Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We All Scream for Lighthouse Ice Cream!

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 (, 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."
George Washington had "a cream machine for ice," but no one is sure if it made ice cream. I'd like to think it was like the snow ice cream my sister and I made as kids (back when it was safe to eat snow!). The recipe was simple: snow, evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla extract; stir together and freeze. The photo of our first president enjoying a little summer treat is from
These early forms of ice cream were rendered by the "pot freeze" method, which was done by simply mixing the ingredients and freezing them in a pot insulated with salt and some sort of cloth or matting. The mixing was the secret. As we all know today, cream needs to be beaten to form itself into a solid. A 1718 cookbook printed in England and called Mrs. Mary Eales's Recipes had the first known printed recipe for ice cream. Curiously, she didn't beat the mixture, but it still tasted good, I'm sure. Here's the recipe from
Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten'd, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close; to six Pots you must allow eighteen or twenty Pound of Ice, breaking the Ice very small; there will be some great Pieces, which lay at the Bottom and Top: You must have a Pail, and lay some Straw at the Bottom; then lay in your Ice, and put in amongst it a Pound of Bay-Salt; set in your Pots of Cream, and lay Ice and Salt between every Pot, that they may not touch; but the Ice must lie round them on every Side; lay a good deal of Ice on the Top, cover the Pail with Straw, set it in a Cellar where no Sun or Light comes, it will be froze in four Hours, but it may stand longer; than take it out just as you use it; hold it in your Hand and it will slip out. When you wou'd freeze any Sort of Fruit, either Cherries, Rasberries, Currants, or Strawberries, fill your Tin-Pots with the Fruit, but as hollow as you can; put to them Lemmonade, made with Spring-Water and Lemmon-Juice sweeten'd; put enough in the Pots to make the Fruit hang together, and put them in Ice as you do Cream. 
In 1843 in Philadelphia, ice cream making was changed forever when Nancy M. Johnson patented her Artificial Freezer, a contraption much like today's ice cream makers. It had a tub, a paddle, and a crank. The process included beating or churning the ice cream for a nice, creamy, semi-solid texture. Who doesn't remember a hot summer day turning the crank on one of these gadgets--a modern one--to make ice cream the old fashioned way? The calories expended turning the crank justified eating that rich ice cream!
Seven years after Nancy M. Johnson's invention, a Pennsylvania farmer named Jacob Fussell used a surplus of cream to make ice cream and served it up to his neighbors. It was such a hit he built an ice cream factory at Seven Valleys and began "cranking" out the good stuff, which he loaded on a railroad freezer car and shipped to Baltimore. It sold well here and then was marketed to other mid-Atlantic cities. We all know cities can be stifling hot in summer, and ice cream soon became the preferred method of cool-down!
Ice cream concoctions, like sundaes and sodas, began appearing in the 1880s. The patent for the ice cream cone was granted in 1903. (The inventor must have been looking at a lighthouse when he thought up the idea!)

By World War II, ice cream was packaged and sold in grocery stores. It was hugely popular with American soldiers, and the military became one of the world's largest producers of ice cream. I find it strange that my father, a WWII vet and big fan of ice cream, never mentioned this. He talked about chocolate bars being handed out to soldiers on the front, but never ice cream. Keeping ice cream cold and getting it to the troops must have been a logistical challenge!
Today, ice cream seems to be in everyone's freezer and on every street corner. It's eaten any time of year but especially loved in summer. It comes in all sorts of designs--cups, cones, sandwiches, popsicles, cakes, cupcakes, pies, you-name-it. Going out for ice cream makes for a fun date for the young and not-so-young. I don't hesitate when Jon says, "Let's go in town for ice cream or frozen yogurt!" It's especially pleasant when the evenings are warm and we can sit outside to enjoy our treat.

A website called has an "Edible Architecture" page that really understands the resemblance between the lighthouse and the ice cream treat!

You're probably wondering how I plan to connect lighthouses to this story. If you've been looking at the images in this blog, you've got a already know. Ice cream is synonymous with fun, the beach, summer vacations, and wholesomeness. It tastes best on the hottest days. Lighthouses evoke images of ice cream cones, ice cream sodas, scoops of the rich and creamy dessert, and more. Who wouldn't enjoy ice cream served at a lighthouse?

Several lighthouses I've visited have been repurposed as ice cream shops, or faux lighthouses have been built for the business. I had ice cream at Neils Harbor Lighthouse in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in July 1999. The cute little lighthouse was 100 years old that year and was serving up centennial cones with little Canadian flags stuck in the top of them! The 59-foot-tall lighthouse is still an active navigational aid with a fixed white beacon. It's owned by the Canadian Coast Guard, but a local fire department is allowed to sell ice cream at the lighthouse in the summer time. Jon and I sat at a picnic table on the deck built around the tower. It was heaven--three of my favorite things! (Lighthouse + Vacation + Ice Cream!) Outside, someone had made a mobile and hung it from a stick on the deck railing--lacquered ice cream cones stuffed with painted balls and hung from a little wooden model of the Neils Harbor Lighthouse. De"light"ful! Neils Harbor Lighthouse & Ice Cream Shop is pictured below.
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??!!

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