8 Summertime Treats We Should Bring Back

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Certain snacks are synonymous with summer. A waffle cone piled high with creamy ice cream. A sizzling hot dog fresh off the grill. A tall, cool glass of water buffalo milk. OK, maybe that last one hasn't gotten much play in our lifetimes—but in the centuries before refrigeration came about, anyone baking in the summer sun had to get creative. While many historic summertime treats have stuck around in one form or another, others, like the ones we've gathered here, have mostly melted away like a dropped Popsicle on a sidewalk in August.

1. Flavored Snow and Ice

The snow cones of eras past were a lot more literal than the neon kind we slurp at the carnival these days. In ancient Rome, slaves scoured nearby mountains for blocks of ice which were then crushed and topped with spiced syrups and fruit for their masters. Mesopotamian nobles, too, had icehouses built along the banks of the Euphrates River to beat the heat. Snow was even sold in the streets of ancient Athens, likely to cool wine. Flavored ices have remained popular around the world (Thomas Jefferson was known to serve freezes at Monticello), even as they've largely moved away from the straight-up snow-based variety. So popular, in fact, that in 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson knew he was onto something when he accidentally left a glass of water, powdered soda mix, and a wooden stirring stick on his porch overnight. The concoction froze solid and the Popsicle was born.

2. Flowerpot Sundaes

Lady Bird Johnson, a dedicated environmentalist, had White House chef Henry Haller serve flowerpot sundaes at her daughters' engagement parties in the 1960s. The seasonal sweet consisted of layers of ice cream, meringue, and sponge cake served in clay flowerpots and topped with fresh blossoms—the perfect combination of the First Lady's wildflower beautification measures and dessert duties. With her love of gardening, we're a little surprised Michelle Obama didn't bring this tradition back to Pennsylvania Avenue during her time as First Lady, though an entire flowerpot full of sugar probably wouldn't pass her healthy eating initiatives.

3. Kool-Aid

vintage Kool-Aid ad from 1950
Wandering Magpie, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The sugary summer drink dates back far further than the plastic jugs parents of the '80s and '90s had waiting after their kids' soccer games. A Nebraska businessman and amateur chemist added the powdered product to his existing lineup of goods like Nix-O-Tine (to help with tobacco dependency) and Motor-Vigor (a gasoline additive) in the late 1920s. Originally called "Fruit Smack," it came in six flavors (raspberry, grape, lemon, orange, cherry, and root beer) and debuted right around the time Coca-Cola was catching on nationally. Business was good but things really took off when the Great Depression hit and consumers realized they could stretch one little packet into a pitcher to cool down the whole family. Kool-Aid's still around, despite its 1970s association with the Jonestown mass suicide (though the evidence indicates they actually mostly drank a Kool-Aid competitor, Flavor-Aid) and today's health-conscious parents, but that smiling pitcher with limbs doesn't seem to hold the same wall-breaking power he once did.

4. Iced Water Buffalo Milk

There's some debate as to where ice cream officially originated, with various people (with varying amounts of accuracy and evidence) ascribing it to Marco Polo or Catherine de Medici, and even some attributions to King Solomon and Alexander the Great. China's Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) has a pretty solid claim on the feat, though. Emperors from that time were known to have enjoyed a frozen "milk-like" treat made from buffalo, goat, or cow's milk heated with flour and spiced with camphor. Refreshing!

5. Ice Cream Carts

An ice cream vendor in New York hands a young girl an ice cream, circa 1920.
An ice cream vendor in New York hands a young girl an ice cream, circa 1920.
Elizabeth R. Hibbs/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before the tinny melody of "Pop Goes The Weasel" brought swarms of sweaty kids to the streets for a Chipwich, mobile ice cream vendors used more primitive—and less sanitary—means. In the late 19th century, vendors sold dishes of ice cream from carts cooled with ice blocks, which meant customers would lick their dish clean and then return it to the seller to use for his next customer. Not exactly a model of hygiene.

Before widespread milk pasteurization, ice cream also came topped with the threat of bacteria that could cause scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and other extreme ailments. The frozen treat became safer to order after studies of typhoid in New York implicated raw milk, causing most cities to require pasteurization, and inventions like the ice cream cone made that whole sharing dishes issue disappear. Technological advances around the same time made refrigeration easier and scoopers traded in their carts for cars. Ice cream trucks, which first appeared in the 1920s, have seen something of a resurgence in recent years as other food trucks have flourished and anything vintage has become hipster cool, but the once-ubiquitous carts tend to remain relegated to zoos, amusement parks, and other touristy areas.

