The History of Food: Drumstick Edition

As far as I can tell not nearly enough is written about the Drumstick, possibly the greatest dessert ever invented. So I foolishly thought late tonight I would delve into where this miraculous food came from.

The origin of the ice cream cone remains to be disputed, however some common threads lie beneath each story and from that we can deduce that the cone, with its sole purpose being to hold ice cream, originated in the early 1900's, at The World's Fair, was likely developed by a Syrian pastry maker, and was allegedly developed on the spot to aid in the sales of a nearby ice cream vendor who ran out of dishes and I imagine was desperately spooning the ice cream directly into his customers bare hands.

It is largely accepted that this man was Ernest A. Hamwi who developed the cone for his friend Arnold Fornachou. However this isn't a history lesson, this is about how that cone, coated in chocolate, filled with ice cream, and sprinkled with nuts, got in your hand.

The cone itself is comprised of wheat flour, tapioca flour, and sugar. The tapioca flour is derived from the root of the cassava plant. This plant is native to South America yet has since largely been exported from Africa, where as of 2002, 99.1 million tonnes of the resource was grown. This is likely because the plant does well with thriving upon poor soil and with little rainfall. So basically anyone can grow it as long as they don't live in a place worse than Africa. Which they don't. Because Africa is the worst place in the entire world.

No other country depends upon the growth of root crops, specifically the cassava root, as much as the continent of Africa. In fact, in the African language of Ewe, the word for the cassava plant "agbeli" literally translates into "there is life." Funny, since if the cassava root is eaten raw it will likely cause severe cyanide poisoning, especially if the root is grown in a drought. Keep in mind, a 40 mg dose of cassava cyanogenic glucoside is sufficient to kill a cow. So next time you bite into a cone, just imagine a cow abruptly tipping over.

Yet in the end it is so worth it.

This is all harvested by hand, by method of pulling the roots out of the ground and being severed from the plant itself. If processed incorrectly, the cassava root can cause major environmental damage. In Africa the traditional method is that the roots are peeled and fermented for three days (to promote nutrition), after which they are dried and cooked in palm oil for preservation. But the cassava root has to be processed quickly since it rapidly deteriorates, ironically since the root attempts to heal itself. The challenge with exporting is that this process occurs just 15 minutes after being harvested, so the root must either be coated in wax or frozen.

Then it is imported to the cone manufacturer in bags, as is the sugar. The wheat flour meanwhile is imported by the truckload and then is unloaded by means of air pressure into large storage silos. Before this however, wheat flour has to be milled, or "stone-ground" in which a revolving stone wheel rotates over another stationary wheel. The flour dust itself when suspended in air is explosive and can result in tragic accidents. This was the case in 1878 at the Washburn "A" Mill in Minneapolis MN where a single spark demolished the mill and instantly killed 14 workers, resulted in the deaths of 4 additional people, and destroyed five other mills.

If you feel bad right now then you are very much like me after watching several episodes of "How It's Made," or "Dirty Jobs," or any show of the sort on the Discovery channel. It's understandable. Already hundreds of people have died so that you can open your refrigerator, grab an ice cream cone, sit on your couch, and then watch something on the television you will forget about while you consume a treat you probably won't even remember the next day. Don't beat yourself up about it.

Just keep in mind that right now we have the dry ingredients for only the cone (not including baking soda which is processed through numerous vacuums and centrifuges), and not the ice cream, the chocolate coating, the caramel at the center, and those tasty nuts sprinkled on the top.

Since baking soda reacts to water it is added last after the water and shortening are combined with the coloring and flavoring. After this the ingredients are ready to be processed.

This is all well and good, but what we don't often think about is the fact that the chocolate shell to the Drumstick was a necessary invention for the ice cream cone to
enter the home. The coating is actually a mixture of chocolate, oil, and sugar, and it acts as an insulator for the ice cream cone to be stored in a grocers freezer. This process was developed by brothers I.C. and J.T. "Stubby" Parker of Fort Worth, Texas in 1928. I don't know how he got that nickname (perhaps one of his fingers found its way to being the caramel center of the cone?), the world may never know. What we do know, courtesy of the Nestle company who later bought the name, is that Parker's wife thought the finished product looked like a "Fried chicken leg," and hence the name "Drumstick" was born. Since an ice cream cone looks nothing like a chicken leg I take that to mean that Parker's wife was also blind and/or mentally retarded.

This seemingly simple invention was responsible for the ice cream cone to be stored and sold as a single item and I'm sure resulted in numerous ice cream cone scientists slapping their foreheads at once and cursing as to why they never thought of it.

Which is coincidentally what I am doing right now after realizing I could have graduated from college as an ice cream cone scientist.

Recently the Drumstick has evolved in Canada and Australia to have no waffle cone at all and instead just an extra solid chocolate shell. And if that isn't enough of a reason to move to Canada or Australia, I don't know what is.

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