Inventing a Cool Delight
While the time of the year is a transition weather-wise all over the world, it heralds the end of spring and hints at the beginning of summer in some areas. This means that children will be playing, swimming pools will open, and everyone’s favorite dessert will be available in greater supply – ice cream. Really though it is not just in the summer months that “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!”
What began as a 1920’s novelty song was written by Howard Johnson, Billy Moll, and Robert King in 1927. The original lyrics of the song told of a fictional college located “in the land of ice and snow, up among the Eskimo.” The college cheer was what would become the most famous tag line from any song of this era, “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream”. In 1944 Jim Robinson was recorded playing with a small jazz combo playing a Instrumental version of the song entitled “Ice Cream” which featured Robinson’s giving a virtuosic performance on the melody. The song became a standard for the Dixieland jazz band Robinson had and his version of the song soon became played everywhere.
When the Dixieland jazz band of Chris Barber recorded the song in 1954 they had only heard the instrumental version. A record producer asked for them to play a version with the lyrics so Pat Halcox, a trumpet player with the band, made up some of his own. Halcox’s lyrics are now better known than the original. Both the song and the cool confectionary held a firm place in history.
You are probably asking “But where are the women in this interesting tidbit of cool history?” Ice cream would probably have been a one-time delight if not for women. One of the first to insure the success of ice cream was Catherine Di Medici. When the Italian beauty married King Henry II of France and left her home in Italy, she packed the recipe for the Italian delight known as frozen milk. French chefs began serving it to win the Queen’s pleasure and served it to all visiting dignitaries, including King Charles I of England. British King Charles I took the recipe home and ice cream soon became the “Iced delight” of the very wealthy and notably recognized in England.
Sallie Shadd was the wife of a butcher in Delaware in the 1800’s and she combined fruit with the frozen milk concoction. A visitor to her home named Dolly Madison loved the frozen dessert and when her husband James became president she insisted ice cream be served as his inaugural dinner. It was not until Nancy Johnson, however, that ice cream became the choice of the general population.
Making ice cream was not as simple as freezing milk and at some point, adding some sugar or other flavoring. In making ice cream, one has to simultaneously freeze the mixture while churning it so as to aerate the mixture and avoid ice crystals. This means that most ice creams are ready to consume immediately. In 1836 an African-American confectioner received fame for making various flavors of ice cream. In 1843 Nancy Johnson received a patent for a hand-cranked ice cream maker.
Not a great deal is known about Nancy Johnson except that she was a housewife who perfected her device several times, each time receiving a new patent for it. Some claim she was from Washington, D.C> while others put her home as being from the New England area or New Jersey. We do know that Nancy Johnson could not manufacture her device on her own and sold it to someone who could for the sum of two hundred dollars. In doing so, she not only made ice cream available to everyone, she created a billion-dollar industry.
Nancy Johnson’s ice crank ice cream machine consisted of a pewter cylinder inside an outer bowl. A hand crank would turn a paddle to stir the liquid mixture of milk, sugar, and flavorings. The outer bowl would be filled with salt and ice since adding salt to ice creates what is known as a freezing-point depression. The salt melts the ice and absorbed the heat of the ice cream liquid mixture which in turn freezes the liquid mixture.
Today we have more intricate versions of Nancy Johnson’s machine, powered by electricity that do not require someone turning a crank. The process is often still the same, however. I myself have a similar machine but the inner bowls are frozen first to avoid the necessary of the ice and salt. Some ice creams even include alcohol in their mixture but these require much colder temperatures and longer freezing.
Screaming for ice cream has become very big business since Nancy Johnson first made it accessible to the home chef. The market now generates over ten billion dollars a year and new flavor profiles are being developed every day. Concerns about health have impacted ice cream sales and the introduction of frozen yogurt has made its mark. Still, we have a little-known housewife to thank for the delectable frozen treats we all enjoy.
Any party is instantly enlivened when the host or hostess brings out a dessert which features ice cream. The frozen confectionary literally can warm up the conversation and put smiles on the faces of those present. How we treat people should never involve a cold shoulder, though. Leave the coldness for playing in snow or eating ice cream. Remember to be a gracious host or hostess to all who pass through your life, please. Do it in memory of Nancy Johnson and a treat to all.