Myth has it that Marco Polo brought the secret of freezing sorbet without ice to Italy from China in the 13th century, and that Catherine de' Medici took Italian ices to France a few centuries later. Whatever really happened, by the end of the 18th century, creamy elaborations of Italian ices had become the rage among the upper classes all over Europe—while across the sea, George Washington served them on special occasions.
But it took New Jerseyite Nancy Johnson to bring ice cream home to the rest of us. In 1846, she invented the hand-cranked ice-cream maker—and Americans have been celebrating summer with this chilly confection ever since. We're talking about the real, old-fashioned thing here: Sherbet is too sweet; frozen yogurt isn't rich enough; those trendy herb sorbets leave your mouth tasting like turkey stuffing. And that chunky, rippled stuff is too, well, chunky and rippled. We prefer ice cream pure and simple, flavored with the season itself—with, say, strawberries in June, blackberries in July, and drippy, messy peaches to keep us happy throughout oppressive August.