lot of time. Something better had to be found to produce ice-cream in greater quantities, or at least, smaller quantities at a faster pace!


Believe it or not, but this is the world’s first-ever purpose-built ice-cream maker.

Yes. That.

It was invented in 1843 by Nancy Johnson, a lady from New Jersey, in the United States.

How does it work, you ask? It works more or less the same as the previous method mentioned above, except this one takes more muscle. It produces ice-cream in the following way:

1. Put your ice-cream mixture into the interior canister.

2. Fill the bucket with ice, and salt.

3. Turn the crank.

And how exactly does this produce ice-cream?

Constantly turning the crank moved the interior can around in the slurry of saltwater and ice. This nonstop agitation mixed up the ice and water, but also mixed up the ice-cream. The result is that more of the ice-cream mixture gets to contact the freezing cold sides of its metal container, which means that the temperature of the ice-cream batch on a whole, decreases much faster. The faster you crank, the faster this happens, and the sooner you get ice-cream!

A bonus of the Johnson method of ice-cream making was that you also got ice-cream of a much better texture. The previous method, of simply freezing the cream in a bucket of icy saltwater produced a sort of ice-cream lump, similar to an ice-cube. The constant agitation produced by the hand-cranked freezer was that mixing the ice-cream around inside its receptacle prevented it from clumping together into chunks and blocks, and aerated it at the same time. The result was smoother, creamier ice-cream!

The result of this was that in 1843, you had the Johnson Patent Ice Cream Freezer. There are conflicting reports about whether or not Ms. Johnson ever patented her machine. Some say she did, in September of 1843, while others say say it was never patented at all. A Mr. William Young patented a similar machine and named it after her, in May, 1848. Whichever version of events is true, we have Nancy Johnson to thank for the first machine-made ice-cream in the world!

Ice-Cream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice-Cream!

From its crude beginnings in the Middle East, up until the mid-1800s, ice-cream was a delicacy and a treat. Phenomenally expensive and extremely fiddly, labour-intensive and tricky to make in any decent quantity, ice-cream was originally available only to the super-rich.

But it’s so easy. You get the cream, the sugar, the flavourings, you put it in a pot, you put the pot in the ice-water and the salt and…

It’s not so easy.

First, you need the ice. To get that, you had to carve it out of frozen lakes. Or haul it down from the mountains and store it in ice-houses during winter. And you needed to have an ice-house to begin with! And the labourers or slaves to cut, dig and haul the ice.

Then, you needed the salt. Salt was so tricky for most people to get that for centuries, it was traded as currency. It’s where we get the word ‘salary’ from, because people used to paid in salt, or paid money so that they could then go and buy salt for themselves. Salt was only obtained at great expense in time, from evaporating great quantities of seawater to obtain the salt-crystals, which would then have to be washed and dried and purified. Or else it had to be dug out of salt-flats, crushed, and purified again. This made salt extremely expensive, and out of the reach of mere mortals like you and me.

The relative scarcity of the ice required to cool down the cream, and the salt needed to provide the reaction, meant that large quantities of ice-cream were very difficult to make, and thus, were only available to the richest of people, who could afford the expense of the ice and salt. Most ordinary people wouldn’t have bothered to waste precious salt (used to preserving fish and meat) on something as wasteful and as extravagant as ice-cream! The damn thing melted if you left it on the kitchen table. What use was that all that fuss over something that didn’t last?

It wasn’t until large quantities of ice and salt were able to be produced, harvested or sold cheaply enough for anyone to buy it, that making ice-cream for everyone really became a going concern. Before then, it was simply too expensive.

Nancy Johnson’s ice-cream machine from the 1840s made efficient manufacture of ice-cream possible for the first time. Granted, these early hand-cranked machines could only freeze a small amount of ice-cream at a time, but they were a big improvement on waiting for hours and hours and hours for the same thing from a can sitting in a pot of salty slush!

Building on inventions such as the Johnson ice-cream freezer, by the mid-1800s, it was possible to produce ice-cream in commercial quantities, and the first company to do so was based in Maryland, in the United States.

