Ambrosia in a Cone (article)
- I mentioned two weeks ago that I would be posting another
story on the srichinmoycentres.org site, about one of my
favourite topics. I also mentioned that this would be done
by... last week. Once again, I'm tardy, but this time, I had
a good excuse - er - reason. I wanted to update it, based on
events that have just finished. (This should be clear in the
AMBROSIA IN A CONE
Sri Chinmoy believes that God must be an ice cream fan.
This seems like an unusual suggestion from Sri Chinmoy. As a
leading proponent of both inner and outer health, someone who
advocates sport, exercise and vegetarianism, how could he
possibly praise a food that must surely share the blame for
countless cases of flabbiness, poor health and tooth decay?
"God does like ice cream," he explained in 1977, "because
ice cream is the food of human beings who love the childlike
consciousness Because He is an eternal Child, He eternally
likes ice cream."
Ice cream might be healthier than your mother told you. Some
dieticians have claimed that good-quality ice cream actually
provides all the nutrients required for a meal. A few
connoisseurs have responded to that wisdom by practising the
ice cream diet, in which one meal a day (usually dinner) is
replaced by ice cream. As this writer is not a nutritionist,
I am in no position to say whether this works (though I
certainly WANT it to be true).
But whether you have it as a meal, a dessert, or a snack, it
is worth saluting one of God's favourite foods.
It has a long and mostly obscure history. The Chinese, as we
know, were one of the most innovative ancient civilisations,
introducing paper, gunpowder, fireworks and many other things
to the world. But easily their greatest invention was ice
treats. Despite popular legend, these were not ice creams as
such, but non-dairy frozen sweets, similar to what you would
probably call an "icy pole" or a "sno-cone" (depending on
where you were from). The Romans had their own version, and
the Emperor Nero was especially partial, ordering slaves to
collect fresh snow from the mountains and rush back to his
palace before the snow melted, so it could be transformed
into fruit-flavoured sweets. As this was 1800 years before
refrigeration, it could not have been the summer treat that
it is today.
Ice cream was probably invented around the seventeenth
century. It is unknown who deserves the credit, but it was
almost certainly a continental European chef. Charles I of
England (who was probably blessed with an Italian or French
chef) made this new dessert a staple of the royal table. Most
of his subjects were denied its charms, but after his death,
it became a favourite with the upper classes. Among its fans
were American "renaissance man" Thomas Jefferson, a frequent
traveller to Europe.
Jefferson was perhaps the most brilliant man ever to become
US President a naturalist, lawyer, inventor, scientist and
political visionary. He wrote the Declaration of Independence
and founded the University of Virginia. But by far his most
wondrous achievement was bringing ice cream across the
Atlantic to America. At a time when the recipe for ice cream
was almost as closely guarded a secret as the present-day
recipe for Coca-Cola, Jefferson brought a recipe for vanilla
ice cream to the colony (for which the then-President, George
Washington, reportedly paid handsomely). A version of this
recipe allegedly still exists, but as this version requires a
hand-crank ice cream freezer which wasn't patented until
1847, more than 20 years after his death this was probably
an updated version of Jefferson's recipe.
In the years before electric refrigerators, the hand-crank
freezer made all the difference. An American milk dealer,
trying to keep a steady demand for cream, began
mass-producing ice cream in 1851, building ice storage units
and larger versions of the hand-crank machine. It is perhaps
no surprise that it was America the land that takes credit
for hot dogs and sugar-coated breakfast cereal that turned
ice cream into an industry, no longer just an elite pleasure.
In 1899, five million gallons of ice cream were produced in
Its popularity grew exponentially. Ten years later, 30
million gallons were produced in the US alone. Another ten
years on, that amount had increased to 150 million gallons.
In 1930, dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) was introduced
commercially for the purpose of keeping ice cream cold. (It
had other uses as well, but that was the most crucial one.)
Another historical milestone was the 1904 Louisiana Purchase
Exposition, best known as the St Louis World's Fair. This
historic event which attracted an astounding 20 million
people to Missouri's capital city unveiled the twentieth
century in all its then-futuristic glory. It showcased a new
advance called air-conditioning, an entire summer of
ice-skating, and telephone connections to cities 1500 miles
away. But the most important innovation, without a doubt, was
the ice cream cone.
Like ice cream itself, the origins of the cone are
debatable. The most popular story is that, during the hot
Missouri summer, demand for ice cream was so great that one
vendor ran out of paper plates. A vendor next to him, coming
to his aid, rolled his zalabia (Syrian waffles) into cones,
making a handy container. Another story is that ice creams
were being sold in sandwiches, between two waffles. One
salesman bought one such sandwich for a lady friend, along
with flowers. Lacking a vase, the lady curled one of the
waffles into a vase, then rolled the other one into a cone.
(This is very romantic, but for practical purposes, fairly
A waffle iron for making ice cream cones was patented by a
New York vendor in 1903 a year before the World's Fair
which effectively ruins two perfectly good stories.
