6 things you didn’t know about ice cream
‘I know everything about ice cream’, we can hear you saying, as you spoon it straight out of the tub into your mouth, relishing every moment. Well, we don’t doubt your expertise at ingesting the stuff – and we’re pretty partial to it ourselves – but there are some linguistic aspects to the ice cream questions that might have passed you by, in your inevitable excitement at the existence of hot fudge sauce. Look, we don’t blame you – but here are some facts to turn those things around.
The similarity between sundae (‘a dish of ice cream with added ingredients such as fruit, nuts, and syrup’) and Sunday (the day of the week) possibly isn’t coincidental. While the origin is not known for certain, it has been suggested that sundae is an alteration of Sunday, either because the dish was made with ice cream left over from Sunday and sold cheaply on the Monday, or because it was sold only on Sundays, a practice devised (according to some accounts) to circumvent restrictions concerning trading on Sundays. The alteration of the spelling is sometimes said to be out of deference to feelings about the word Sunday to some people of faith.
2. À la mode
French scholars will know that à la mode means ‘in the fashion’, and is used to mean ‘in fashion; up to date’. For Americans, or those ordering desserts in America, it has another meaning: ‘served with ice cream’. There is no obvious relationship between the French meaning and its ice cream context; in early use, especially, it was chiefly found in the phrase apple pie à la mode, so it seems possible that apple pie was served in this fashion as a special and the name caught on. None of the theories about its coinage at various restaurants are, however, reliably documented.
In the Philippines, you would call a ‘dessert made of mixed fruits, sweet beans, milk, and shaved ice, typically topped with purple yam, crème caramel, and ice cream’ a halo-halo, a reduplication of halo, which is both a verb meaning ‘to mix’ and a noun meaning ‘mixture’. To round out the parts of speech, halo-halo can be an adjective meaning ‘mixed’. The word is borrowed into Philippine English from Tagalog.
It sounds like a lot of ice cream to eat, but in Britain it’s only one: a ninety-nine (or 99) is an ice-cream cone made with soft ice cream with a stick of flaky chocolate inserted into it, and a favourite for those who haunt ice cream vans. 99 is a proprietary name in the UK, and the ice cream has been produced by Cadbury’s since at least 1935, but nobody knows the origin of the name. The suggestion that something really special or first class was known as ‘99’ in allusion to an elite guard of ninety-nine soldiers in the service of the King of Italy appears to be without foundation, and other theories about shop numbers and commemorations of 1899 are also, sadly, unsupported by evidence.
Particularly to North Americans, a small hamburger (or other hot sandwich made with a soft bun) is known as a slider. Decades before this term came into common use (currently dated to 1974), however, it referred to ice cream. As far back as 1915, ‘ice-cream served in a sandwich form between two wafers’ was colloquially known as a slider; whether because the ice cream had slid between wafers or because it slid along surfaces (like the earlier use of slider for ‘a stand or holder for a bottle or decanter, intended to be slid along the table’) is unknown.
6. Knickerbocker Glory
This curiously-named dessert (consisting of ice cream, served with fruit, cream, and other sweet ingredients in a tall glass) has an uncertain etymology, but may relate to the name Diedrich Knickerbocker, the pseudonym used by Washington Irving for A History of New York in 1809. George Cruikshank’s illustrations of this character (and other Dutch men) are said to have given rise to knickerbockers meaning ‘loose-fitting breeches, gathered in at the knee’.
The leap to a Knickerbocker Glory is, however, unclear. It has been suggested that a 1920s café named all its desserts after undergarments. On the other hand, in The Diner’s Dictionary, John Ayto comments that ‘it has no connection with nether garments’, and that knickerbocker ‘became synonymous with the descendants of the original Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam, and eventually with New Yorkers in general—so a Knickerbocker Glory is essentially a tribute to New York’.