Early sale of ice cream & such in warm climes

When was the first chemical or mechanical refrigeration system invented ? And to what extent before then could “primitive” means be used, such as storing ice in sawdust, etc…

I was reading some early 19th century materials which referred to sherbert and such being served to the Brits in places as varied as India and Malta, where the tropical heat and the distance from supply - say a mountaintop to collect ice or snow - seem prohibitive. How would they have pulled it off ? (Come to think of it, it is mentioned as a treat but not as if it were terribly out of the ordinary; you’d think the “great subContinental trade” in ice would have merited some detail.)

Flavored ices date back to Roman times. The wealthy Romans would send their slaves up to the mountains to gather ice and snow, and bring it back. The ice would be stored in a cool place, but of course, it would still melt rather quickly, so it was used as quick consumption. The Romans would flavor snow with honey and fruit juices.

A possible way they could have kept the ice cool was with salt, as salt helps bring down the temperature of the ice that it is in contact with (remember the old ice cream machines, and using rock salt with ice?). It is quite possible that the ice/snow meant to be eaten was packed in another layer of salted ice.

Elizabeth David (fabulous cook book writer IMO)wrote a book about the history of ices and ice creams. It was called something impossibly romantic like Winter Moons. She worked on it for decades and it was published post humously. Everything you ever wanted to know :slight_smile:

OK it was called Harvest of the Cold Months, The Social History of Ice and Ices. Amazon reckon they have it on order

“How would they have pulled it off?”

  1. Cut ice from a frozen-over lake

  2. Store it near the “harvesting” site until needed. How? Dig deep into the side of a large-ish hill, where the ground can be cool and insulating enough to keep the ice from melting quickly.

  3. As ice is needed where large number of people live, ship it there in very well insulated train cars. Pulled by fast locomotives, of course. :slight_smile:

To supplement John B.'s post…

Blocks of ice, properly packed in sawdust in an icehouse or in the hold of a ship will last weeks, if not months.

To answer your original question, Jorge, this comes from Food, A Culinary History, edited by Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari:

“The use of snow and ice as natural preserving agents goes back to ancient times. The homes of the rich contained wine cellars and deeper underground spaces where ice and foodstuffs could be kept. Each town or village had one or more icehouses–buried structures in which the ice collected during the winter was stored for later use to preserve meat, fish, and vegetables.
During the first half of the 19th century, icehouses continued to offer the only solution to maintaining food at low temperatures. As the demand for ice and preserved foods increased, so did the dimensions of these structures. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, icehouses were not that different from those in use centuries before, despite increasingly refined insulating systems designed to slow down the inevitable melting of the ice.
To meet the growing demand for ice, techniques developed to produce the low temperatures required for making ice by artificial means. These techniques involved the compression and expansion of certain gases. The first refrigerator to be based on the compression and expansion of air, driven by a steam engine, was patented in 1851 in the United States by John Gorrie. It was intended to provide refreshment in hospital wards. Other refrigerators were developed in France, England, and the United States. The turning point came two decades later when Charles Tellier, and engineer and builder of meat refrigerators, managed to install them on a boat called the Frigorifique. In 105 days he transported meat butchered in Buenos Aires to France. This voyage marked the birth of great commercial interest in the refrigeration chain, which developed very rapidly, especially in the United States. This technique became by far the most widely used for transporting food from outside Europe to the most important European cities.”

Ice cut from lakes and rivers was shipped from Maine and Massachusetts to places all over the world (including India) from about 1805 until competition from mechanical refrigeration killed the industry (sometime after 1875). The cost to consumers on other continents was approximately $20/ton.

bibliophage: I knew about the New England trade, but didn’t realize they were exporting as far as India ! Hence my question, in transporting a couple tonnes of ice by clipper to India would take… a year or so ? They might have gotten it from the Himalayas, but the overland route was still at the time on the order of a couple months. Malta I suppose was doable from the Appenines.

Guess I should rephrase the question, until I find that book primaflora suggested: how long can ice last in a covered hold ? I realize it could be quite a while in a temperate country, but…

BTW, any thoughts on what the 20$/tonne would compare with ? (whale oil ? sulfur ?)

Now’s as good a time as any to spring one of my favorite pieces of historical trivia.

Q: By the 1850’s, on a tonnage basis, the US’s number one export was cotton. What was #2?

A: You guessed it. Ice.

For information about how ice cream was made and delivered in warm weather areas of the US (Arkansas, in this case) up until the 1930s or 1940s, visit the Yarnell Ice Cream Company site and click on the “Special Memories” link. And if you ever get the chance, be sure to try Yarnell’s Ice Cream (I recommend the Homemade Vanilla). One of the few things I miss about living in Arkansas.