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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Ice cream season is at its peak. July is National Ice Cream Month. Americans eat a million more gallons of ice cream now than at other times of the year. Vanilla is the favorite by a landslide but as WEEKEND EDITION commentator Bonny Wolf explains, the origin of the frozen confection is still subject to debate.

BONNY WOLF: Marco Polo, he gave the Western world two important food staples -spaghetti and ice cream. He said they came from China. But some historians say he never went to China although China did have ice cream as early as 600 A.D. -maybe.

I like the story that in the second century B.C., Alexander the Great ate snow, flavored with honey and fruit nectar - very creative, if it's true. Italians probably brought ice cream to America or not. Ice cream scholars agree on the first written words about ice cream in the U.S.

A dinner guest of the Maryland governor in 1744 wrote a friend that he was served a curious desert - ice cream and strawberries. Ice cream was big with early American statesmen. George Washington loved the stuff. Records show that the father of our country spent $200 on ice cream in the summer of 1790.

Dolley Madison, sometimes gets credit for making ice cream popular in America. At the second inaugural ball of the White House, she served, a guest wrote, high on a silver platter a large, shining dome of pink ice cream. Ice cream was only for the privileged class until 1846 when Nancy Johnson invented a home ice cream freezer.

Four years later, Godey's Lady's Book, a popular 19th-century women's magazine wrote: Ice cream has become one of the necessities of life. A party without ice cream would be like a breakfast without bread or a dinner without a roast.

Even more controversial than who invented ice cream is who invented the ice cream cone. The most popular story is about a Syrian immigrant named Ernest Hamwi who sold waffle-like pastries at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. His stand was next to a guy selling ice cream. One day, it was really hot and the ice cream seller ran out of dishes. So Hamwi rolled a waffle into a cone. Then everyone wanted ice cream in a cone or what was called a World's Fair cornucopia, as in, I'd like two scoops of chunky monkey in a World's Fair cornucopia.

At least three other men claimed they invented the ice cream cone at the St. Louis Fair. And there's a documented story of an Italian immigrant who patented the ice cream cone months before the fair opened. So who knows? However it got here, I'm with playwright Thornton Wilder who said my advice to you is not to inquire why or wither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate.

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HANSEN: Bonny Wolf is author of "Talking with My Mouth Full" and host of "Kitchen Window" NPR's food podcast.

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