There are quite a few foods that are our clear summer signposts - tomatoes, courgettes, stonefruit... But, of foods that are made rather than grown, nothing screams summer quite like ice cream.
While any excuse will do to have one, even a smidge of summer's heat brings on that in need of ice cream feeling. And that's why it really must be the essence of summer - when it's hot, you need it as much as you want it.
Being February, New Zealand’s outstanding artisan ice cream and gelato vendors are now in full flight around the country. We are very lucky now to have so many making so many amazing seasonal flavours. And, for those still getting their heads around the ice cream and gelato distinction, it’s like this… Gelato - the Italian word for ice cream, and so Italian styled ice cream - often contains less air and more flavouring, making it just that bit more dense and rich and, well, delicious.
Ice cream, gelato, sorbet, frozen yoghurt, frozen custard, frozen dairy dessert…
If you wanted to be particular about things, ice cream might only apply to the wonderful frosty stuff made with, well, cream of course. Then there’s those versions made with yoghurt, custard bases (with egg added), and the non-dairy types with nut or soy milks, like ones whipped up with coconut cream. You might even count in sorbet, which is strictly a fruit and water creation.
So whose brainwave was it?
It’s an international delicacy, and there are many variations in style. No one person has actually been given the accolade of inventing it. But how revered they would be!
The early prototypes, which reference back to many different regions of the world, sound kind of interesting. Like, for example, the Chinese version from 200 BC that involved rice mixed with milk which was then packed in snow to freeze it. And then Marco Polo apparently brought a recipe back from China to Italy, and off it went all over the globe.
There seems no doubt we are benefiting from the opportunity for further recipe iterations and fine tuning over the intervening centuries. Not to mention the advent of refrigeration, which meant that it moved from a rather elite delicacy to an affordable treat for all.
The cone, and the brain freeze
It would be remiss to overlook, in all this ice cream history, the revolutionary concept of the ice cream cone. It seems to have come into being in the late 1800s, and really took off around 1904. And, with so much more ice cream that you can hide in the cone while convincing yourself it is only a single scoop that you are having, it’s an invention to applaud in and of itself.
And, in case you are wondering - yes, it’s scientifically proven, slurping it down too fast does lead to headaches, the proverbial brain freeze. Something to do with some nerves on the roof of the mouth freaking out. So take it slowly, enjoy it for longer, and all will be well.
DIY ice cream
Making proper traditional ice cream can be quite involved. So for that, there is nothing like finding a great local artisan that does it for you. But, if you’d like a go yourself, here's a super easy version. You do need a food processor, but not an ice cream machine.