Sunday, September 23, 2012

Artichoke ice cream and other surprises

In the 18th century, ice cream was a novelty. Not new -- even the Romans had frozen desserts, and the transition to ice cream was gradual. It's another thing Marco Polo might have seen in China (but he didn't seem to have mentioned it). Books about ice cream were definitely new in the 18th century, though, and they offered a variety of flavors that would shame modern chefs who think of themselves as so ingenious. "Almost from the beginning, confectioners have pushed the ice cream envelope," writes Jeri Quinzio in her book Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making. While her book includes many other subjects, I found her descriptions of ice cream flavors from the past to be the most fascinating part.

Artichoke ice cream -- neige d'artichaux in the original -- seems to me one of the most exotic. A French chef made it from "pistachios and candied orange, along with artichokes, and quite probably the finished product tasted less like artichokes than like pistachios and oranges," she says. (p. 39)

Another ice cream maker in France used truffles -- the fungus kind, not the chocolate kind. Vanilla at the time, however, was not yet a commonly used flavor -- favorites of the time included fruits, flowers, and spices like cinnamon, cloves, anise, saffron. Quinzio cites an author from that period who said no vegetable existed that couldn't be turned into ice cream. Slightly later flavors were pomegranate, jasmine, fennel with lemon, and nougat candy. Or a combination of cinnamon, lemon peel, and bay leaf. (p. 53, 142)

Parmesan cheese flavored ice cream is mentioned twice in Sugar and Snow. An author named Frederick Nutt mentioned it in a work called The Complete Confectioner in England in the late 18th or early 19th century. When talking of famous chefs of the late 20th century, Quinzio mentions miniature cornets filled with salmon tartare and crème fraîche but looking like ice cream cones -- part of a trend that includes desserts with new flavors that the chefs of the 18th century "would have recognized, such as Parmesan, artichoke, and truffle." (p. 207)

Even the creation of ice-cream-like savory dishes is not new. The Virginia House-Wife by Mary Randolph in 1824 had many recipes for dessert ices, but among them was "frozen oyster cream" which was oyster soup, strained and frozen; Quinzio says that Randolph gives no serving suggestion or explanation of this recipe. Similarly, she cites Fanny Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cook Book's recipe for Clam Frappé: the liquid from steamed clams frozen "to a mush." Quisno gives the entire recipe for a Cucumber Sorbet, which actually sounds pretty refreshing to me. She also mentions rye-bread and brown-bread flavored ice creams. (p. 59, 79, 143, 151)

I enjoyed the historic material, for example, about the invention of the ice cream cone, which  did not originate at the St.Louis World's Fair/Louisiana Exposition in 1904, but was the first place that made street food from what had been a fancy, table-served dish. I was amused to hear of one "bombe" made of ice cream that was really supposed to remind people of anarchists, and of Seabees creating an improvised ice cream maker from airplane parts and Japanese shell cases on a Pacific Island in World War II (p. 71 & 195). I was delighted to learn more about marshmallows -- how they were melted and used for frozen desserts in early home freezers (my mother did this -- her specialty was coffee mallow, which didn't work when she got a freezer that maintained a truly cold temperature). And how Rocky Road ice cream with marshmallows in it was supposedly invented by William Dreyer in Oakland, California, in 1929. But I most loved the lists of exotic flavors.


~~louise~~ said...

I'm always amused by the recipes for frozen confections found in old cookbooks Mae. What a great post!

Thank you so much for sharing...I'm going to miss our little chats:) Louise

Mae Travels said...

Thanks, Louise. I will miss your observations on food, but I understand your decision to shut down blogging in favor of other activities.

~~louise~~ said...

Thank you for understanding Mae. It was a difficult decision and may take a bit of getting use to but, I am really excited too!