6. Easy Cheese

Yes, Gwyneth Paltrow famously said she'd prefer crack to cheese from a can, but for the rest of us, spray cheese remains the stuff of nostalgic summer roadtrip memories. Easy Cheese first propelled its way into America's hearts—and arteries—in 1966, when it was known as Snack Mate. Like TV dinners and Campbell's soup casseroles, the nitrogen-pressurized product was right in line with the era's obsession with speed and efficiency. The name change came about in 1984 when Kraft took over and embraced its portability and ease over the quality it had been peddling in its early years. If you can get past the processed foods stigma and the wrath of judgy celebrities, you can still find the cheesy can on grocery store shelves and, of course, on YouTube.

7. Shoulder Clod

Two butchers, circa 1965.
Keystone/Getty Images

Once a standard cut for summer BBQs, shoulder clod rarely makes modern appearances in America's grilling pits anymore. Southern meat markets used to buy entire forequarters of beef, divide out the roasts, and smoke whatever was left over, but in the 1960s, wholesalers started shipping individual, vacuum-sealed cuts, making the fattier brisket the barbecue favorite. The unfortunately named "clod," a leaner piece of meat with beefier flavor that comes from the cow's shoulder, was all but forgotten. But, if you can find a chunk of clod at a local butcher shop, know that it will cook faster because of its leanness—a bonus if you don't have all day to spend minding the grill. And they tend to be larger, which is also a bonus.

8. Fromage (Not the Cheese Kind)

In the late 1600s, right around the time the Italians were experimenting with gelato, the French were mixing up a fluffier frozen treat they called fromage, even though it had nothing to do with cheese. Various recipes called for fruit-flavored ice, but some included cream and sugar as well—a combination that became a hit as the new century began. Can you imagine if your evening meal could be followed by a fromage plate and then a bowl of fromage? Heaven.

This story was updated in 2019.

The History Behind 10 Thanksgiving Dishes

VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images
VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. Turkey

A roasted turkey on a platter.
612645812/iStock.com

Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as … served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. Stuffing

Pan of breaded stuffing.
mphillips007/iStock.com

Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. Cranberries

Dish of cranberry sauce.
bhofack2/iStock.com

Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. Mashed Potatoes

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
bhofack2/iStock.com

Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting president to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. Gravy

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
cislander/iStock.com

Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to create a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. Corn

Plate of corn.
PeopleImages/iStock

Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. Sweet Potatoes

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
bhofack2/iStock

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. Green Bean Casserole

Plate of green bean casserole.
DreamBigPhotos/iStock.com

Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you probably know was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. Pumpkin Pie

Slice of pumpkin pie.
bhofack2/iStock.com

Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. Wine

Two glasses of wine.
Moncherie/iStock.com

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

Why Do We Eat Cranberry Sauce on Thanksgiving?

MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images
MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images

While plenty of people eat turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie year-round, it seems like cranberry sauce almost exclusively exists in the Thanksgiving universe. Although we don’t know for sure whether it was eaten at the very first Thanksgiving, the jiggly, gelatinous side dish does have deep roots in the history of America’s fruited plains.

According to Insider, cranberries are one of only three commercially grown fruits native to the United States, and the Wampanoag tribe had been using them for food, dye, and medicine long before feasting with the Pilgrims in 1621. If there were cranberries at the party, they probably didn’t taste much like the sweetened sauce we’re (circumstantially) fond of today; at that point, the settlers hadn’t yet succeeded in growing sugar cane in the New World.

But a little more than 50 years later, according to a 1672 account cited by The Washington Post, the new Americans and Native Americans had both started to enjoy cranberries much like we do at Thanksgiving dinner: “Indians and English use it much, boyling them with Sugar for a Sauce to eat with their Meat.”

In 1796, Amelia Simmons—author of American Cookery, the first-ever American cookbook—took it one step further by recommending that roast turkey be served with cranberry sauce. Considering that the Library of Congress included the book on its list of “Books That Shaped America,” it’s possible that Simmons’s suggestion reverberated through kitchens across the nation, and the tradition gained momentum from there. She does mention pickled mangoes as an alternate side dish for turkey, but the then-Indian import was likely less common than the locally-grown cranberry.

Then, in the early 1800s, Ocean Spray revolutionized the labor-intensive process of hand-picking cranberries from vines with what’s called a wet harvest. Basically, farmers flood the bogs where cranberries grow, and then they wade into the water to collect the floating berries en masse.

farmer wet-harvesting cranberries
A farmer gathering cranberries during a wet harvest.
kongxinzhu/iStock via Getty Images

This was a more efficient technique, but a mass harvest meant that more cranberries got damaged. So in 1912, Ocean Spray began crushing them into canned, jellied cranberry sauce—maximizing the yield and making it easier than ever for every home in America to slice up a cylinder of solid, sugary, berry goodness.

Explore the stories behind your other favorite (or least favorite) Thanksgiving foods here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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