Did some research. Seems ice cream was discovered/invented/created around 200BC in China. You got it. Made in China. These folks combined a frozen mixture of milk and rice and found it delicious and cooling. It was likely nutritious too and something you could get your kids to eat without threats like: "If you don't eat your tasty birds nest soup and pork dumplings you won't get any icy ricey dessert."
So how did they make it without an ice cream machine? Apparently they poured snow and saltpeter (You can call this sodium nitrate and it can be used as a refrigerant or preservative in processed meats--think hot dogs or you can use it in fireworks. Exploding hotdogs are an ever-present threat.) over the outside of syrup-filled containers, thus lowering the freezing-point below 0 Celsius, and for those who don't go metric, that means below 32F.
They kept their ice cream recipe a royal secret for centuries, until Marco Polo, around 1271, blew their cover. Kublai Khan, China's boss at the time, served a bowl to his exotic guest. Marco, thoroughly impressed, asked how it was made. Well, the Kublai, not wanting to appear inhospitable, took his guest to the basement of his castle and showed him the ice cream works. Marco was no fool. He wrote down the recipe, took it back to Italy and incorporated it into his book The Travels of Marco Polo. The secret was out.
So around 400 BC, the Persians got in on the act. When it occasionally snowed in their vast empire, they collected the snow and saved it in cool underground chambers called "yakhchal". They had invented a grape juice concentrate and when it became thick and syrupy, they poured it over a bowl of snow. Sounds kind of like pouring maple syrup over snow, but they didn't have sugar maples there. I haven't actually tried this, but let me know if it works.
Speeding up in time, the Roman Emperor Nero, a few decades after AD came into effect, had his minions bring ice from the Italian Alps. They had to run really fast before it melted. Icy bits were put in chilled pottery bowls and topped with the fruit of the day such as grapes or persimmons. Of course this was reserved only for the elite. And since poison was a popular way of disposing of the competition, it crosses my mind that perhaps some noteworthy Roman actually used poison-laced ice cream to off the competition.
Along came the Arabs and we're up to 1000 AD. They were the first to use milk or cream and they collected this from their camels and goats. Don't know where they got it, but sugar was the sweetener. I assume they had little ice cream cafes where you could sit down, chose your additives from the menu scribbled on a plaster wall, i.e. raisons, nuts or rose water.
There's more to this story, but this is getting long enough. Watch for the next installment.
Copywrited Karen Rempel Arthur