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Origins of ice cream cone are lost in folklore

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(CNN) -- Without them, the Nutty Buddy would only be nutty. Baskin Robbins would be a 31-flavor flop. Dairy Queen's drive-through? A drip.

Cones are the foundation of America's ice cream dream. But the truth of their discovery remains tangled in several stories.

Some credit Italian immigrant Italo Marchiony, who was granted a patent on the mold for edible waffle cups in 1903. At the time, he claimed to have been making them since September 22, 1886, to serve with ice cream from his pushcart on Wall Street in New York. Then again, some sources say it was 1896.

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"He emigrated in the late 1800s," said Bob Roberts, an associate professor of food science at Penn State University, where courses in ice cream making have been going on since 1891. "There is some competition about it, but he is generally viewed as the first."

Not if you talk to Mary Lou Menches.

"It was my grandfather -- my father's father, and his brother," said Menches, production manager at the University of Illinois Press in Champaign.

Family legend recounts how Charles Robert Menches and his brother, Frank, who ran ice cream concessions at fairs and events across the Midwest, came up with the ice cream cone at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.

"There are all sorts of stories," said Menches, whose grandfather died in 1931. "One has it that they ran out of dishes for ice cream, and since their ice cream stand was next to a waffle stand, they grabbed some waffles and scooped the ice cream into them, and it went over very well."

From that beginning developed the waffle cone, she said, adding that some Menches cousins have preserved their grandfather's waffle-making equipment at their restaurant near Akron, Ohio.

"I remember as a child going to Isaly's ice cream store, and seeing those machines," Menches said.

"There also are stories about a man named Hamwi and the ice cream cone that are essentially the same," she continued. "That's interesting to me."

That would be E.A. Hamwi, a Syrian immigrant pastry maker who also is said to have had a concession stand at the St. Louis World's Fair.

According to some histories of ice cream, Hamwi hit upon the idea when some neighboring ice cream vendors ran out of dishes for their treats. He rolled some of his wafers, called Zalabia, into cone shapes while they were still hot, then let them cool and sold them to the neighbors to use for serving ice cream.

There were other claimants, too.

Whoever invented the cone, the point is that it helps us to enjoy ice cream -- a frozen confection that racks up annual sales of more than $3 billion in America alone.

Why do we like it so much?

"It's indulgent, sweet, cold, rich, and there's a lot of variety," said Penn State's Roberts. "It's refreshing. But I think mainly we like it because it's a relatively inexpensive way to pamper ourselves."

So serve yourself a scoop or two today. After all, it's the ice cream cone's birthday ... whoever invented it. And no birthday party is complete without ice cream.



RELATED SITES:
Ice Cream History
Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream -- History of Ice Cream
Dairy Research and Information Center -- The Mysterious Origins of the Ice Cream Cone
Penn State's Home on the Web


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