It’s summer, it’s hot, and the sentimental feelings of your childhood are starting to build. You want something to cool you down (no, not water) — perhaps something sweet. Maybe you had a bad day at work. Maybe you’re excited the entire family is together. If your inclination is to reach for ice cream, you’re not alone. Basically everyone — 96% of Americans — eats the comforting treat.
Ice cream’s popularity is rooted in the joy it brings and the fond memories we associate with it. It even has its own spot on the calendar to celebrate. You may eat ice cream year-round, but there’s an entire month dedicated to remind us how much our taste buds crave the nostalgic dessert.
July is National Ice Cream Month, and National Ice Cream Day falls each year on the third Sunday in July (this year, it’s July 21, 2019). We took a deep dive into ice cream’s celebrated month and day, going back to their origins and how ice cream fans celebrate today, in honor of our favorite frozen dessert.
National Ice Cream Month History
We can thank President Ronald Reagan for filling our stomachs with ice cream each July. In 1984, the 40th president of the United States proclaimed July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. Reagan called on Americans to “observe these events with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
Actually, thank former Kentucky Senator Walter Dee Huddleston too. He first sponsored and introduced National Ice Cream Month in 1984 via Joint Resolution 298. There was no mention of National Ice Cream Month as an annual event, but ice cream’s popularity kept the tradition alive each year. In Reagan’s proclamation, he described ice cream as a “nutritious and wholesome food” enjoyed by more than 90% of Americans. Ice cream lovers in the U.S. consumed more than 887 million gallons in 1984. The most recent U.S. data from the International Dairy Foods Association showed 1.54 billion gallons of ice cream were produced in 2015.
Ways You Can Celebrate National Ice Cream Month
Make Ice Cream at Home
While we all love a few scoops of our favorite ice cream from the supermarket or a cone from our local ice cream stand, homemade ice cream, when done properly, is equally as satisfying.
This holds true for the creative types, as you can use just about any little treat as an add-in in an ice cream base. If you have an ice cream maker, great. If not, we can help you with that.
We recently put together a homemade strawberry swirl jam ice cream that took us back to our childhood. All you need is an electric mixer, a loaf pan, and some pantry/refrigerator staples such as cream, strawberries, jam, vanilla, sweetened condensed milk, and, of course, Joy Waffle Cones. Our cereal milk no-churn ice cream is even easier to whip up.
Try your hand at the latest craze of rolled ice cream. Our homemade version uses a sheet pan to freeze the ice cream base and a paint scraper-like spatula to roll it into sections. For those who are lactose intolerant or may be looking for a dairy alternative, check out our non-dairy ice cream that features coconut milk, lavender, and honey.
Socialize with an Ice Cream Party
Organize a party once you make the ice cream — or buy it — and turn it into a social event. Explore Pinterest for ideas on a memorable ice cream social. This is the perfect time to relive your childhood days when summers included the familiar sound of neighborhood ice cream trucks and big tubs of ice cream at family picnics.
This is where your imagination can take over. Throw a themed party based on your favorite activities, or dabble in a buffet-style ice cream social that features plenty of flavors and endless toppings. Let the ice cream serve as a vessel for your creations.
If you live in coastal areas or have an upcoming vacation planned near water, you can take your sweet cravings oceanside. Here’s our guide on how to pack the perfect ice cream party for the beach. If you don’t have children, maybe you want to center your party around those furry four-legged creatures everyone loves. Try out our recipe for ice cream treats for dogs.
Whichever direction you go, refresh your memory on how to scoop the perfect ice cream cone.
Cash in on the Freebies
We all love free things, don’t we? It’s a little sweeter when ice cream comes at no cost. Many national and local ice cream companies run specials, either free items or discounted treats, for National Ice Cream Day.
Check your local ice cream shops for their specials. They may require some sort of action, such as downloading an app, signing up for a rewards club, or redeeming a coupon.
Relive History with an Old Ice Cream Shop
There’s likely an old ice cream shop or parlor in your neck of the woods. Check it out and reminisce when times were simple and ice cream was devoured on stools with old-timey decor.
The first U.S. ice cream parlor opened in New York City in 1776. They remained popular until mass production of ice cream began in the mid-20th century. The social aspect remained, but it became easier to buy ice cream at grocery stores. Ice cream parlors are making a comeback as an older generation revels in nostalgia and a new generation discovers tradition.
How Ice Cream Has Evolved
There are different versions — or myths — of how ice cream became what we know and love it as today. The earliest traces of ice cream date back to Alexander the Great’s reign when he enjoyed ice flavored with honey and nectar.
