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The Ice Cream: A Recipe from 1687 (rarecooking.com)
61 points by Petiver 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

My dad grew up in rural Iowa almost 100 years ago. He didn't have electricity or running water and no air conditioning or refrigeration. Ice cream was a rare treat that could be bought on a trip into town or perhaps made in the winter.

Ice was available in the winter, and also in the summer because large blocks of ice would be cut from frozen ponds during the winter and stored in ice houses. These ice houses here partially underground structures, like a barn but buried up to their roof underground.

I saw an ice house that was no longer in use as a young child, and as I recall (I would have been perhaps seven years old) I was told that it was filled with sawdust, hay, or straw to insulate the blocks of ice.

Today, the reported underground temperature in Iowa at 40 inches is about 65°F (18°C) and deeper it can reaches a steady state temperature of 45 to 50°F (7 to 13 °C). I don't know how late into summer those ice blocks survived.

I remember growing up that my father greatly enjoyed making homemade ice cream; I suppose it connected him to the happy times of his quite difficult childhood.

Ice cream was popular in the 18th century, particularly known to be favorites of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Their homes at Mount Vernon and Monticello, respectively, both have ice houses. They would harvest ice from the Potomac or Rapidan River, pack it with insulating material (sawdust) and it would keep for quite some time in the cool well/cellar-like structure.

https://www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/ice/ https://www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/location/ice-... http://www.ushistory.org/presidentshouse/history/icehouse.ph...

Stately homes in the UK often have an ice-house in the grounds somewhere. I think they're sited to make use of underground water, as in the use of underground streams in the Yakhchal. A damp shaded spot can be surprisingly cool in Summer.

As an aside the Ancient Greeks had a type of wine cooler that worked on evaporative cooling using an exterior porous pot and an internal glazed pot, with wet sand placed in the gap.

> As an aside the Ancient Greeks had a type of wine cooler that worked on evaporative cooling using an exterior porous pot and an internal glazed pot, with wet sand placed in the gap.


Still in use today, especially in the "developing world" - usually as a means to keep certain medicines and drugs cooled that would go bad without it.

If done properly, it can survive quite a bit. Much of the ice that was imported into India in the early 1800's came from Boston, cut from rivers around Boston https://www.wired.com/2010/09/0913calcutta-ice-ship/

this reminded me of Pykrete [0].

basically someone figured out the right ratio of water to sawdust for a frozen block of ice, and it creates a very durable and tough material similar to concrete (as long as it remains at or below freezing).

the british planned to make an aircraft carrier [1] out of the stuff, but it was ultimately deemed too expensive.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pykrete

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Habakkuk

stored in ice houses

We've actually got an ice house near me that is still in use. It is obviously refrigerated these days, and they're no longer getting the ice out of the lake, but they do sell ice out of the place. I go get large quantities from them for my summer party every year.

We used to have one in my hometown, that wasn't far from where I lived with my parents; I could get to it easily on my bicycle (not that I ever went).

It was a large industrial building, with huge refrigeration systems on the outside - pipes, radiators, etc. Then a large building next to that. I'm not sure what all products they sold.

But I recall going with my dad one time to go get a bunch of crushed ice to make ice cream one summer. He told me to bring my winter jacket (basically a ski jacket almost). We got to the place, and I guess he knew someone that worked there (my dad worked as a maintenance and construction for the county road department - ran graders and other heavy equipment, or was out there shoveling asphalt and oil - but for some reason, he also knew a lot of people around town).

They took us into the main ice building - and it was crazy. I just remember it being very cold (I was wearing jeans, shoes, a t-shirt and my jacket), and there were workers in heavy winter garb moving around and handling large blocks of ice - refrigerator sized! We got a small tour (very brief - it was just way too cold in there!), then we left to the office, they brought out a few large bags of crushed ice, my dad paid and we left.

From what I recall, we only used a portion of the ice; the rest went into our chest freezer (probably to protect the meat we stored in there from power outages, which happened occasionally during the summer).

The original recipe consists of one sentence about the ingredients and then a long description of a method for freezing it. The reworked recipe is just a fairly normal ice cream recipe with some added rosewater.

