Monday, August 2, 2021

Ice Cream History by Maya Corrigan

Potluck Monday: A Brief History of Ice Cream

Nothing says summer like ice cream. The jingling bells of the Good Humor man’s bicycle with an attached freezer cart was the first sign of summer when I was growing up. Does anyone else remember ice cream vendors on bicycles? Replaced by ice cream trucks, they’ve become part of the long history of ice cream, which includes inventions patented by women. 

The first recipes for frozen treats made with dairy appeared in France and Italy in the late 1600s. The earliest use of the English term “ice cream” is in a 1672 document from the court of King Charles II, who built an ice house in London, possibly so he could eat the dessert. Ice cream remained a treat only for the crème de la crème of society in England and across the Atlantic. Alexander Hamilton and his wife served it to George Washington. One of the ten surviving recipes that Thomas Jefferson wrote down was for vanilla ice cream.

Making the frozen dessert in those days required putting it on ice and manually stirring and scraping it at intervals for several hours. In 1843 Nancy M. Johnson applied for a patent on her Artificial Freezer. Her sealed cylinder inside a container of ice had a mixing blade that could be cranked to churn and scrape the ice cream mixture while it froze.

Five years later, William Young modified the design to make the container rotate. Like other commodities, ice cream was industrialized and mass produced in the latter half of the 19th century. By the early 20th century, U.S. factories were churning out vast quantities of ice cream. The sweet treat got a boost during Prohibition when saloons and bars were repurposed as ice cream parlors.

Victorian celebrity cook Agnes Marshall wrote the first books devoted to ice cream recipes: The Book of Ices (1885) and Fancy Ices (1894). She also patented an improved ice cream machine that could freeze a pint in five minutes. Mrs. Marshall promoted her cooking classes and her invention in The Book of Ices. A page of it is reproduced here.

Below are links to recipes for frozen treats that have appeared on Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen. The book giveaways associated with those posts are long over.

But until Wednesday, Aug 2, you can enter a giveaway for Vicki Delany's new Tea by the Sea Mystery, Murder in a Teacup, and my latest Five-Ingredient Mystery, Gingerdead Man by commenting on yesterday's post. You can probably scroll down to it from his post. 

Do you have childhood memories associated with ice cream?


Maya Corrigan writes the Five-Ingredient Mysteries featuring café manger Val and her live-wire grandfather solving murders in a Chesapeake Bay town. Maya lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. Before writing crime fiction, she taught American literature, writing, and detective fiction at Northern Virginia Community College and Georgetown University. When not reading and writing, she enjoys theater, travel, trivia, cooking, and crosswords.

Visit her website to sign up for her newsletter. One subscriber wins a book each time a newsletter goes out. Check out the easy recipes, mystery history and trivia, and a free culinary mystery story on the website.

Book covers of the 7 Five-Ingredient Mysteries by Maya Corrigan


  1. Fascinating details, Maryann! Today's home ice cream freezers still use that same kind of paddle system, too.

    I do remember the ice cream man, but ours pushed his cart around the neighborhood. If a bicycle was used I don't remember that part. We lived about a half mile from a dairy, and my mother would put the littlest kid in the stroller and we'd walk to get cones. My favorite was the watermelon sherbet, which they only had for a week or so every summer. Sweet memories.

  2. We still have a hand-crank White Mountain ice cream maker that my husband got as a college graduation present in 1971.
    The cranking works best to the rhythm of his playing the guitar! But even he cannot do both at once!

    1. Libby, Be happy he can do one or the other. Thanks for your comment.