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Where did the ice cream sundae come from?

Image: The Spruce Eats

For a common dessert, there’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding where exactly the sundae craze started.

Story number one claims that the sundae was created in 1881 in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Longtime customer George Hallauer is said to have asked Edward C. Berners, owner of Berner’s Soda Fountain, to drizzle chocolate syrup over his regular ice cream. Reluctant at first, Berners eventually did add chocolate to the dessert, selling it for a nickel and adding it as a special to his Sunday menu — hence the name.

Story number two is a combination of claims that both come from New York. One version of the story places the sundae at Stoddart Bros. Drug store in Buffalo, New York, in 1889. Residents claim that the local "shoppe" sold ice cream sodas with garnishes of fruit syrup and whipped cream. The other version points at Ithaca in 1892. On April 3, 1892, John M. Scott and Chester Platt documented the creation of the first sundae. In a similar fashion, the partners of Plat & Colt Pharmacy covered dishes of ice cream with cherry syrup and candied cherries. The dubbed the dish the “Cherry Sunday” in honor of the day of its creation, eventually expanding into other toppings.

Story number three — Evanston, Illinois, 1890. The city was one of the first to pass a blue law against selling traditional ice cream sodas on Sundays. “Blue laws” are laws designed to restrict or ban some or all Sunday activities for religious reasons, particularly to promote the observance of a day of worship or rest. This restricted the sale of sodas in drugstores. What this did not limit is — you guessed it — the sale of ice cream. Using a loophole in the new law, confectioners served their ice cream with sweet syrups and toppings, but without the soda. These tricky treats became heralded as the “Sunday Soda”, and eventually the sundae.


The one thing that can be agreed on is that it is, indeed, an ice cream "sundae" and not a "Sunday." While it is absolutely descended from the day of the week, the spelling was changed over the course of time to give the dessert it's own special distinction, paying homage to its word of origin. 

Even with over one hundred and ten years of history, the delicacy has barely changed since its first iterations. The recipe is a very scientific combination of one or more scoops of ice cream, a sweet sauce made of fruit, chocolate, caramel or the like, toppings ranging from crushed nuts to sprinkles, and a healthy dollop of whipped cream. The possibilities from here are endless.

Which story do you think is true? More importantly, what is your favorite sundae?

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