> If you recreate the recipe using the original method, please let me know how it goes in the comments!

So really the only thing they got from the recipe is that perhaps rosewater is a possible ingredient for ice cream?

Food blogs of this nature are cringe inducing. People want to post interesting content but don't want to actually do work to accurately recreate the recipe. The last paragraph also highlights this. This individual "shared the recipe" which was literally providing modern rosewater ice cream.

"I was thrilled to share this recipe with participants in the Clark’s “Antique Ice Cream Social” event last month. During the test-tasting, a few participants who expressed a general dislike for rosewater found that this recipe passed muster. It didn’t taste “soapy” or overly perfumed. (You can watch a clip of me talking about ice-cream making here.)"

I want to say that I understand there is a place for this type of thing, bringing the old out into the light of the future. This type of blog however often runs the risk of coming across as lazy. It's similar to the myriad of recipe blogs where someone uses a recipe and provide high definition photos of the result (credit here for actually creating the food true to recipe) staged in some manner (usually with pint jars, rough wood, and flowers somewhere in the scene). The problem is they aren't actually providing any original content with regards to the actual recipe. No tips on altering the recipe to improve texture or flavor, just a 1:1 reproduction. I'd take a low-def Geocities website with Kenji Lopez Alt content over the type of blog I mentioned hands-down.

That's a bit harsh. How many HN highly voted articles have we seen about a dev excited about caching, bloom filters, CPU timing, arcane C++ trivia, fuzzing or other basic concepts without doing any original research of their own?

Those articles almost always contain a well thought out or unique description of the algorithm or topic being written about. Often there will be an inline demo with visualization. Your response comes across as a survival bias, as I would relate the HN highly voted articles to the good recipe sites. What about the myriad of articles written on those topics that don't end up on HN which are often the copy-and-paste content of another site (eg from Wikipedia)?

I was a little disappointed at the write up too. They're cutting the cream with milk (typical in modern recipes) without explanation beyond what sounds like "I tossed the recipe and adopted a modern one".

There is no discussion of why the old version doesn't turn into a solid block of ice. (Fat content from using straight cream? Short chilling time?)

The interesting thing here would be the texture if you'd actually followed the recipe (after researching fat content of cream at the time).

> I was a little disappointed at the write up too. They're cutting the cream with milk (typical in modern recipes) without explanation beyond what sounds like "I tossed the recipe and adopted a modern one".

Also adding a churning step which, it is explicitly mentioned, wasn't present in and dramatically changes the original recipe.

I can almost guarantee that there was not 3/4c sugar used in the ice cream in the 17th century. Sweets were no where that sweet. They would have just used heavier cream instead I bet (since the sugar helps with texture in the lower fat modern ice cream recipes).

Any idea what the fat content of cream would have been? I know they’ve got single/double cream in England and light/heavy cream on this side of the pond, but no idea what it actually is if you make it the old fashioned way. (Skimming the top off of cows milk?)

It depends a lot on the animal, as well. We owned a couple different family cows; first a Dexter, whose milk barely had cream worth mentioning, and the cream was thin and light, almost like store-bought half and half. Then we had a beautiful Jersey, whose milk was about a quarter cream, the richest, fattest cream you could ask for. (I put on forty pounds while we owned that cow.)

You can get a very rich cream by simply skimming if you let the milk sit undisturbed for a while.

Taking all the visible cream from whole milk that has been left to stand and separate gets you 15 - 20% fat, depending on the breed of cattle and what they've been eating.

That's comparable to what the UK calls "single cream" (18%) and the US calls "light cream" (18% minimum, can be up to 29%).

You can increase that ratio considerably if you take off most, but not all, the cream.

As the article says, the texture is quite different from modern ice cream in that there's a lot less air driven into it.

The original recipe sounds like it would have more of the texture of a smoothie or slushy than ice cream. Not doing that seems like missing half the recipe.

Persian ice cream tradition since 500 BC:


I love that the name for their storage room is very Indo-Germanic:


[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakhch%C4%81l

[1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%DB%8C%D8%AE%DA%86%D8%A7%D9%8...