Nonetheless, it was after the fair that cones suddenly became
a popular ice cream holder, even though a machine to
mass-produce them was not patented until 1924.
Though ice cream became the people's delicacy in America, it
has been developed and perfected over the years in several
nations, taking numerous appealing varieties from Indian
kulfi to dairy-free ice cream made of chilled fruit, with no
cream at all. The Chinese, proving that they are still
innovative, have perfected the seemingly impossible delicacy
of deep-fried ice cream, a popular dessert item in their
Arguably the world's best ice cream parlours are the gelato
bars of Italy, which is appropriate. As the inventor of ice
cream was possibly Italian, and the inventor of the ice cream
cone (or at least, the patent-holder) was an Italian-American
migrant, it would seem that Italy has made an even greater
contribution to the culinary arts than its highly-praised
Yet while pasta has fallen from favour in recent years, with
dieticians encouraging a low-carb, low-fat (and hence,
low-spaghetti) diet, ice cream's reputation has, if anything,
improved. Nutritional evils, as we now realise, do not stop
at sugar and milk fats. A little ice cream might even be
and here's a controversial suggestion good for you!
One of the proudest (if least qualified) claims from the ice
cream industry, made over 50 years ago, can still be seen in
the Australian country town of Gundagai. There stands a milk
bar (an Aussie version of the American-style delicatessen or
soda parlour) that remains almost frozen in time. Though the
counter now has up-to-date brands of candy and sweet drinks,
the ornaments, the furniture, even the wall advertising is
basically as it was in 1953 when the newly-crowned Queen of
England, passing through the town, happened to visit.
Taking up most of the back wall is a large advertisement:
"Peter's Ice Cream The Health Food of a Nation".
Even considering that Australians in 1953 consumed copious
amounts of meat pies and gravy, it was an unusual concept of
"health food". Nowadays, Aussies would be more cynical about
such claims. At the same time, there are more ice cream
parlours in Australia and considerably more flavours than
In an effort to find Australia's best ice creams, gelatos
and sorbets, this writer decided to scour the nation's ice
cream parlours. Six friends valiantly agreed to aid me in
this quest, so over the space of a weekend, we sampled a
total of 75 flavours, in the ice cream parlours of Melbourne,
Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. We tried everything
from the common favourites (chocolate, strawberry, coffee,
lemon sorbet, banana) to rarer delicacies like Asian ginger
fig, lychee and toasted coconut, not to mention the varied
uses of chocolate (from white chocodamia mania to chocolate
peanut butter swirl), and healthy flavours like guava and
orange sorbet. One Melbourne connoisseur, after running a
half-marathon, rewarded himself with five flavours in quick
succession, including chilli chocolate and gingerbread.
Another ice cream fan, busy all weekend, finally found time
at the end to visit some of the ice creameries in one of
Brisbane's bohemian districts, exploring the delights of
ricotta, rose petal and burnt caramel, among many others. All
we gourmets are currently writing our reviews.
The verdict? Well, as nobody tried every flavour (the phrase
"too much of a good thing" come to mind), we won't try to
name the best. But our survey proved that, yes, eating plenty
of ice cream has its benefits.
Of course, we didn't need a survey to tell us that, but this
method was more fun. Besides, everyone still seems to be in
good health. If God likes it, what could be healthier?
Perhaps those on the ice cream diet know exactly what they
[Thank you, Mark, for such an excellent and amusing post!]
- I really appreciate all the hard work of research and ice
cream sampling you put into creating this delightful essay.
Ice cream truly is a special morsel. You can count me as a
lover of ice cream and I'll happily join the list of great
people who love ice cream, among them, Thomas Jefferson,
Charles I of England, Sri Chinmoy, and of course God the
Now, I just finished an extremely long run today in the
sweltering 95 F heat and humidity of Chicago and I'm now
debating whether I should go and buy a pint of ice cream.
Really, it must make a fantastic post-run recovery
nutritional aid, yes. It contains all the essentials: fat,
protein, and carbohydrates in abundance. Perhaps you could
do some research in this area, I would be eternally grateful.
Actually, I ordered an ice cream maker from Amazon.com a few
days ago and it should be arriving any day now. I'm quite
excited not only for the physical pleasure that I will gain
from making and eating the homemade ice cream but also the
spiritual benefits. As Sri Chinmoy has written:
[following quote is unofficial]
"God does like ice cream,"
he explained in 1977, because ice cream is
the food of human beings who love the childlike
consciousness Because He is an eternal Child, He eternally
likes ice cream." What a superb concept that is. I am sure
the converse of this statement is true, meaning that if I eat
ice cream, then I can develop my childlike consciousness and
love for it. It's a beautiful philosophy.
I'm looking forward to experimenting with the ice cream
recipes. I can make healthy batches with natural ingredients
and not have to deal with all the unneeded additives that you
find in the mass produced ice creams. I can try high protein
batches and low carb (probably not much though), or
alternative forms of sweetening as opposed to white sugar.