The Somerville Times Historical Fact of the Week – May 3

On May 3, 2017, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Eagle Feathers #128 –Light Cream, Heavy Cream and Ice Cream

By Bob (Monty) Doherty

Eating something cold and refreshing on a sweltering hot day isn’t an original idea. The Chinese indulged in flavored ice chips thousands of years ago. Later the Romans flavored ice gathered from the mountains. Explorer Marco Polo brought back eastern ice cream recipes to Italy in the late 1200’s. This introduced the first Italian slush and French royal frozen creams to Europe. Considered a rich man’s dessert, nobility kept their ice cream ingredients a secret. It wasn’t until the early 1700’s that sherbets began taking root in America.

It has been said that there are two types of people on earth: those who love ice cream and liars. At one time, the chant during the warm season in Somerville and beyond was, “I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream.” It was a time when limited flavors and a minimal choice of toppings were the norm.

It was before Steve Herrell broke the ice cream ceiling by adding customized “fix-ins” to his homemade Somerville creations. Steve’s novel ice cream approach so popularized Davis Square and beyond, that waiting lines of up to two hours were common. Future owner, Somerville’s Joey Crugnale, who was also the founder of Joey’s Ice Cream in Teele Square, later expanded Steve’s Ice Cream. Crugnale was also the creator of Bertucci’s restaurants.

Light cream, heavy cream, and ice cream … they all found room along Milk Row in early Somerville’s dairy history. This was the name for the path through Union Square. At first, it was called the road to Cambridge, connecting Charlestown Neck with Harvard University. Today it is known as Washington Street, named after the first leader of our nation. General George Washington raised the first American flag on Prospect Hill on January 1, 1776, the same day the American Army was formed here. Washington led the Army through eight long years of war, followed by eight years of leadership as our first American President.

In his retirement, Washington enjoyed many visits from friends, dignitaries and former soldiers that he fought beside. For these guests, a frozen surprise dessert was often served. It was called by its Americanized name, “ice cream.” George liked the sugary treat to the point that he once spent $200 in one year, or close to $5,000 in today’s money, to fill his sweet tooth. He also collected ice cream scoops and molds and purchased an ice cream maker.

Washington’s wife, First Lady Martha, is popularly credited with the introduction of ice cream to America and established it as a standard presidential dessert. Forty presidents later, Ronald Reagan named July as National Ice Cream Month. This coming July 4th will be Somerville’s 175th celebration of Independence Day and the nations 241st. Enjoy saluting her and our country with the founding fathers’ and America’s favorite dessert … ice cream!


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