Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sweet!  Mason Takes Home His Prize

Mason Puppa was a lucky winner at Westfield Heritage Village’s Ice Cream Festival held on August 5th and 6th.  Visitors to the General Store were challenged to guess the correct number of ice cream flavoured candies in the jar, without going over.  There were 619 candies, and Mason guessed 613.  He modestly attributes his win to some basic mathematical calculations, and is looking forward to enjoying his prize, for a long, long time!

Cones and Carnivals – A Perfect Pairing!

Carnivals are widely popular celebrations of local history and culture that are celebrated all over the world.  The early versions of these carnivals are fairs, which are as old as recorded history.  Fairs were used as both market places and places for entertainment.  In the 1700s, the British combined these trade fairs with what were known as “agricultural improvement societies” to develop what we would recognize as our still-popular agricultural fairs.  These fairs were brought to the colonies by the earliest British settlers.  In a predominantly agrarian society, the conceptof the fair was enthusiastically embraced. 

The first agricultural society in Canada was founded in 1765 in Nova Scotia and in 1792, the Agricultural Society of Upper Canada was established in Niagara on the Lake.  By the mid-1800s, agricultural societies were springing up all over Ontario, and these groups enthusiastically planned and participated in enormously popular fairs that were a way to promote and celebrate advances in agriculture.  The Rockton Agricultural Society first held a fair in October 1852 offering an impressive $194.50 in prize money.  The fair was so successful and popular, that in 1878, local author Andrew Kernighan commented that the Rockton fair should be called the “World’s Fair” because the whole world seemed to attend.  This fair and others like it have continued to be an important tradition in Ontario and across Canada.

The concept of a world’s fair had its roots in the 1844 French Industrial Exposition, held in Paris.  The success and acclaim of this event prompted many imitators, and the scale of these events became increasingly ambitious.  The Great Exhibition in London, held in 1851, was the first to open its doors to exhibitors from all over the world.  The central purpose of this and other world fairs was to both educate and impress the masses with new technological innovations and to introduce them to international cultures.  The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, unprecedented in its scale and content, introduced a new concept – the midway.  Prompted by a need to create additional revenue, the “Midway Plaisance,” was an area designed purely for the purpose of amusement.  In addition to the first Ferris Wheel and a carousel, the midway featured tented side shows, comedians, musicians, gymnasts, fortune tellers, animals, food concessions and spectacles of all descriptions.

Although small travelling circuses had been around since the mid-19th century, it was the tremendous success and popularity of the midway at the Chicago World’s Fair that spurred the development of large numbers of travelling carnivals and related attractions.  By 1905, there were close to fifty carnival companies operating in the United States, and many of these companies traveled north to take advantage of the Canadian market.  The rapid growth of railways lines facilitated the movement of these carnivals.  Carnival-like amusements were also added to the traditional offerings of agricultural or historical festivals.  The largely attended agricultural fairs guaranteed crowds for the carnivals, and generated significant revenue for the fairs.  It was a sometimes uneasy, but mutually beneficial partnership.

Carnival companies offered a diverse collection of rides, animals, tented side shows, games and food concessions.  In The Midway on the Margins: the First Half of the Twentieth Century, it is noted that Vaudeville stage shows comprising comedians, musicians, and variety acts were common features of early twentieth-century carnivals, as were gambling booths and other games of chance.”  Due to the expense of moving large equipment, rides were less common in the early days.  

Carnivals and related fairs were, and continue to be, places where one could enjoy “fun” foods not normally eaten.  At the turn of the century, carnival and fair visitors could enjoy many of the foods we still associate with carnivals and fairs today – ice cream, cotton candy, caramel apples, popcorn, soda and lemonade.  Fun seekers also snacked on baked potatoes and pickles. 

Ice cream cones were, and continue to be, an enduring feature of fairs and carnivals.  Since their dramatic rise in popularity following their introduction at the 1904 St. Louis world’s fair, this sweet, cool treat will forever be associated with the delights of a day at a carnival.

How the Ice Cream Got its Cone

 Cool, creamy, crunchy – there’s nothing like an ice cream cone to bring back memories of summer fun.  While ice cream itself has a long history, stemming back to early civilizations, serving it in cones is a relatively recent phenomenon.  Just how and when the ice cream cone was invented, however, has been the subject of an ongoing debate. 

Sources dating to the 1770s recommended serving “iced puddings” or “ice cream puddings” with small almond wafers.  These were considered “stomach settlers,” and were served at the conclusion of a meal to calm one’s digestion.  Eventually, these became little treats in their own right.  When rolled into “funnels” or cornucopias, they could be filled with creams and iced puddings.  The 1770 publication The Complete Housekeeper & Cook (Newcastle: 1770), recommended filling cornets with ice cream “as a garnish.”

An Italian confectioner working in London in the early 19th century described baking almond wafers into “little horns” and filling them with a variety of sweet fillings, including “creams.”

In the mid-19th century London, the production and sale of food in public, particularly ice cream, provided a steady income for many Italian families of the time.  Selling their cool treats from a cart, vendors would often serve the ice cream in a small glass, referred to as a “penny lick.”  These dishes were typically made of a thick glass with a heavy base and shallow depression on top, in which the ice cream was placed.  The customer, paying one penny, would lick the contents clean and return it to the vendor for reuse.  This presented two main challenges – the vendor couldn’t serve the ice cream fast enough, and sanitary conditions were difficult to maintain.  Penny licks were banned by 1899, due to concerns about the spread of disease, as these cups could not normally be washed between uses.

Food historians most often credit the first true ice cream cone, that is, one made specifically for ice cream, to the Italian immigrants living in Manchester in the mid-19th century.   Seeking to speed their sales and replace the troublesome penny licks, which were often stolen or broken, they began to produce large quantities of rolled, waffle-style biscuits for serving ice cream.  It is estimated that by the turn of the 19th century, there were nearly a thousand ice cream vendors, or “Hokey Pokey Men” in London’s Little Italy. 

The traditions and techniques associated with public ice cream vending were brought to North America through immigration, including the use of the cone.  It wasn’t until the 1904 St. Louis World’s fair, however, that ice cream cones became enormously popular, widespread and readily available.  The fair was home to more than fifty ice cream stands and a large number of waffle shops.  There are several competing versions of the story about who it was who actually rolled the nearby waffles into cones and served ice cream from them at the fair.  What is widely acknowledged, however, is that cones became so popular that, at the conclusion of the fair, companies throughout North America scrambled to produce equipment to efficiently manufacture them.  

These are the beginnings of a sweet tradition that thrives to this day.  Come to Westfield Heritage Village for the Ice Cream Festival on August 5th and 6th to learn more about this and other delicious traditions.