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In the first of a new column looking at the origins of words we use in our everyday lives, DAVID ADAMS looks back to a time before ice cream sundaes…

Ahhh! The ice cream sundae. Scoops of ice cream topped with thick oozing syrup, a sprinkling of nuts, whipped cream and a cherry.

While it remains a popular dessert in many countries – particularly the US where it was believed to have originated – the origins of the ice cream sundae remained clouded by controversy.

PICTURE: Jim Ernsberger (

“Who actually made the first ice cream sundae is a matter of dispute – there are, according to one report, at least half a dozen communities in the US who lay claim to it.”

The name is believed to relate to the day on which it was sold. Towns in the US in the mid to late 1800s had introduced so called “blue laws” which prohibited certain items, such as soda water, being sold on Sunday to uphold moral standards. To get around the ban, soda fountain owners apparently starting making ice cream sodas without the soda and thus the “Ice Cream Sunday” – later known as the ice cream sundae – was born.

Who actually made the first ice cream sundae is a matter of dispute – there are, according to one report, at least half a dozen communities in the US which lay claim to the honor.

Among those credited are soda shop owner Ed Berner, of Two Rivers in Wisconsin, who in 1881 first put cream in a dish and covered it with syrup. The idea apparently caught on and George Giffy, a soda fountain owner in nearby Manitowoc, also started serving the dish but initially only on Sundays (hence the “Ice Cream Sunday”). Apparently realising the money to be made, Giffy later started serving it daily, changing the name to ice cream sundae.

Another claimant is Chester Platt, a drugstore owner in Ithaca, New York, who, in 1892, dressed up a dish of vanilla ice cream he was making for Reverend John Scott following his Sunday service by dipping it into a champagne saucer, covering it with a cherry syrup and placing a candied cherry on top. The reverend apparently suggested it be named after the day on which it was invented – a “Cherry Sunday” (this claim is backed with an 1892 newspaper advertisement mentioning a “Cherry Sunday”).

The debate over the origin of the ice cream sundae will probably never be resolved but don’t let that stop you from occasionally partaking of what remains a delight to the tastebuds.





If you have a word you’d like to know the origins of, simply send an email to [email protected].

What’s your favorite ice cream? Have Your Say below…


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