Life before Big Zero fruit slushies

Fruit slushies

Fruit slushies – who invented them?

We take it for granted that we can get ice-cold fruit slushies at the touch of a button from one of Big Zero’s stylish slush-making machines. But the question of who invented fruit slushies is more complicated than it looks.

We thought it would be interesting to devote a couple of blog posts to the history of fruit slushies. Who were the heroic inventors who brought us the refreshing cold drinks that brighten up our lives every day? And what happened before electric slush-making machines were developed – are fruit slushies really the modern invention that we think they are?

Big Zero’s slush-making machines are fine examples of electric refrigeration. But we humans have been looking for ways to refrigerate both drinks and food for centuries before we learned how to make electricity. How did we do it before electricity? By using natural snow and ice of course!

Ancient civilisations – the Chinese, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans – harvested ice and stored it in pits. The Arabs were probably responsible for bringing ice to Sicily, where the crushed-ice drink called Granita is the Italian cousin of Big Zero’s fruit slushies. It’s no coincidence that our lovely GBG Carpigiani slush-making machines are manufactured in Italy.

The Italian connection might also go back to the 13th century. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, it’s possible that Marco Polo returned to Venice from China, bringing back his discovery of water ices and ice cream. The records don’t say for sure. What we do know is that water ices and ice cream became fashionable in Europe by the 17th century.

Three hundred years ago, ice-cold drinks were luxuries mainly for the rich in Europe. Wealthy families built ice-houses on their estates, using blocks of ice shipped from Norway or from North America. The French also discovered that dissolving saltpetre in water lowered the temperature and created an icy drink – natural ice was not the only solution to meeting our strong desire for cool drinks.

There was money to be made from shipping ice to Britain at that time. The enterprising Governor of Virginia, Sir William Berkeley, was granted a patent in 1637 “to gather, make and take snow and ice and keep the same in such pits, caves and cool places as he should think fit”. Sir William, lucky man, enjoyed a multi-year monopoly on the sale of snow and ice to Britain.

By the 19th century, yet more enterprising Americans had developed a global trade in ice that flourished until mechanical refrigeration took over. A Boston entrepreneur called Frederick Tudor harvested ice from ponds in New England and sold it both in America and abroad.

The original ice-harvesters used pickaxes, chisels and saws to extract ice from frozen ponds and rivers. But in 1825 Nathaniel Wyeth invented a 2-bladed horse-drawn ice-cutter that allowed ice to be cut in large, uniform blocks and paved the way to mass production. Tudor improved the insulation on his ships – originally straw, then sawdust – and it became possible to ship blocks of ice on long journeys to hot countries. Ice could survive even the four-month voyage to India.

By the time of the American Civil War, the exporting of ice from North America to the rest of the world was second only to the cotton trade in terms of shipping weights. Ice became an everyday necessity for people in many other parts of the world, and industries such as brewing and meat-packing started to rely on it. A warm winter could cause an “ice famine” and result in panic and rationing.

One of Frederic Tudor’s early insights was that people would come to love ice-cold drinks. He used to offer bartenders free ice because he was convinced that once you’d tried a cold drink, you wouldn’t want it any other way. He was absolutely spot on, and we’re sure he would have enjoyed Big Zero’s fruit slushies as much as we do.

Next time: how electric machines transformed the world of slushies.