Historical Scoop on Ice Cream
America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, is revered for writing two of the world’s most prestigious documents: the Declaration of Independence and his own recipe for vanilla ice cream.
By Dale King
Jefferson, a gourmet with a Julia Child-like passion for French cuisine, actually took quill in hand and wrote an 18-step recipe for vanilla ice cream that he obtained when traveling in France. Jefferson’s recipe demanded “2 bottles of good cream, 6 yolks of eggs, ½ lb. sugar” to be flavored with vanilla and frozen in a sarbottiere, a freezer for ices.(See the recipe in Jefferson’s actual penmanship adjacent to this article.)
But Jefferson wasn’t the first commander-in-chief to serve and enjoy the creamy cool sweetness of this fave confection. “George Washington spent about $200 for ice cream [a handsome sum back in the day] during the summer of 1790,” said Peggy Armstrong at the International Dairy Foods Association.
“Martha Washington did not invent ice cream any more than Jefferson or Dolly Madison, but she served it at Mount Vernon,” said Mary Miley Theobald in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal. Armstrong noted that Dolly whipped up a “magnificent strawberry ice cream creation at President Madison’s second inaugural banquet.”
An Elite Treat
The frosty mix of cream, sugar and flavoring was “a rare and exotic dessert enjoyed mostly by the elite” until about 1800, said Armstrong. Freezers had not yet been invented, and ice in the summertime was an expensive commodity. After that, insulated ice houses, mechanical cold-making devices and more sophisticated freezing and cold storage processes removed ice cream from its out-of-reach social pedestal and made it available to everyone.
But it’s clear from the Moose Track-muddied history of ice cream that the product consumed in mass quantities today bears little resemblance to what our ancestors devoured.
Alexander the Great thought snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar was great, says Armstrong in a historical essay. Roman Emperor Nero, in addition to fiddling, was known to send sandal-footed servants to the mountains to bring back snow, which he topped with fruits and juices before consuming.
Fact vs. Fiction
“Ancient ice cream history seems replete with myth,” said Theobald, “although each story contains a kernel of truth. The Romans did mix snow or chipped ice with various flavorings. The Chinese were probably the first to invent an iced dairy product.” King T’ang of Shang used 94 men to make a lip-smacking concoction from buffalo milk, flour and camphor.
Historians affirm that Café Procope in Paris – the city’s oldest restaurant, opened in 1686 and still in operation today – was the first to make ice cream available to the public. Owner Procope “introduced a recipe blending milk, cream, butter and eggs,” said Armstrong.
Ice Cream Crosses the Pond
Ice cream became vogue in America during the late 18th century and evolved quickly. The first ice cream parlor in the U.S. opened in New York City in 1776. Nancy Johnson received a patent for the first hand-cranked ice cream maker in 1843.
Jacob Fussell is considered to be the “father of the ice cream industry,” notes Theobald. He owned a dairy farm and made ice cream on the side to boost his profits. “His ice cream was so popular that he ended up [starting] the nation’s first ice cream factory” in Baltimore in 1887.
During the 20th century, the glacial delicacy was hot. Combined with toppings or carbonated water, it morphed into ice cream sodas and sundaes. It was an edible morale builder for troops during World War II.
Ice cream today is more in demand than ever. The number of flavors has soared from 28 at Howard Johnson’s to 46 among Ben & Jerry’s treats to more than 1,000 as counted by Baskin Robbins. But the favorite of all – the flavor that accounts for 20 to 29 percent of all ice cream sales – is also Jefferson’s choice – vanilla.
Thomas JEFFERSON’S ICE CREAM RECIPE
2. bottles of good cream.
6. yolks of eggs.
1/2 lb. sugar
Mix the yolks & sugar
Put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla.
when near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar.
Stir it well.
Put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent it’s sticking to the casserole.
when near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel.
Put it in the Sabottiere
then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. put into the ice a handful of salt.
Put salt on the coverlid of the Sabotiere & cover the whole with ice.
Leave it still half a quarter of an hour.
then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes
Open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabotiere.
Shut it & replace it in the ice
Open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides
when well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.
Put it in moulds, justling it well down on the knee.
then put the mould into the same bucket of ice.
Leave it there to the moment of serving it.
to withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.