The International Language of Ice Cream

4 min read

By Anne Marie Houppert

Who likes ice cream?

According to over 100 years of National Geographic magazines, it seems everyone does!

The first reference in National Geographic magazine occurred in a February 1911 article on the building of the Panama Canal, which describes the Herculean task of provisioning an army of workers: “…plants were established and turn out each day about 90 tons of ice, 14,000 loaves of bread, 2,400 rolls, 250 gallons of ice cream, 1,000 pounds of roasted coffee, and 7,500 pieces of laundry.”

Photos taken of ice cream stands in the early 20th century include places as varied as Italy, Constantinople, and Rio de Janeiro.

Soldiers and sailors loved ice cream as well; the July 1926 article “Standing Iceberg Guard in the North Atlantic” (a patrol resulting from the Titanic sinking just 14 years prior) includes a photo of the sailors making ice cream on deck, using a massive iceberg nearby as their “ice plant.”

A World War II-era advertisement by National Dairy Products Corporation in the July 1944 issue of National Geographic tells the story of a submarine crew who managed to take a jeep with them for land jaunts, but had so little time ashore they traded the jeep for three gallons of ice cream!

But when did ice cream first show up on the food scene?

According to the National Geographic book, An Uncommon History of Common Things, by Patrick and Thompson, ice cream’s early history is spotty—although Emperor Nero apparently enjoyed iced “creams” made with snow as early as the first century A.D. The authors explain that Nero’s confection resembled modern-day sorbet and note, “They must still have been delicious, since King Charles I of England in the early 17th century offered his chef a lifetime pension for keeping an “iced cream” recipe secret, for royal palates only.” They go on to note that recipes for ice cream as we know it started appearing in 18th century British and American cookbooks, and they offer an uncommonly known fact about the cone:

Edible cones of sweetened dough have held ice cream since the early 19th century, but it was not until 1903 that the treats could be mass-produced. That’s when New Yorker Italo Marchioni secured U.S. Patent #746971 for his cone-shaped baking mold (not, as is sometimes believed, for the cone itself).

Do you feel a craving coming on?

ice cream clusterWe have great advice on where to go to score the most delicious scoop. National Geographic Traveler magazine and travel guides are full of tips, including in The 10 Best of Everything: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers, which includes Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt with various U.S. locations and features seasonal favorites like peppermint stick or eggnog in the winter, and pumpkin ripple at Thanksgiving. International locations include famed Berthillon in Paris, France, and Vivoli Gelato in Florence, Italy. Two locations from Cuba made the list, including Coppelia, which the authors note is “the” national ice cream of Cuba and can be found in nearly every town.

You can find many more suggestions in Traveler magazine, from Cape Town, South Africa, to Miami, Florida. Just search for ice cream in the National Geographic Virtual Library and then raise a cone to join the global ice cream village.

Tip: Find all of these references in the National Geographic Virtual Library. Just click on Advanced Search, then enter “ice cream” in the search box, and choose Entire Document in the drop down box at right.          


amh_Image_InformalAbout the Author

Anne Marie Houppert is manager of research and education products at the National Geographic Society Library in Washington, D.C. She helps direct the editorial efforts to extend National Geogrpahic print products into the digital library environment.




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