Dipped in chocolate, coated in sprinkles, waffle, cake or perfectly crisp, the ice cream cone is a feat of multitasking deliciousness. As far as edible containers go, it's one of the best inventions ever.
It's on the level of the bread bowl.
As with so many great inventions -- electricity, the Internet, the Hostess Cup Cake -- there is some question as to who first came up with the idea. Most people go with the World's Fair theory; but even then, there are multiple first sightings of the cone.
Lebanese-born Ernest Hamwi most often gets credit for inventing the confection. The story goes like this:
Hamwi had a stand at the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904 selling a wafflelike treat, likely the Middle Eastern snack zalabia, which is much like what we now call "fried dough." The vendor located next to Hamwi -- either Arnold Fornachou or Charles Menchez, depending on who you ask -- was providing fair-goers with ice cream in paper containers.
It would soon become a symbiotic relationship.
When Fornachou (or Menchez) ran out of paper holders, Hamwi stepped in and saved the day: He fashioned his fried dough into a cone shape. Fornachou (or Menchez) filled it with ice cream. It held.
Ice cream lovers all over the fair soon were eating their containers, and the ice cream cone was born.
This is the favorite explanation for the birth of the cone, but there are others. First, there were dozens of ice cream vendors at the fair, and quite a few of them claim to have been the first to cone a scoop. But World's Fair battles aside, perhaps the most notable challenger is Italo Marciony. The Italian immigrant is believed by quite a few food historians to have invented the treat because of a patent he filed in 1903. It was for a waffle mold, and it may have been for the purpose of forming waffles into ice cream cones.
Still another, less-popular (but more mysterious) theory puts the ice cream cone's inception nearly 100 years before that. If one looks closely at an 1807 engraving called "Frascati" by the French artist Louis-Philibert Debucourt, an intriguing detail pops out: There's a corseted woman sitting at a cafe bistro table who is putting something in her mouth, and that something looks remarkably like an ice cream cone. There's no way to be sure, of course, but it's an interpretation of the 19th century work that would mean the cone was invented long before the St. Louis World's Fair.
Whether the cone has been around for 100, 200 or 2,000 years, we do know two things for sure: It's a work of genius, and it's further proof that everything is better dipped in chocolate.
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