Thomas Jefferson, our third president (1801-1809),
is often credited with “bringing ice cream to America,”
and even with “discovering” it. Neither is true, however.
It’s believed that the first mention in this country
of those two words “ice cream” is in the journal
writings of a fellow named William Black. You see,
it’d been served during an elegant dinner he had
attended at the home of Maryland’s then-governor,
Thomas Bladen, in 1744. Black was so impressed,
he just had to record it. Incidentally, 1744 was
the year of Jefferson’s first birthday (1743-1826).
At the same time, however, Jefferson greatly enjoyed
ice cream, and he did much to promote it in America.
It was served often at the many dinners he held, both
during his years in the White House and at his home
Monticello in Virginia. Most likely, his first introduction
to ice cream was while he served as Minister to France,
from 1784 to 1789, a time when ice cream was quite
common in and around Paris. In fact, there are no less
than eight receipts (recipes) for ice cream in Jefferson’s
papers, all written in his own hand.
One of those eight is for vanilla, and I made some
to share with attendees at the recent Culinary
Historians of New York (CHNY) program on ice
cream with speaker Jeri Quinzio. It’s a bit like the
previous parmesan, in that it’s also custard-based,
requiring the cooking of cream, sugar, and eggs.
Here’s the receipt:
Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream.
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 its sticking to the casserole.
–when near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel.
–put it in the Sabottiere [sic]
–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 Sabotiere 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.*
The mixture, pre-freezing:
Ready to serve (yes, I know, ugly horrid modern plastic
container; but hey, had to get it uptown somehow!):
*See: www.monticello.org for more information, as well as for a modern
version of this receipt (which I found quite helpful when deciphering it).
You’ll also find it on page 76 in Of Sugar and Snow, A History of Ice
Cream Making, by Jeri Quinzio. Another excellent source on all things
Jefferson (including his ice cream) is the book Dining at Monticello,
edited by Damon Lee Fowler.