By Caryl Clem:
Surviving Italian Florentine rebellions, at the tender age of 14, Catherine d’Medici was to wed the second eldest son of the King of France, Henry Orleans in 1533. Her two loves, ice cream and high heels are still around today. She had purchased a recipe for ice cream from a goat and chicken farmer who won a contest her family sponsored. This frozen dessert won instant popularity after it was served at her wedding. As a short new bride, Catherine wanted to ensure her grand entrance before the Royal Court of France; a stunning pair of custom made high heels was a fashion first. Catherine became Queen of France in 1536 bearing 10 children with her husband.
Since 1686, a café that entertained the greatest thinkers in Paris was Café Procope . Famous clientele included Voltaire famous French author against tyranny, Diderot, inventor of modern encyclopedia organization, Americans Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington discussed world issues over coffee and ice cream.
The first recipe for ice cream used by George Washington in America had 21 steps. Rich mansion owners had underground ice houses for blocks of ice cut in the winter. Only the wealthy could afford the necessary ingredients.
Before Chicago, Philadelphia was an ice cream “hot spot”. Quaker schoolteacher named Louis Dubois Bassett set out to make high-quality ice creams on his rural New Jersey farm.
Fast forward to the late 1800’s when Chicago enters the ice cream market limelight. Early vendors hawked their half Penney and Penny licks ice cream from reused, rinsed, small hand held glass containers. Italian vendors sounded like they were saying, Hockey Pokey’s. Believed but not proven, the more sanitary ice cream wafer cone happened at a World’s Fair Exhibition in St. Louis. An ice cream vendor ran out of glass containers so he paired business with his neighbor selling thin wafers, rolling them then placing a scoop on top.
Gone but not forgotten the Buffalo ice Cream Parlor in Chicago. Elaborate décor of cherubs dancing murals on the walls, leaded glass windows, rich dark walnut wood and marble top counters, amid the whirl of 20 malt mixers concocting heavenly combinations. The Buffalo offered a perfect place to escape reality and enjoy sumptuous ice cream desserts. The original Buffalo in Chicago opened in 1902 moving to the Irving Park in 1918. The new location had the Commodore Theatre across the street. Now a Shell Gas Station stands has replaced the spot ice cream was enjoyed.
At the end of the civil war, a jobless William Breyer started hand-cranking ice cream in his kitchen in Kensington outside Philadelphia then selling it to neighbors. He was the first using a wagon equipped with a loud dinner bell to announce his location. Breyer’s reputation rests on simple good for you ingredients for over 150 years. The cream, cane sugar, fruits and nuts ingredient base became known as the Philadelphia American style ice cream. During the 1960’s only ice cream parlors sold the number one rated Breyers. In the 1970’s, Breyers joined the Kraft product line. A suburb favorite, Homer’s Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream.
In Oak Park, Petersen’s Ice Cream has been in business over 80 years. Founded by a Greek immigrant, his son, Dean Poulos, reports that his grandfather’s secret ingredient was butterfat. With décor from the 1919 era complete with tin ceiling tiles is Petersen’s Ice Cream Shop. Exploring Chicago’s ice cream history is definitely a summer treat.
Buffalo Ice Cream photo Courtesy of Patrick Crane