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.
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
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
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.