Welcome to “Eating History,” a series in which Jaya Saxena of the New-York Historical Society mines the vast archives of the museum and library in search of vintage images and ephemera that offer a look into how New Yorkers used to dine. Follow the museum @NYHistory for more.
Okay, so it’s not exactly ice cream weather out, but sometimes aspirational cooking is the only thing that gives us hope in the midst of a polar-vortex marathon. “Maybe if I make ice cream, it’ll get warmer,” I kept thinking to myself. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite work.
Most of the recipes used in Eating History have been from personal cookbooks found in the New-York Historical Society’s Library. The contents often read less like official tested recipes, but more like notes from home cooks to remind themselves of some details. While it’s wonderful that these cooks had such confidence in their abilities, the lack of details makes the instructions much harder to decipher as the years go one. For instance, this is the recipe for “Ice Cream” from the cookbook of C.A. Schuchard:
Clearly, this is not much to work with, so I consulted a few other recipes and decided that, given the eggs, this should be treated as a custard-style ice cream, which involves heating the milk and tempering it into the beaten eggs. Note that this recipe never calls for sugar or heavy cream of any type. Who’s up for a bowl of sugar-free, low-fat ice milk?
Arrowroot, which is often found in vegan ice cream these days, was another interesting addition to the recipe. Arrowroot is a flavorless, odorless starch thickener that was popular in the 19th century, “as an article of diet in the form of biscuits, puddings, jellies, cakes, etc., and also with beef tea, milk or veal broth, or plain boiled with a little flavoring added, as an easily digestible food for invalids and children,” according to 1911’s The Grocer’s Encyclopedia. It is derived from a plant native to the Caribbean, and it is similar in texture and use to tapioca. For this recipe, I diluted the arrowroot with a bit of water before adding it to the mixture, which I then heated, poured into a bag, and chilled in the fridge.
Unfortunately, something went wrong. After going through the steps and putting the resulting mixture into an ice-cream machine for half an hour, I was left with the same vanilla milk I started with—it never actually turned into ice cream, nor anything thicker than a weak custard sauce.
I cannot for the life of me figure out what happened, but maybe that’s for the best, since in the past 140 years we’ve figured out that sugar tastes good in ice cream. Any insight? Let me know on Twitter @jayasax.