Make Thomas Jefferson’s Recipe for Ice Cream

The co-author of the Declaration of Independence also drafted a radical recipe

Thomas Jefferson and a bowl of vanilla ice cream
The third president evidently had a love of vanilla ice cream. Collage by Eritrea Dorcely. Source material: iStock image / Illustration by Cheryl Chalmers

The founders shared a love of ice cream, but none was more devoted than Thomas Jefferson. In 1789 he returned from France with his chef—newly trained in making frozen desserts—and a resolve to keep enjoying it. In Philadelphia in 1791, he sent to France for 50 vanilla bean pods, which, he later wrote, are “much used in seasoning ice creams.” He built an ice house at Monticello in 1802. And at Jefferson’s White House that year, Senator Samuel Latham Mitchill recalled eating ice cream in warm pastry—“a curious contrast, as if the ice had just been taken from the oven.”

Sweet Revolution

The process for making ice cream was not self-evident, so Jefferson wrote it down. Here it is, slightly condensed.

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. When near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel. Put it in the Sabottiere [the canister within an ice pail] 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 Sabottiere & cover the whole with ice. Leave it still half a quarter of an hour.

Turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes; open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides. 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.

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