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Friday, August 18, 2006

Black Cows

Back on August 19, 1893, Frank J. Wisner created the first root beer float by adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to his Myers Avenue Red Root Beer. Wisner, who owned the Cripple Creek Brewing Company in Colorado, was inspired by the moon over snow-capped Cow Mountain — thus the origin of the frothy concoction’s nickname, “black cow.” The foam is formed as microscopic bubbles in the ice cream create nucleation sites, which make larger bubbles of carbon dioxide.

Root beer is fermented and made from a variety of ingredients, such as vanilla, cherry tree bark, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, sassafras root bark, nutmeg, anise, molasses and other ingredients. At one time the beverage was a traditional drink and herbal medicine. It contained about two percent alcohol and was used for coughs and mouth sores. A non-alcoholic version was introduced to the U.S. as a commercial soft drink by Charles Hires at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Today root beer makes up about three percent of the soft drink market.

Ice cream and its relatives have more ancient roots. The Chinese are believed to have invented the first device for making ice cream, and the caliphs of Baghdad supposedly drank syrup cooled with snow. Middle Easterners are also credited with introducing the frozen dessert, gelato, to the West through Sicily.

August is the perfect time for chilly sweets. Check out:

Homemade Root Beer, Soda and Pop by Stephen Cresswell.

A Passion for Ice Cream by Emily Luchetti.

Ice Cream Treats by Charity Ferreira.

The Ice Cream Lover's Companion by Diana Rosen.

The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein.

A Month of Sundaes by Michael Turback.

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