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Jul '08

The Sunday Soda Menace: The Surprisingly Controversial History of Ice Cream

Ice Cream Sundae by Thomas Hawk on FlickrAs we move further into the dog days of summer, our thoughts return to the all too obvious pleasures of ice cream, which we first wrote about here. Surprisingly, the history of ice cream itself is fraught with debate and controversy.

In many quarters during the late 1800’s, the ingestion of the then highly popular, (though apparently sinfully delicious) ice cream soda, was considered to be immoral and improper on the Sabbath. Some communities even passed resolutions to outlaw its consumption on Sundays.

It is said that the phrase ice cream sundae was first coined in Evanston, Illinois; a phrase that may have paved the way for the beleaguered ice cream soda parlors to remain open on Sundays.

According to What’s Cooking America

“Evanston, Illinois (then know as Chicago’s Heaven or Heavenston) was one of the first towns to outlaw the ‘Sunday Soda Menace’. Evanston was a very strict religious town where the Sabbath was strictly observed. The town even passed an ordinance prohibiting the retailing of ice cream sodas on Sunday. According to sources published in Evanston, the word sundae originated at Garwoods’ Drugstore…They did not serve ice cream sodas. They served sodas without soda on Sunday. The Evanston Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) championed it as a pleasant alternative to alcoholic drinks.”

 White Chocolate Chip and Mint Ice Cream by QuinatanaRoo on FlickrTo continue the controversy, both Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Ithaca, New York (our former stomping ground) claim to have invented the concept of the ice cream sundae itself. Wisconsin’s claim dates the invention to 1881 while New York’s claim of 1892 is later, but with more extensive documentation. Both cities have been fighting amiably on the topic since the 1970’s.

The lascivious ice cream soda itself was invented by Robert Green in 1874 at the Franklin Institute’s exhibit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

According to Michael Witzel:

“After sneaking a tentative sip, Green was wowed: the resulting blend of soda, syrup, and frozen cream was delightful! Without hesitation, the innocent libation was added to the menu, and by the end of the exhibition, customers showed approval by cracking their money purse. Green was taking in over $600 dollars a day in ice cream soda sales alone!…The phenomenon spread quickly and soon, ice cream sodas were slurped in fountains from New York to California.”

(Of course, when it comes to the history of ice cream, there’s always a little controversy. Fred Sanders of Detroit, Michigan also claimed to be the inventor of the ice cream soda at his confectionary shop which was named The Pavilion of Sweets.)

Soda Fountain, 1910 From the Library of Congress
Photograph of an Early 1900’s Soda Fountain, Courtesy of The Library of Congress

You can read more about the invention and popularity of ice cream here, from President James Madison’s wife, Dolly who started a craze for ice cream when she served it at his second inaugural ball in 1812, to the invention of the hand crank ice cream maker in 1943 by housewife Nancy Johnson.

Even today, controversy and ice cream go hand in hand. In 2006, the town of Wadowice, Poland temporarily banned the sale of ice cream during Pope Benedict XVI’s papal visit.

In Hudson County, New Jersey, it is now illegal for Mister Softee ice cream trucks to play their music after 9:30PM (growing up there I have fond memories of their velvety swirls of soft serve ice cream). Similar noise ordinance bans have been discussed across the country and enacted in parts of Pennsylvania, Illinois, and California.

Please join us tomorrow for the last part of our two part series on the joys of ice cream: More Exotic Ice Creams for the Sun-Ravaged Soul, which will feature a roundup of recipes for delicious flavored ice creams you won’t find at your local supermarket.

(Photo Credits: the first ice cream photo is courtesy of Thomas Hawk, while the second is by Emilie Hardman.)

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