Back in the summer of 1984, President Ronald Reagan passed the Presidential Proclamation 5219 on July 9th, proclaiming July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. The official Proclamation stated, “Ice cream is a nutritious and wholesome food, enjoyed by over ninety percent of the people in the United States. It enjoys a reputation as the perfect dessert and snack food.” We wholeheartedly agree! Not that we need a reason to celebrate ice cream, but it’s nice to have an entire month devoted to the enjoyment of one of America’s favorite desserts. Appropriate during any month of the year, ice cream isn’t just for enjoying during the summer months, although we can’t think of a better way to celebrate the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer than with a delicious bowl of sweet, smooth, creamy ice cream in your favorite flavor.
At the time President Reagan issued Proclamation 5219, nearly ten percent of all the milk produced by the United States dairy farmers was used to produce ice cream, and Americans were consuming over eight hundred and eighty-seven million gallons of ice cream annually. Ice cream has been a favorite dessert of millions of people around the world for a long time and made its original debut long before 1984. In fact, although the original icy treat bore little resemblance to the ice cream we all enjoy today, history tells us that as far back as the Biblical days of King Solomon ice cream’s ancestor was enjoyed in the form of iced drinks during harvest season. Roman Emperor Nero is reported to have ordered slaves to harvest mountaintop ice, storing the ice in deep pits covered with straw, then enjoying it as a treat flavored with honey or nectar. Alexander the Great also supposedly enjoyed icy drinks flavored with honey or wine.
In medieval times, chilled drinks flavored with cherry, pomegranate, or quince were enjoyed by Arabs. Italy and France reportedly mastered this drink-making technique shortly after. Many cultures are given credit for inventing ice cream, from ancient Greeks who mixed honey, snow, and fruit together to China, credited with inventing the precursor to our modern-day ice cream by mixing a goat, cow, or buffalo milk, flour, and camphor concoction encased in metal tubes and lowered into an icy pool until frozen.
In the 17th century ice drinks began being made into frozen desserts. With the addition of sugar, sorbetto (or as it is commonly known today, sorbet) was invented. Antonio Latini, a man employed in Naples by a Spanish Viceroy, is credited with creating a milk-based sorbet, which culinary historians consider the first “official” ice cream.
Ice cream was first brought to the American colonies from Europe and quickly became a favorite of the wealthy. Until the 19th century when technological improvements allowed ice cream to be mass produced, it was savored as a special treat reserved for the elite. In the summer of 1790, George Washington reportedly spent approximately $200 to satisfy his craving for ice cream. Thomas Jefferson had his own secret ice cream recipe, and Dolly Madison, wife of President James Madison, served ice cream at the White House. In 1843, a patent for the first hand-cranked ice cream maker was issued to Nancy Johnson. A few years later in 1851, the first ice cream factory was built by Jacob Fussell.
With the advent of mechanical refrigeration, large amounts of ice cream were able to be kept cool. Soon, improvements in technology helped ice cream become much more affordable and therefore available to the general public, and thus began a love affair between Americans and ice cream that endures to this day. A
lthough there’s much debate about the origin of the ice cream sundae, the ice cream cone, and which flavor of ice cream is the best, there’s no debating that children of all ages and cultures love ice cream.
Ice cream isn’t just a satisfying treat; ice cream sales are good for the economy, as well. The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the trade association for manufacturers and distributors of ice cream and other frozen dessert products, states that the ice cream industry in the United States contributes more than $39.0 billion to the national economy and creates more than 188,000 jobs in communities across the country.
The King of England, Charles I, is said to have paid his personal chef to keep his ice cream recipe a secret from the rest of England. Mary Todd Lincoln, on the other hand, loved to invite guests to the White House during her husband’s presidency for “strawberry parties” to celebrate berry season, where ripe strawberries were served with cake and ice cream. To help you enjoy your ice cream this summer and share your joy with others, here are some ideas on how to host your own ice cream social.
- Make your own using invitations, blank note cards, enlist the kids’ help, or purchase some cute party invitations and get the word out to friends and family at least two weeks in advance of your party to give everyone time to plan to join in the fun and deliciousness.
- You can stick to store-bought ice cream, make your own, or celebrate summer with a combination of the two. For some great recipes for homemade ice cream, sorbet, and gelato, check out this collection of delicious recipes from Martha Stewart.
- Make sure you have enough bowls, spoons, and serving utensils, and make it fun with bright, attractive colors or patterns. For the kids consider using brightly decorated cereal bowls featuring their favorite characters. For the adults, you can pick up some inexpensive red, white, and blue dishes all month long.
- Have a toppings table with a variety of items to top off those bowls of creamy ice cream, sorbet, or gelato. In addition to the usual chocolate sprinkles, crumbled cookies, and colorful candy, add in some healthy chopped nuts and fresh fruit, and don’t forget to have chocolate sauce, caramel, butterscotch syrup, and several cans of whipped cream on hand. For the adults in the crowd, a tasty coconut chocolate sundae with vanilla-bourbon butterscotch sauce makes a popular topping. Just be sure to have it in a separate area from the toppings for the kids!
- Be daring and add some unusual, unexpected toppings for your ice cream like crumbled bacon, pickles, pretzels, popcorn, powdered matcha, jalapenos, crushed barbeque chips, nacho chips, or cheese balls. With a spread like that, your ice cream social will be the talk of the summer!
- Have plenty of napkins within reach and help make clean up easier with colorful, easy to clean or disposable plastic tablecloths, and absorbent dish towels. Consider using serving trays to keep all those bowls of toppings contained.
In 1984, President Reagan concluded his official Presidential Proclamation with this directive, “I call upon the people of the United States to observe these events with appropriate ceremonies and activities.” Far be it from us to argue with a directive that makes so much sense and helps the economy to boot! We say go forth and celebrate National Ice Cream Month by treating yourself with your favorite ice cream as you participate in all your summertime activities and ceremonies.