In addition to its advantages as a food preserver, ice could also be used to make ice cream. To our founding fathers, ice cream was associated with the elite and wealthy. Ice cream’s necessary ingredients; cream, milk, white sugar, and flavorings, were fairly expensive and therefore the dessert was only enjoyed by those who could afford it.
The other luxury item needed to make ice cream was time. A cook needed time to crush the ice and the sugar, time to infuse and distill essences, extracts, and other flavorings, time to prepare the ice cream mixture, time to churn it (this was done by hand without the aid of an ice cream maker), and time to let it freeze.
Fortunately, several developments made in the mid-19th century eased the burden of preparing ice cream. Around 1850, a mechanical, hand-cranked ice cream freezer became available. Invented by a woman, Nancy Johnson, the freezer consisted of a tin container with an inner beater, which rested inside a large wooden tub that had a drainage hole for the melted ice. By the Victorian Era, Americans were able to purchase the ice cream freezers from hardware stores, general stores, department stores, and mail-order catalogs. Ice cream freezers could be had for $1.35 to $2.25, about the cost of an apple parer.
Although the ice cream freezers lessened the hassle of making the dessert, it didn’t entirely eliminate it. Many people chose to purchase their ice cream from local ice cream saloons or parlors. Although prices varied, a serving of ice cream at the ice cream parlor cost about six cents. Typically, local parlors made their ice cream on the premises, however, some were supplied by large ice cream factories.
George Schmidt’s factory in Jersey City is a fairly typical example of a larger organization. Schmidt’s factory produced several flavors including vanilla, lemon, and strawberry. They also offered a chocolate, although today we probably wouldn’t think it tasted very good. Schmidt’s chocolate ice cream recipe called for an insignificant one and a quarter pounds of chocolate per 20 quarts of cream and milk, when today ice cream recipes call for four times that amount.
Ice cream’s popularity in the Victorian Era was two-fold. It not only was a refreshing treat on a hot summer day but ice cream also spoke of the upper class that was, until recently, the only class able to enjoy the confection. Ice cream was still viewed as a luxury that proclaimed to one and all that you enjoyed the good life.