In honor of National Vanilla Ice Cream Day on July 23, we dug into the history of this treat that most of us consider to be as American as apple pie. Many accounts say Thomas Jefferson—founding father and former president—was the first to introduce ice cream to America after discovering it in Paris during his tenure as Minister to France in the late 1700s. In reality, though, ice cream was already here. Jefferson just boosted its popularity by serving it at the President’s House several times during his presidency.
Jefferson can be credited as having recorded the first known American ice cream recipe because the document is in his handwriting. (See it here.) Although, it’s likely this recipe for what we now call “vanilla ice cream” was actually developed by someone on his staff. His granddaughter attributed it to Adrien Pettit, Jefferson’s French butler. But another possibility is that it was created by James Hemings, the enslaved chef who trained under French chefs while Jefferson served as Minister to France.
Here, with all of its colonial grammar and punctuation, is America’s first vanilla ice cream recipe so you can whip up a homemade dessert for National Ice Cream Day.
bottles of good cream.
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.
Think you got it? By the way, a ”Sabotiere” was the inner of two buckets used to make ice cream. We don’t know why the President couldn’t decide on its spelling.
The recipe above was refined over time and a modern adaptation of it was published in Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book by Marie Kimball. Of course, ice cream-making technique has become even more refined since that book was published in 1938. If you want to taste test the most modern version, Taste of Home offers up a 5-star version! Check out Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream c. 2022. You can get even more modern by using an electric ice cream maker to help with the process.