The man responsible for the birth of commercial ice-cream manufacture was named Jacob Fussell. Fussell was a dairy-produce seller. He made pretty good money out of it, but he struggled constantly to sell his containers of cream. Frustrated about the fact that this cream would otherwise constantly go to waste, Fussell opened his first ice-cream factory in 1851.

Fussell spread the gospel of ice-cream, and as more ice-cream manufacturers sprang up around the ‘States, you had ice-cream for the common man.

Ice-Cream in Modern Times

By the 1900s, ice-cream was becoming popular everywhere. In the 1920s, the first electric refrigerators, and by extension, the first electric freezers, made ice-cream production, selling, buying, storing and of course, eating, much easier. It was during this time that companies and distributors like Good Humor (1920), Streets (1930s) and Baskin-Robin (1945) began making names for themselves…and which they still do today.

Since the invention of the Johnson ice-cream freezer in the 1840s, ice-cream could now be made faster and cheaper. Refrigeration technology, and the technology to manufacture enormous, commercial quantities of ice also aided in the ability to make ice-cream available for everyone. This also led to ice-cream being served in different ways for the first time in history.

Ice-Cream on a Stick!

If as a child, or even as an adult, you ever went to the corner milk-bar, drugstore or convenience-shop, and opened the ice-cream bin, and pulled out an ice-cream bar on a little wooden paddle or stick, then you have two little boys to thank:

Frank Epperson, and Harry Burt Jnr.

Ice-cream-bars, or frozen, citrus-based popsicles, or icy-poles, were invented in the early 20th century by two boys living in the United States.

The first popsicle was invented in 1904, by little Frank Epperson. Epperson was eleven years old when he tried to make his own, homemade soft-drink. He poured the necessary ingredients into a cup, and stuck a wooden paddle-stick into it to stir the contents around. Epperson left the mix outside in the garden overnight, and went to sleep.

During the night, the temperature plunged to frigid, subzero temperatures. When little Frankie woke up the next day, he found that his mixture had frozen solid inside the cup! Undaunted, as all little boys are, he simply turned the cup upside down, knocked out the frozen soda-pop, grabbed his new invention by the stirrer-cum-handle, and just started sucking on it. The world’s first-ever popsicle!

The invention of the world’s first ice-cream bar can be attributed to young Harry Burt.

Okay, so Burt wasn’t so young. But he did invent the ice-cream bar on a stick.

Burt’s father, Harry Burt senior, was experimenting with a way to serve ice-cream on the go. To make the ice-cream easier to sell, he set the cream into blocks. To keep the customer’s hands clean, he dipped the blocks in chocolate and froze them so that clean hands need not be soiled by contact with melting ice-cream.

The problem was that…what happens when the chocolate melts?

This was the point brought up by Harry’s daughter, Ruth Burt. Harry wasn’t sure what to do about it. That was when Ruth’s younger brother, 20-year-old Harry Junior, came up with the idea of freezing the ice-cream with little wooden sticks already inside them, to give the customer something to hold onto, and minimise the chances of ice-cream going all over the customer’s hands.

Daddy liked the idea so much that he gave it a shot, and success ensued! Between them, the three Burts had invented the ice-cream bar on a stick!

Sundaes on Sundays?

Ah. The joys of having a dish made almost entirely out of ice-cream. Sinful, isn’t it?

Apparently, someone thought so, because in the United States, it was illegal to eat ice-cream on Sunday!

Is that true?

Honestly, nobody knows. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. The legend goes that since selling  ice-cream was illegal on Sundays, ice-cream vendors would sell ‘sundaes’ instead, deliberately mis-spelling the name to circumvent the religious morality laws (‘blue laws’) which were killing their businesses.

Something else that nobody knows is where the sundae as an entity, was invented. The United States. But which city? And state? Nobody knows for sure.

Whoever invented sundaes, and for whatever variety of reasons, we should thank them for inventing one of the most enjoyable and most variable ways of consuming ice-cream  ever thought of.

…Banana split, anybody?

Sweet, Creamy Goodness

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