Posted on 21st August 2012
At Enjoy Education we love fun facts, fascinating research and groundbreaking developments. Although what follows is unlikely to help you pass your GCSEs, as it is the summer it is highly topical, and it may well teach you something you never knew before…
I recently read an amazing article by Cambridge University historian Dr. Melissa Calaresu about one of my favourite things: ice cream. I was rather surprised to see such an eminent academic discussing a sweet pudding, but am extremely delighted to have discovered her piece. In fact as a frequent theatre goer I have often wondered how the tradition of selling ice cream in theatres came about, and so have spent a great deal of time musing (and eating) the tasty chilly treat. I am also not alone in my enthusiasm for ice cream, as it is an enormous industry and people have been gobbling it up for hundreds of years.
Today we have factories and freezers to make ice cream, but for a long time people relied heavily on ice and snow transported from mountains. Apparently even the Roman Emperor Nero would demand that people went and fetched snow for him so that they could make him frozen desserts.
One of the cities most strongly associated with ice cream, both now and in the past, is Naples. ‘Neapolitan’ ice cream is one of my personal favourites (stripes of chocolate, strawberry and chocolate, delicious!), and Napoli was not only a hot spot for amazing flavours, but also of news, ideas and intellectual discussions. It is well known that in the 18th Century artists, politicians, writers and philosophers would meet in coffee houses, but according to Calaresu, “they also met in ice-cream houses – called ‘sorbettiere’ in Italy”, which meant that many important debates and discussions took place alongside a delicious bowl of ice cream!
Dr. Calaresu’s research has also revealed that ice cream was not just enjoyed by the wealthy elite, as previously thought. In fact ice cream was sold relatively cheaply by street vendors, which meant that it was widely available – especially in Italy – and enjoyed by people from many parts of society. Calaresu quotes the English travel writer Henry Swinburne, who when he was in Naples in the 1780s noted, “The passion for iced water is so great and so general in Naples, that none but mere beggars would drink it in its natural state; and, I believe, a scarcity of bread would not be more severely felt than a failure of snow.”
While the Italian connection to ice cream is probably the strongest, it was in fact an American who invented the edible cone. The cone emerged after there were concerns about the hygiene and cleanliness of many containers.
Ice cream travelled far and wide, and became especially popular in England during the Restoration, a period renowned for its celebration of pleasure and luxury. Unfortunately I still haven’t discovered how or why ice cream made it into theatres, but I’m very happy to continue with my investigations (as long as it involves eating some along the way)!