Indo-Germanic? Persian is very closely related to Sanskrit (and related Indic languages), much more so than Germanic is. The language family is called "Indo-Iranian".

French: two Italian: due French: deux - Persian: do English: I am - Persian: man am English: he is French: il est Persian: u ast french qui/que, persian ki/ke french: tu, persian: to english: brother, german: Bruder, Persian: barodar english: star, persian: setareh (just inserted some vocals) English: Daughter, German: Tochter, Persian: dokhtar Polish: Pienj Persian: Panj (means five)

Germanic/latin is more closely related to persian than one would guess.

Indo-Germanic is just the old term for the Indo-European language family. Sometimes still used, but partly out of fashion / discredited by politicized Arianism.

[0] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Indo-Germanic

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-European_languages

They must have really liked ice cream to go through the trouble of transporting/storing ice in Iran 2500 years ago. The logistic must have been impressive.

I don’t know about Iran, but in 1600’s ice cubes in Lahore, Punjab were made by freezing water in wooden pans in the foothills of mountains. The pans were swept early in the morning, and transported to special underground pens lined up with straw, hay etc. Ice lasted through summer and Mughal kings enjoyed their cold drinks.

Even away from the mountains, I know they did this in Allahabad (according to Fanny Parkes) which must be only barely cold enough. Compared to that, lots of places in Iran should be easy, lots of it is quite high. You can go skiing for the day from Tehran, in May!

There are plenty of mountains in Iran. Can't be _that_ hard to water freeze over winter, and then bring large blocks of ice down the mountainside with a sturdy cart come spring.

Bothersome, yes, but not that incredible.

Edit: They had building where water was frozen during winter and ice stored during summer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakhcha

Here’s a working link :) Such an amazing structure!


Tehran is at about 4000 feet. Snows at least occasionally.


Iran gets cold sometimes. Check out "Iran accuses Israel of stealing its snow" with pictures of their ski resorts https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/ski/news/iran-accuses-isr...

You can learn more about it in the video here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17670608

They also had wind catchers that can cool water almost to freezing I believe.

www.icecreamhistory.net. Retrieved 31 August 2018. "History of ice creams begun around 500 B.C. in the Persian Empire where ice was used in combination with grape juices, fruits, and other flavors to produce very expensive and hard to produce summertime treats." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_cream#History

Still amazes me how the Persians invented a way to create and then store ice through the summer months for these treats.


Unfortunate how these traditional building methods for cooling have been replaced by loud and wasteful ACs etcs

Yep, but that, together with various similar and derived food, that both the Greeks and the Romans had, is more like sorbets.

The actual "cream" is thought to have been invented by Buontalenti:


(eggs are needed to make "real" ice-cream):


Only if you're going to "no true Scotsman" ice cream. For anyone not subscribing to that view, ice cream can be made with or without eggs. French style, Philadelphia style, Gelato, and churnless all differ in whether there are egg whites, egg yolks, cooked bases, and density.

One recent method is to use a Pacojet to take a hard-frozen solid block and turn it into ice cream.

I'm unfamiliar with a convention in the updated ingredients list - what's "3 T rosewater"? I'm guessing it's probably tsp - teaspoons - but one doesn't want to overdo the rosewater! Clearly this is something I'm expected to understand, but I've never seen it before.

The convention is that capital T is tablespoons and lowercase t is teaspoons.

3 T is the American spelling of 45 mL

The convention is that capital T = tablespoons, but 3 tablespoons of rosewater is an ungodly amount to put in just about anything.

Capital T probably referring to tablespoon, not teaspoon.

The original mentions "Roach Allom", but the update says nothing about it. What is it?

Potassium aluminum sulfate, the salt used to keep the ice cold for longer.

Interesting how the ingredients did not change that much to nowadays. 2 parts cream for 1 part milk is still widely used. The amount of sugar may be a little bit different but is still widely correct too.

The original recipe (quoted in the article) called for all cream and only "sugar rosewater" for sweetening (no amount specified), frozen on salted ice for one hour with no churning or mixing.

The "updated" recipe was just a standard, modern ice cream recipe with some rosewater added, churned in a modern ice cream machine and then frozen for two hours.

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