IDAHO HISTORY: Homemade ice cream became possible, popular

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANMarch 22, 2014 

Ice cream became such a part of the Idaho diet in the 19th century that most restaurants served it, ice cream parlors opened, and many families had ice cream makers of their own. Nancy M. Johnson patented a small hand-cranked ice cream machine on Sept. 9, 1843, even as emigrants on the Oregon Trail plodded their way across Idaho's dry sage brush desert in the heat of summer.

The basic process for making homemade ice cream is to put the metal container with the milk, cream, sugar and flavoring mixture into the machine's bucket of ice. Adding salt to the ice accelerates freezing of the mixture in the container. Mrs. Johnson's machine featured wooden paddles that scraped the inside of the container as the operator turned the crank. This made for even freezing and mixing and eliminated the need to constantly scrape down the sides of the container by hand.

One of the pleasures of reading the Idaho Statesman over its 150 years of existence is the sense one gets of being present at some the events described, such as this 1887 account of an ice cream festival: "The festival at the Baptist church grounds on last Tuesday evening was a delightful sight to the beholder. The brilliant glare of the Chinese lanterns suspended over white tables bearing luscious ice cream, strawberries, and fragrant flowers, and presided over by charming young ladies, gave prominence and beauty to the entrancing scene. Smiling faces and merry laughter prevailed during the entire evening to the music of the ice cream freezer."

On May 30, 1888, this innovation was mentioned for the first time: "Milk Shake - Solomon once said that there was nothing new under the sun, but the drink called 'Milk Shake,' made by an entirely new apparatus at Myers and Boomer's drugstore is really delicious."

That some ice cream parlors were seasonal we learn from the Statesman's mention of two of them that opened within a few days of each other in May 1892. A Mrs. Hammond and a Miss Wilson ran their business in the Hammond residence on Main Street between 11th and 12th. "It is being largely patronized these warm days," said the paper. "Theirs is a new establishment, but it has already acquired a great reputation." Mrs. Mary Danskin opened her own ice cream parlor on Monday, May 16, 1892, in her residence on Idaho Street between 10th and 11th. She was the first to advertise her business, starting in July 1894.

At the end of June 1892, the paper reported that "ice cream parlors are doing a straight land office business these days. Mrs. Straight, on 8th Avenue, between Idaho and Bannock, declares that the demand for the cooling dish is beyond all precedent."

None of this boom in the sale of ice cream in its various forms would have been possible without a steady and reliable local supply of milk and ice, and new ways to combine the ingredients into such popular favorites as the ice cream soda. The soda fountain, that became a standard fixture in drug stores across Idaho and the nation, forms part of the next chapter in our story.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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