In 1844, an American doctor by the name of John Gorrie built an air-cooling system to help treat his yellow fever patients — but his eureka moment didn't stop there. Most historians credit Gorrie, who went on to become “the father of refrigeration,” with the invention of the first ice cube tray. By the 1930s, most electric refrigerators were equipped with a freezer compartment dedicated specifically for cube-making trays.


As 2012 shapes up to be possibly the hottest year on record, we can thank Gorrie for providing us with relief in the form of ice water, iced tea, ice pops and other treats reliant on frozen water. But beyond providing the luxury of a cool drink or snack, frozen cubes have a host of practical applications. Here are some of the tried and true ways to put your ice to good use:


1. Quench houseplants
Houseplants help clean the air, so having plenty of them around is a good thing. For hard-to-reach plants or for those pots prone to overflowing, you can place ice cubes atop the dirt and let them melt for slow absorption into the soil.


2. Get medicine down the hatch
No matter how hard the makers of children’s medicine try to disguise the flavor, it still tastes repugnant, especially to young taste buds, which are sensitive to bitterness. Giving a child an ice cube to suck on first can help mask the taste. (Putting a spoonful of sugar in the water when making the ice will practically guarantee success.)


3. Ease splinter fear
There is nothing like the terror in the eyes of a child who sees the needle and tweezers approaching a splinter spot. If the area is iced beforehand, though, he won't feel much. While this may not alleviate the initial panic, consequent removals should be less harrowing.


4. Soothe the eyes

Many people know about using sliced cucumbers on achey eyes, but if there's none on hand, ice on tired and/or puffy peepers will help soothe and decrease swelling. Place ice cubes in a soft cloth and apply to eyes on and off for 15 minutes.


5. Decrease bruising

Bruises forms when an impact breaks capillaries near the skin's surface, allowing a small amount of blood to leak into the tissues under the skin. If you apply ice to the banged body part quickly, the chill will help to constrict blood vessels and will lessen the severity of a bruise and swelling. It’s best to get the ice on it while it’s fresh and still red, before discoloration begins. Do not apply ice directly to skin (wrap it in a cloth) and apply for up to 15 minutes oer hour. 


6. Cool the dog (or the cat, hamster...)

Yes, adding ice to your hot pet’s water may be indulgent, but for a culture that worships pets like we do, it’s a natural. Ice cubes are also many a dog’s favorite chew toy, which can play double duty for cooling relief as well.


7. Simplify caulking
Sticky caulk is a beast. Specialized tools help, but an ice cube is like a small miracle when it comes to the final smoothing of a gunky bead. Run the ice along the seam; it’s hard and smooth and will make a nice edge, but the caulk won’t stick to it.


8. Spiff up the garbage disposal

The garbage disposer is supposed to consume garbage and its odors, but sometimes in the process it ends up creating more smells than it eliminates. Before reaching for commercial disposer cleaners which may contain bleach and other chemicals, try ice. Give the disposal a whir with ice cubes and lemon rinds to break down grease that can compromise the device’s performance and add a bright fresh fragrance.


9. Give sparkle to coffee pots, vases or bottles 

If you have a glass vessel with a small neck that’s hard to clean, employ ice. Add ice cubes, course salt, and lemon and swish and shake for a few minutes. The salt works as a mild abrasive, the lemon cuts grease, and the ice is the vehicle that gives the scrubbing momentum.


10. Thicken dressings

When mixing an olive oil and vinegar dressing in a jar, it can be difficult to get a nice, thick emulsion. If you add an ice cube and shake vigorously, it will chill and thicken the oil making for a much creamier dressing. Remove the ice and serve promptly.


11. Fix broken sauces

Internet wisdom suggests an ice cube to fix curdled sauces like hollandaise. But if the eggs in the sauce are cooked, there’s not much ice can do to uncook them. That said, if you catch an emulsion that is just starting to break — which you can notice when a rim of butter lines the edge or small puddles are forming on top — an ice cube can help. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the ice cube. 


12. Skim the fat

To remove excess fat from soups, gravies and stews, you don't need a dedicated fat separator, you can simply fill a ladle or stainless steel vessel with ice and skim across the top of the soup. The fat will harden on contact with the cold metal and will adhere to it for easy removal.


13. Remove chewing gum

One of the oldest tricks in the book of collective granny wisdom: Rub an ice cube on chewing gum stuck to fabric, let it freeze, and scrape off the mess with the edge of a spoon.


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MNN tease photo of ice cubes: Shutterstock


13 handy uses for ice cubes
13 handy uses for ice cubes. Who would have thought that the humble ice cube could play such a variety of roles?