Some believe the pivot from fruit-flavored snow to a dairy-based dessert came in China some thousands of years ago when they made a frozen mixture of rice and milk. Other versions used cow, goat, or buffalo milk heated with flour added. There’s a myth that explorer Marco Polo brought to Italy a version of ice cream now commonly referred to as sherbet. Some say he stole it, although that was never verified. However it evolved, ice cream eventually made its way to the diets of mid-century Europeans and later stateside via Quaker colonists in the late 1770s.
Ice cream was rare before manufacturing and refrigeration became more prominent in the mid-1800s. Over time, new technology (homogenizers and a more efficient shipping process) and new equipment led to more production and consumption.
While we think of ice cream as commercialized, the initial process used a little elbow grease. The first ice cream maker had a hand crank and earned a patent in 1843.
These days, the same industrial equipment used to help ice cream explode in popularity is now simplified for household use. Walk into any brick-and-mortar store and you’ll see small-batch ice cream machines to fit on your kitchen counter.
Trends have evolved in how we consume it. We make ice cream cakes and ice cream sandwiches. We roll our ice cream, using a large ice block to freeze the ice cream base before it’s scraped into rolls. For the adventurous eaters, fried ice cream is popular among fairgoers. The marriage of liquid nitrogen and ice cream was made popular in the 1980s as a way to instantly freeze the liquid base.
Sure, we still love our ice cream, but many millennials and fitness gurus have navigated to new trends such as vegan ice cream and keto ice cream. We’ve come quite a ways from the days when frozen yogurt and fat-free products were the lone alternatives to traditional ice cream.
Keto, or protein-based ice cream, is more popular than ever, and “non-dairy” was the fastest-growing frozen dessert category in 2017, according to Nielsen, an information, data, and measurement company. We wouldn’t advise eating a whole pint and deeming it as healthy, but you no longer have to feel guilty when scarfing down a bowl. For healthier options, here are some Weight Watcher-friendly treats.
Interesting Ice Cream Facts
How much ice cream do you think you can eat? How about a sundae that weighs more than 54,000 pounds? To the day, this Guinness World Records achievement hasn’t been touched since 1988. The massive brain freeze-inducing dessert featured more than 44,000 pounds of ice cream, nearly 10,000 pounds of syrup, and more than 500 pounds of topping.
- This is one of many interesting ice cream facts to develop over the years. For starters, did you know Thomas Jefferson was an ice cream buff? In fact, he popularized the cold treat and is still remembered for his 18-step ice cream recipe (two bottles of good cream, six egg yolks, and a half-pound of sugar) that is part of the Library of Congress.
- We eat a lot of ice cream each year. Try 23 pounds. Plenty of that comes in one sitting, as a National Today survey found 40% of Americans have eaten an entire pint — four servings — of ice cream in one sitting. You may not feel well, either, as 16% of Americans become ill from eating too much ice cream.
- Not surprisingly, chocolate (14%) and vanilla (13%) are the most popular ice cream flavors, according to a 2018 study by YouGov. In that same study, 43% of respondents preferred their ice cream in a cone over a cup, and almost 50% liked hot fudge as a topping, followed by chocolate syrup (28%), cookie crumbles (24%), and sprinkles (21%). For those with a pallet for texture, the IDFA found pecan is the most popular nut flavoring, while strawberry is the most sought-after fruit in ice cream.
- Waffle cones and sugar cones tie for the most popular type of ice cream cone, according to the IDFA. The history and rise of ice cream cones dates back to the early 1900s. The George & Thomas Cone Company opened its doors in 1918 and later became a worldwide ice cream cone manufacturer and distributor known as Joy Cone Co. baking more than 1.5 billion cones a year.
- If you’re an ice cream connoisseur like many of us, you’ve likely dealt with brain freeze, the irritable feeling when the nerves located in the back of your mouth react to sudden cold. In more scientific terms, your nerves send a signal to your brain which, in turn, activates the pain receptors in an attempt to slow your ice cream intake.
Follow Along With Us
Whether it’s throughout July or on National Ice Cream Day, follow along with us using some of these popular hashtags: #BringJoyHome, #NationalIceCreamDay, #NationalIceCreamDay2019, #NationalIceCreamMonth, #IceCreamDay, #ILoveIceCream, and #IceCream. Feel free to share photos with us on our Facebook and Instagram accounts. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to get recipes like the ones mentioned above delivered straight to your inbox.