Preparing for an ice cream social — a century ago

Last week’s we asked for help about a photo of old-time CALS ice cream making. We have an answer, provided by Franco Milani, assistant professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science. Here’s his take on the scene:

There are four students and a foreman, who is wearing a hat with a black sun visor. The students are wearing uniforms from what we think are from about 1895 to about 1910. On the student uniforms, there would have been bright red embroidery “University” on one side lapel near the neck and “Wisconsin” on the other. You can barely make it out, but you can see it on middle-left student and on the student to the far right.

There are three power take-offs (drive belts). The middle one is running an ice shaver. The student in the back has an ice clamp holding a block of ice with both hands. After it is shaved, it drops to a wooden box on the floor. The foreman has a shovel of ice probably just scooped out of the box.
The student on the far left is freezing ice cream in a narrow barrel, lined on the outside with wood. There would have been a metal freezing can on the inside, along with an agitator to mix the ice cream as it froze. Rock salt was probably added to shaved ice to lower the temperature. The agitator on the ice cream freezing barrel was driven by the power take off on the left, and there is a right angle gear to transfer the torque into freezing barrel. There is another barrel in the foreground, with ice on top of it (and most likely inside as well between the wood and the can).

The two students on the right are most likely “ripening” the ice cream, a process where the small ice crystals are rounded off to make them smooth and slippery in the mouth. This is somewhat foreign to us today, as freezing and ripening all happen at once with a modern ice cream machine. This is also where air was whipped into the ice cream, causing it to expand and overflow from the tube next to the spatula held by the student on the far right. He is helping to move the finished ice cream into the metal storage can sitting on the floor. The student on the middle-right is regulating the ripening by maintaining the ideal temperature—perhaps with an ice water brine or some early form of refrigeration.

This looks like an area in Hiram Smith Hall. There is not natural light, as the shadows look like point source lights, so perhaps they are in a basement or inner room


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