My wife and I were recently house-sitting on Salt Spring Island. The weather was warm and wild blackberries were in season, growing in many locales. We picked a bunch and decided to use some of them in a cool ice-cream-based dessert to serve after dinner. And, it being a Sunday, we thought the perfect thing to make would be ice cream sundaes.
If you’ve ever wondered why an ice cream sundae is called a sundae, the What’s Cooking America website (whatscookingamerica.net) muses that religion might have had something to do with it. On that website, an article on the history of the ice cream sundae notes that some historians claim, but have never proven, that the name “sundae” was created in response to old American “Blue Laws.”
Those laws restricted or banned some activities on certain days of the week, primarily Sundays, which is why “Blue Laws” were also known as “Sunday Laws.” And eons ago, enjoying an ice cream-based treat, such as an ice cream soda, a glass filled with ice cream, soda and syrup slurped up with a straw, was one of those things banned because those making the laws deemed it too “frilly.”
The What’s Cooking America article says that for some reason, the “righteous” were very much against what they called “sucking soda,” especially on Sundays and clergy preached against them. When the ice cream sundae, which at that time also went by names such as “sundi” and “sondhi,” was invented, the article suggests it was apparently given that name to avoid offending the devoutly religious who might take a dim view of this ice cream treat being named Sunday after the Sabbath.
There are a few communities in the United States that lay claim to being the place where the ice cream sundae was first served.
For example, according to an article on the subject by a United States organization called The Dairy Alliance (thedairyalliance.com), one of them is Two Rivers, Wisconsin. The story goes that in that town on a Sunday in 1881, to be compliant with the Blue Law, pharmacist Edward Berners replaced the slurping-required ice cream soda with ice cream topped only with chocolate syrup. It was well received and eventually became known as an ice cream sundae, a nod to the day it was served.
The city of Ithaca, New York, has a similar story. On a spring Sunday in 1892, a minister asked drugstore owner Chester C. Platt for vanilla ice cream. Platt obliged, but decided to dress up the ice cream with cherries and cherry syrup. Lore says the minister thoroughly enjoyed Platt’s creation and suggested it be named for the day it was created. The Dairy Alliance article says Platt agreed, later changing the spelling of Sunday to sundae so it didn’t offend anyone.
There are other stories about where the ice cream sundae was invented. But wherever it was, it soon became a popular ice cream treat in the United States, Canada and other parts of the world — and still is today.
There are many variations on how an ice cream sundae is made. The one my wife and I dished up saw scoops of locally made ice cream topped with a beguiling, blended and strained fresh blackberry sauce and toasted nuts. I call the sauce beguiling because it was flavoured with a bit of sweet and tangy balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Not a lot of those ingredients, just enough to give the blackberry sauce a deeper, more interesting flavour that nicely complemented the ice cream.
You can make the blackberry sauce in advance, cover and keep it refrigerated until needed for the sundaes. You can also scoop the ice cream into decorative glasses in advance and set them in the freezer until ready to top with the sauce and nuts.
Fresh Blackberry Ice Cream Sundaes with Balsamic and Nuts
Scoops of ice cream set in decorative glasses and topped with a sweet, slightly tangy, fresh blackberry sauce accented with balsamic vinegar.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: a few minutes
Makes: four servings
3 cups (1 1/2 pints) fresh blackberries, plus some for garnish
1/4 cup icing sugar
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, or to taste
• pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 scoops vanilla ice cream or flavoured ice cream (about 3 to 4 cups; see Note 1)
1/3 to 1/2 cup walnut or pecan pieces, toasted (see Note 2)
4 mint sprigs or unsprayed edible flowers, such as nasturtiums or pansies, for garnish
Set a large, fine sieve over a bowl. Place the 3 cups blackberries, icing sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper in a blender. Mash berries down with a fork, and then pulse and purée them.
Pour blackberry purée into the sieve. Use a small whisk to vigorously whisk and push the puréed blackberries through the sieve, removing the seeds and creating a strained, smooth sauce. Transfer sauce to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed. Sauce can be made many hours in advance.
To make the sundaes, set three scoops of ice cream in each of four chilled decorative glasses. Spoon some of the blackberry sauce over the ice cream in each glass (see Note 3). Top each sundae with a few whole blackberries and some walnuts (or pecans). Garnish each sundae with a mint sprig (or edible flower), and serve.
Note 1: Flavoured ice creams that would work well in these sundaes include cinnamon, butter pecan, maple walnut or chocolate. If you wanted to buy locally made ice cream on Salt Spring Island, try some made by a small business called Salt Spring Ice Cream, which sells jars of amazing ice cream at various Salt Spring Island food stores. You can learn more about that business on Facebook. With regard to ice cream made in Greater Victoria, establishments selling it include 49 Below Craft Ice Cream (49below.ca), Parachute Ice Cream (parachuteicecream.com) and Cold Comfort Ice Cream (coldcomfort.ca).
Note 2: To toast the walnuts or pecans, place them in a skillet and set over medium heat. Heat and stir nuts until lightly toasted, about five minutes.
Note 3: Any blackberry sauce you have leftover will keep several days, refrigerated. Spoon it on ice cream, as was done here, or on yogurt, for breakfast, or add it to a drink, such as a smoothie or lemonade.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
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