Food history

Pückler and the Neapolitans: A History of Three-Flavor Ice Cream

Pückler and the Neapolitans: A History of Three-Flavor Ice Cream

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought of Neapolitan, the classic, three-layered Chocolate-Strawberry-Vanilla ice cream, as the refuge of the indecisive person.

After all, why make a choice? Choosing is painful.

By choosing the triple-combination of Neapolitan, or its somewhat fancier cousin, Spumoni, you get multiple options and no regret. Win!

Having moved to Germany, I’ve noticed a different approach. The locals here seem to eliminate the pain of choosing by getting a standard two scoops with two different flavors on every cone and cup. And I couldn’t find Neapolitan anywhere.

But this week (faced again with the weighty expecation of the ice cream shop employee while I dithered over which flavor to choose for my waiting cone), I saw my good, old friend, Neapolitan. Only this time, it had a different name. It was called “Pückler.”

So what’s the story? Is “Neapolitan” ice cream really Italian or was it created by this Pückler guy?

The answer: neither!

It’s the creation of Royal Prussian court cook Louis Ferdinand Jungius, who worked in Muskau Castle in Saxony along what is now the German/Polish border.

In the cookbook Jungius published in 1839, he dedicated his dessert creation to Muskau’s monarch, Prince Pückler. It was originally whipped cream, sugar and fresh fruit (substituting jam in winter). These were were arranged in layers within an ice cream mold that would be turned out for presentation on plates.

This dessert later evolved into the more recognizable preparation of chocolate, strawberry (or raspberry!) ice cream layers with a light macaroon cookie. It was typically accented with Maraschino, an Italian cherry liquor.

Today, Fürst-Pückler Eis (ice cream) is the much more familiar and simple 1:1:1 ice cream layer combination of chocolate:strawberry/raspberry:vanilla, and “it is one of the ten most popular types of ice cream among German consumers,” according to the E.I.S. (Eis Info Service).

But internationally, everyone except the Germans seem to have adopted the “Neapolitan” name for “Fürst-Pückler Eis,” although the Neapolitan description originally only referred to that process of putting layered ice cream into an Italian ice mold.

If you pay attention to food etymology, you see this a lot. Tagine is a dish that’s cooked in a tagine. A Casserole is something was cooked in a casserole pan, and the journey of the word for cheese/fromage refers to the case (or form) in which it was packed.

An interesting side journey of this look into the Fürst-Pückler empire is the Germany-famous “Fürst-Pückler Slice” (Fürst-Pückler-Schnitte), a creation that sees our beloved ice cream trinity served as an ice cream sandwich between two thin waffles/wafers or within an ice cream pie.

I see several online resources claiming that the “first ice cream sandwich” was invented in New York in 1899, but given the kind of tinkering that Chef Jungius was doing sixty years before that, I think they’re proabably misappropriating the credit because they can’t read German.

And what ever happened the prince, Hermann von Pückler-Muskau? Well, he lived a colorful life! And theoretically, he should probably be better known for his work as a landscape architect and travel writer, but as we all know, you don’t always have a lot of say in what you’re remembered for.

This was actually brought up in Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666, where Fürst Pückler Eis is cited as an example of one’s reputation being defined by accomplishments of lesser significance.

Sigh. Not much we can do about that, but at least we can still enjoy the ice cream.

Knowing is half the battle!
Miss Ginsu

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