Summertime is a time for freedom–freedom from classes, rolling down the open road while taking a family road trip, and celebrations of our nation’s freedom. However, one thing that can’t be denied is the heat.
The oppressive heat of summer has everyone reaching for a way to cool off. Americans have a history of choosing ice cream and the national love affair can be traced back to (at least) one of our Founding Fathers: President George Washington.
The Scoop on George Washington
When you research our most famous Founding Father, you’ll find ample evidence of his love for sweets. From the records of his purchases, you can see that Washington bought a “cream machine for ice” for his Mount Vernon estate in 1784.
While serving his terms as president, Washington purchased molds, “ice plates,” and “ice pots”. In fact, he purchased three dozen “ice pots” which were cup-like dishes made specifically for the ice cream of the time period. They were designed to help keep the ice cream from running everywhere as it melted. The number of ice pots purchased suggests ice cream was among Washington’s favorite sweet treats.
More evidence of Washington’s love for ice cream (and his wife Martha’s, too) exists in the records people kept about visiting the president’s house in Philadelphia. According to Abigail Adams, the wife of Vice President John Adams, the Washingtons scheduled times each week for guests to visit the presidential home and during these events ice cream was often served. Additionally, a Pennsylvania senator named William Maclay wrote in his journal about a dinner with the Washingtons where ice cream was served. He wrote that the room was disagreeably warm but that desserts including pies, puddings, jellies, iced creams, and an assortment of fruit were served.
How to Make Ice Cream Without Refrigeration
You may ask, “Wait, without freezers, how does one make or store enough ice to make ice cream?” That’s a good question! Anyone can collect ice from frozen streams, rivers, or lakes when the climate provides cold enough weather. Keeping ice cold throughout the year was possible only for the wealthy.
In order to preserve the ice collected during freezing weather, an ice house must’ve been built previously to house it. Ice houses were special buildings often built into the ground or underground for the storage of ice in insulating materials, such as straw or wood chips. Only the rich could afford the extravagance of keeping ice year-round.
The expense included more than ice. It would take more money than most citizens possessed to milk a cow (assuming you had a cow) and not sell the milk. Additionally, both sugar and salt are needed for ice cream, both of which were costly due to them being imported. Early ice cream ingredients were much the same as today: milk, egg yolks, and sugar. These would all be cooked together to create a thick custard. Fresh fruit or jams were often added for additional flavor.
The ice wasn’t clean and used inside dishes like today, but would be added to the outside of a container to cool what was inside. Once all of the ingredients for the ice cream were assembled, cooked, and cooled to room temperature, they were put into a tin or pewter container and shoved down into a bucket full of ice. Ice and rock salt were piled all around the tin container and the container would then be rotated within the ice.
Once the concoction hardened, it could be stored in the pewter tin in ice with more salt or spooned into molds and left to harden within the ice.
Did Other Founding Fathers Eat Ice Cream Too?
From letters written by Abigail Adams, we know she and John Adams ate ice cream with the Washingtons and perhaps made their own. What about the other Founding Fathers, did they like ice cream too?
- Thomas Jefferson – It’s well known that Jefferson was a devoted politician, diplomat, and president. It is less known that he adored French cuisine and had his staff trained in the French culinary arts. One of the oldest surviving recipes for ice cream in the United States was written by Jefferson’s hand.
- James Madison – Madison was the fourth president of the United States, but served as the Secretary of State under Jefferson before that. The widowed Jefferson regularly asked Madison’s wife, Dolley Madison, to serve as hostess during his presidency. She was the most popular hostess of her day and was well-known for her charm and grace. She helped make everyone comfortable and often served ice cream in the White House. While it didn’t stay popular, oyster-flavored ice cream was Dolley’s favorite kind.
- Alexander Hamilton – While we know that Hamilton emigrated from a small island located in the Caribbean and that he probably lied about his age in an attempt to get into college, there is no known record of his favorite foods. However, it’s said that during a dinner with Jefferson, he was excited by “the delicious vanilla ice cream that still seemed like a miracle for it was enclosed in a warm pastry.”
- Benjamin Franklin – You might think of Benjamin Franklin as the inventor of the lightning rod and bifocal eyeglasses, but did you know he was a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame? He also fell in love with ice cream while in Paris in the 1770s and worked to bring the recipe for making it home with him.
Celebrate like a Founding Father
While modern times show little resemblance to the lives lived by our Founding Fathers, you can always choose to celebrate events with the same dessert. Whether you buy a pint (or two) or you make it yourself, snag a box of Joy Cone cones to put your ice cream in and #BringJoyHome.
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