Can you imagine a summer without ice creams?

It seems the Chinese, too, couldn’t. For it was they who gave the world its first ice cream. In India, the Mughals are said to have introduced their kind of ice cream — the kulfi. The exact date of origin of the ice cream is not known.

Kulfi is a mixture of khoa, pistachio nuts and saffron essence frozen in conical metal containers after sealing it with dough — exactly the same way as it is made today! Khoa is made by boiling milk on slow fire till it becomes semi-solid.

We Would All Scream Without Ice Cream
We Would All Scream Without Ice Cream [Illustration by Nitin VIshwakarma]
This recipe was listed in the Ain-i-Akbari, more than 400 years ago by Abul Fazl, the biographer of Emperor Akbar.

According to Fazl, it was Akbar who introduced saltpetre for cooling water in India. Water was poured into small containers, which was placed in larger containers having water and saltpetre. These containers were removed after seven or eight minutes.

About 300 years ago, many families had an abdar, or servant who stayed up all night to move an earthen jug of water in a larger vessel carrying water and saltpetre. The contents of the earthen jug would be chilled by morning.

The Ain-i-Akbari also contains detailed descriptions about how ice was transported to Delhi from the Himalayas by river and then over land.

But, the Harshacharita, which was written much before Akbar’s time, in the 7th century AD or about 1,400 years ago, also mentions ways of keeping things cool by using ice. Historians believe the ice must have been brought from the Himalayas as they continued to do in the Mughal period.

In 1775, an English judge described the process of ice-making in Allahabad, now in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps ice was always made in the area by the same process since long. But no one knows since when.

Water was cooled overnight in winter when the temperature was close to freezing point, but never below it. Boiled water was poured into small, shallow, porous vessels, which were placed in shallow pits. These pits were well insulated at the bottom and the sides and were made by scooping out earth in a covered place. The ice, which would form overnight, would then be kept in insulated pits.

The British, too, began using this technique on a large scale about 200 years ago in the 19th century and stored it for use all the year round.