You might think that we at the Dish missed the boat in July with National Ice Cream Month, but we’d like to note this month celebrates a spread of cold, creamy delights in its own right. August pays food holiday homage to the ice cream sandwich, the root beer float, frozen custard, banana splits and popsicles. With plenty of sweet servings to talk about, the Dish takes a closer look at some of these summer staples. Are you drooling yet?
Aug. 2- Ice Cream Sandwich Day
The ice cream sandwich can trace its origins to the Renaissance-era in Europe where cream-based treats rose to popularity as tea-time or dessert delights for the aristocracy. English trifles were a popular treat consisting of “sweet cream” sandwiched between biscuits or a cream-based concoction layered on top of sponge cake. They were most closely related to the modern Italian Cream Cake and tiramisu.
Like many foods that found their way overseas, the origins of the ice cream sandwich in America are disputed. Some claim that ice cream sandwiches were first sold by street vendors in New York in the 1890s. Some of the earliest ice cream vendors in America were Italian and sold “hokey-pokey” ice cream. These large slabs of ice cream were sold cheaply whole or in slices as “hokey-pokey,” derived from the Italian “o che poco” or “oh, how little” in English. It is believed that ice cream sandwiches were adopted for sale shortly after the sale of “hokey-pokey” at a still affordable price for the working class and children to purchase.
Aug. 6- Root Beer Float Day
The origins of ice cream soda and root beer floats, in particular, are also up for debate. Root beer itself can be traced to Philadelphia in the late 19th century. The man responsible for its creation was Charles Hires, a Philadelphia pharmacist who developed the recipe as a derivation of an herbal tea he had discovered while on his honeymoon. In trying to develop a purely liquid form of the tea, Hires concocted a 25-herb recipe that would be mixed with a soda water drink. Hires debuted his product to the public at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Soon, root beer was being made and sold in confectionaries and soda fountains across the country.
The root beer float itself, has a disputed history. Most attribute the ice cream soda’s birth to Philadelphia’s own Robert McCay Green. A Civil War veteran, Green manufactured soda fountains and sold soda drinks at various stores in Pennsylvania. Two different stories offer the inspiration behind Green’s ice cream sodas. The first is that Green ran out of the ice he was accustomed to serving with soda water beverages and opted to serve the soda water with vanilla ice cream he borrowed from a nearby friend as a substitute. Another second story, offered by Green himself in Soda Fountain magazine in 1910, evokes friendly competition as Green’s impetus for the ice cream soda. Feeling pressure from a nearby soda fountain with slightly better curbside appeal (newer, larger establishment), Green combined soda water and ice cream to drive in business to his struggling soda fountain. His name would soon become as famous as his blend of ice cream and carbonated sugar water!
Another legend of ice cream and root beer lore is Frank J. Wisner of Colorado. Wisner coined the term “brown cow,” referring the mixed coloration of root beer floats. Wisner, the owner of the Cripple Creek Cow Mountain Gold Mining Company, supposedly came up with the idea as a kid-friendly option for the soda waters he had already been serving up to locals. He is said to have thought of the idea when looking at his properties on Cow Mountain on a moonlit night.
Aug. 8- Frozen Custard Day
Frozen custard originated from Coney Island, New York around 1919. Custard, unlike typical ice cream, contains eggs in its recipe and often has a higher concentration of fat and contains a lower aeration than its non-egg counterpart. Custard grew in popularity at festivals and street-side vendors through the 1920s, and custard was sold into even more public prominence during the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, where it eventually spread into a food sensation in the Midwest (principally Wisconsin).
Aug. 10– Banana Split Day
Two towns lay claim to the birthplace of the banana split in America. The first is Latrobe, Penn., where 23-year-old druggist apprentice David Strickler is thought to have created the first banana split sundae at Tassel Pharmacy in 1904 to serve to students who attended nearby St. Vincent College. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, pharmacists, drug stores and soda fountains across the country fought hard to market new cold and creamy creations to bring in local customers and visiting travelers.
The strong competition among soda fountains and pharmacies to create new and appealing ice cream dishes offers explanation as to why the people of Wilmington, Ohio also claim the banana split as their own creation. The story goes that in 1907, with business dwindling, Ernest R. Hazard, owner of The Café in Wilmington, held a contest with his employees looking for the best new dessert recipe. As it happened, Hazard’s recipe won. It featured a peeled and sliced banana topped with three scoops of ice cream, chocolate syrup, strawberry jam, pineapple bits, chopped nuts, whipped cream and cherries. Today, Wilmington holds an annual festival (since 1995) where attendees can try Hazard’s original recipe and eat their fill from a gigantic banana split buffet.
While its origins can be debated, one thing for certain is that ice cream has managed to keep its wide appeal because of its affordability and adaptability.
Which ice cream treats do you enjoy from those listed above? Do you have any unique ice cream recipes of your own? Share them with us in the comments section below.