A spell of hot weather has descended on the Pacific NW, perfect weather for ice cream. It's my favorite dessert, though I try to eat it in moderation due to the high fat and calorie count and the sugar content. It's a treat one day a week, which makes it extra special.
With July being National Ice Cream Month, I thought I might write a blog entry about the quintessential American dessert...with a lighthouse connection of course!
But first, some history: How long has ice cream been around and who invented it? No one knows for sure. But I found some "cool" information about the history of ice cream on the Old Farmers Almanac website (www.almanac.com), henceforth referred to as OFA--
As far back as about the year 54 (over 2,000 years ago, whew!), Roman Emperor Nero craved a treat that was similar to ice cream. His slaves went into the mountains to fetch snow and ice, brought it to Rome (how'd they keep it cold?), and mixed it with fruit pulp for a scrumptious treat to satisfy the mercurial emperor's taste buds...and perhaps mollify his madness too. Some 600 years later, emperors of China's T'ang dynasty enjoyed a similar treat, though this time fermented milk was added. Fruit, ice, and milk...they were edging closer to today's ice cream!
Who knows if anything resembling ice cream was made during the Dark Ages? I've read that "iced fruits" were served at the Christmas Court of England King Henry II; possibly that was a form of Medieval ice cream. Catherine Medici supposedly perfected an early Italian Ice and then took it to France, from whence it spread throughout Europe. Ice cream made from fruit and cream definitely was made in Europe during after the Renaissance, and the recipe was brought to America with the Colonists by the 1700s. OFA's website reports:
On May 19, 1744, a group of VIP's dined at the home of Maryland Governor Thomas Bladen. Present was a Scottish colonist who described "a Dessert...Among the Rarities of which was Compos'd, was some fine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most deliciously."
The Canadian lighthouse below at Arisaig Point on the Northumberland coast of New Brunswick sells ice cream too. There must be something about this shape that says "ice cream!" I love the lobster weathervane. There's a Lobster Interpretive Center inside the lighthouse to detail the lobster fishery of the area, along with the ice cream counter. This structure is a replica of the original Arisaig Point Lighthouse, which burned down in the 1930s.
Quite a few ice cream shops feature a faux lighthouse. Fake lighthouses are nearly as popular as the real ones! Put a lighthouse on your business, and people will come. Here are some examples:
These two delicious establishments are on the New Jersey shore.
Here's the Lighthouse Sweetery at Grand Vista Marriot, Orlando, Florida. You can buy an ice cream treat and then climb to the top! I lived in the Orlando area for four years and wrote a book in 1987 called the Guide to Florida Lighthouses, but this lighthouse isn't included. It's a recent construction and not a "real" lighthouse. If you've been to Orlando, you know it's some 50 miles from the sea! But it's HOT and HUMID, and ice cream is a favorite treat with visitors and residents.
Here's a fun spin on the iconic Cape Neddick "Nubble" Lighthouse at York, Maine. The ice cream shop sign has the lighthouse replaced with an ice cream cone. You can enjoy America's favorite treat while viewing the lighthouse across the tidal isthmus.
You might be wondering if lighthouse keepers enjoyed ice cream. Of course they did! Many lighthouses had a cow (cream), chickens (egg yolks), delivery of salt and sugar from the supply ship, and access to ice. Ice houses and ice cellars were used before refrigeration came to lighthouses. Most lighthouses were hooked to electricity by the 1930s, after which they had refrigerators. A churn and some muscle, and maybe some fruit, and lighthouse families had ice cream.
My research files have several anecdotes about ice cream. My favorite is from the late Barbara Gaspar, who grew up at the two lighthouses on Block Island, Rhode Island in the 1930s and '40s. She shared a number of her family recipes and talked about her mother making jelly from wild rose hips, blanc mange from seaweed, and ice cream. When Barbara's father went into the little town on Block Island in the summer, he sometimes fetched home "a load" of ice in an old wooden box lined with burlap. There was a refrigerator at Southeast Lighthouse but it didn't make enough ice to spare for making ice cream, so Howard Beebe splurged and bought ice. The kids picked raspberries every August, and then ice cream was made in an old wooden churn. This usually happened on a Saturday, along with a picnic and a baseball game in the yard next to the lighthouse....overlooking the wide expanse of the Atlantic. The neighbors were invited and the kids brought their gloves to play ball. Barbara said a baseball hit over the cliff was considered a homerun, since there was no chasing down a ball that went into the ocean!
By now, I hope you're sufficiently hot and hungry and drooling for something cold and sweet. How about some lighthouse ice cream to salute National Ice Cream Month. If there's no lighthouse-turned-ice-cream-parlor nearby, try some of this!
Lighthouses remind us of a fun day at the beach and a drippy, delicious ice cream cone! The flavor is "New England Lighthouse Coffee." Few people could make coffee like lighthouse keepers; how else could they stay awake all night watching that hypnotic beacon??!!