In our restaurant, you can finish your meal with a delicious, refreshing, typically Italian dessert: ice cream, or, as Italians call it, gelato. But, do you know the History behind this delicacy?
In 400 BC, Persians invented a special chilled pudding-like dish, made of rose water and vermicelli which was served to royalty during summers.The ice was mixed with saffron, fruits, and various other flavours. The treat, widely made in Iran today, is called “faloodeh“, and is made from starch (usually wheat), spun in a sieve-like machine which produces threads or drops of the batter, which are boiled in water. The mix is then frozen, and mixed with rose water and lemons, before serving. Ancient Persians mastered the technique of storing ice inside giant naturally-cooled refrigerators known as yakhchals. These structures kept ice brought in from the winter, or from nearby mountains, well into the summer. They worked by using tall windcatchers that kept the sub-level storage space at frigid temperatures.
Ancient civilizations have served ice for cold foods for thousands of years. The BBC reports that a frozen mixture of milk and rice was used in China around 200 BC. The Roman Emperor Nero (37–68) had ice brought from the mountains and combined with fruit toppings. These were some early chilled delicacies.
Ice cream was the favorite dessert for the Caliphs of Baghdad. Arabs were the first to use milk as a major ingredient in its production, sweeten the ice cream with sugar rather than fruit juices, as well as perfect ways for its commercial production. As early as the 10th century, ice cream was widespread amongst many of the Arab world’s major cities, such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Their version of ice cream was produced from milk or cream and often some yoghurt similar to Ancient Greek recipes, flavoured with rosewater as well as dried fruits and nuts. It is believed that this was based on older Ancient Arab, Mesopotamian, Greek or Roman recipes, which were probably the first and precursors to Persian faloodeh.
In 62 AD, the Roman emperor Nero sent slaves to the Apennine mountains to collect snow to be flavoured with honey and nuts.
Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat asserts in her History of Food, “the Chinese may be credited with inventing a device to make sorbets and ice cream. They poured a mixture of snow and saltpetre over the exteriors of containers filled with syrup, for, in the same way as salt raises the boiling-point of water, it lowers the freezing-point to below zero.” (Toussaint does not provide historical documentation for this.) Some distorted accounts claim that in the age of Emperor Yingzong, Song Dynasty (960-1279) of China, a poem named “詠冰酪” (literally Ode to the ice cheese) was written by the poet Yang Wanli. Actually, this poem was named “詠酥” (literally Ode to the pastry, 酥 is a kind of food like pastry in the western world) and has nothing to do with ice cream. It has also been claimed that, in the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan enjoyed ice cream and kept it a royal secret until Marco Polo visited China and took the technique of making ice cream to Italy. However, others have argued that the Chinese didn’t drink milk during that period, whereas the Italians had arguably been making something resembling ice cream before Marco Polo returned to Italy. In any case, no known ice cream recipes appear to stem from ancient Chinese sources.
When Italian duchess Catherine de’ Medici married the duc d’Orléans in 1533, she is said to have brought with her Italian chefs who had recipes for flavoured ices or sorbets, and introduced them in France. One hundred years later, Charles I of England was supposedly so impressed by the “frozen snow”, he offered his own ice cream maker a lifetime pension in return for keeping the formula secret, so ice cream could be a royal prerogative. There is, however, no historical evidence to support these legends, which first appeared during the 19th century.
The first recipe for flavoured ices in French appears in 1674, in Nicholas Lemery’s Recueil de curiositéz rares et nouvelles de plus admirables effets de la nature. Recipes for sorbetti saw publication in the 1694 edition of Antonio Latini’s Lo Scalco alla Moderna (The Modern Steward). Recipes for flavoured ices begin to appear in François Massialot’s Nouvelle Instruction pour les Confitures, les Liqueurs, et les Fruits starting with the 1692 edition. Massialot’s recipes result in a coarse, pebbly texture. However, Latini claims that the results of his recipes should have the fine consistency of sugar and snow.