Freeze frame

Cooling off

Given the hot weather I thought of sharing an article of mine that offers a snapshot of Ice-cream’s jog through history. It is from The New Indian Express’s school edition. If, after reading it, you think you need more than just a history lesson, here’s how you can make a quick one ingredient banana ice-cream.

Freeze frame

I am a big fan of the hot and cold food combination. Among my favourite desserts is hot gulab jamun with vanilla ice cream and carrot halwa with cold cream (the edible one, not the one from the dressing table!). So it was only natural that I try out the much touted fried ice cream. Crunchy and warm exterior coating a cold creamy core — it was an interesting blend. I wasn’t bowled over by the taste, but the concept was fascinating. Maybe it is a marketing gimmick or a fad, but what it did was make me wonder about the long journey ice cream has made to become a part and parcel of our lives.

Fruit ices, chocolate bars, strawberry cones, pistachio ice creams — the list of sweet treats is long and delicious, a far cry from their ancient avatars. According to historians the Chinese can be credited for creating the first ice creams (more likely flavoured ices like ice lollies), possibly as early as 3,000 BC. According to the BBC, a kind of ice cream was invented in China around 200 BC when a milk and rice mixture was frozen by packing it into snow. Ancient Greeks and Persians are said to have enjoyed frozen fruit syrups, sorbets and flavoured snow/ice.

Around 400 BC the Persians invented the faluda (they called it faludeh), the rich sundae of sorts containing ice cream, vermicelli, syrup and nuts. The Arabs brought sorbet to Italy (Sicily) in the 8th century. Thus the Italian granita was born, which is basically a semi-frozen dessert made of sugar, water and flavourings. By AD 54 when Roman Emperor Nero was in power, his slaves were busy gathering snow from the mountains which was then brought to the royal kitchens to be flavoured  with fruit, wine or honey.

Ice creams as we know them today are believed to have been invented in Italy during the 16th century. They spread northward through Europe via France. Before modern refrigeration came about, it was the wealthy people who had access to ice in the summer. This made ice cream a rare treat. Development of freezing techniques and refrigeration, availability of hitherto expensive ingredients like sugar made mass production of ice cream possible, allowing all and sundry to be able to enjoy the sweet treat.

The precursor to today’s creamy varieties are said to be desserts which were basically sweet cream or custard cooled down with ice. The colder the cream, the more solid the product — these ‘iced creams’ were possibly the first ice creams. Though vanilla is the most common or popular flavour today, in those days seasonal fruit flavours were a hot favourite.

Ice cream today comes in many forms and is named according to ingredients and its place of origin — gelato, frozen yoghurts, sorbet are some of the popular ones.

Gelato, though technically an ice cream from Italy, is lower in butter fat and healthier than regular traditional ice cream. A sorbet on the other hand is made from sweetened water flavoured with fruit juice, puree or even wine, and/or liqueur. Whatever it may be called, what matters to me is that no matter where your travels may take you, if you crave a cold creamy treat, it is only an ice-cream truck away.

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