Thomas Jefferson Isn't The Only Reason We Have Ice Cream In America

We live in an ice cream lover's paradise.

The nearest Baskin-Robbins is mere blocks away, artisanal dessert shops line shopping centers like beacons of hope, and grocery stores carry ice cream flavors that satisfy fierce sweet tooths and vegans alike. 

It's time we give credit where it's due.

Yes, we can thank Thomas Jefferson in part for popularizing the sweet treat in 18th-century America, but did he invent the stuff? Probably not, Munchies reports.

Jefferson wasn't even the first American to bring ice cream to the U.S., but he did contribute to the dessert's rightful fame by serving it at the President's House several times.

It's likely that the former president's infatuation with ice cream began during his travels to France, according to food historian Michael Twitty. Jefferson brought his slave -- and later emancipated chef -- James Hemings along to France so he could be trained in French cooking, according to author Lucia Stanton.

Hemings, Twitty speculates, probably learned how to make ice cream in France and then made it for the president and his wife in the States.

"James got a world-class culinary education in France ...," said Twitty. "And he is literate. He learned French while he was there; he's writing down things that he masters in a way that Jefferson never did -- in French."

While it's confirmed that Jefferson wrote down the first recorded ice cream recipe in America -- which now resides in the Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress -- he's really not the one who brought it here. In large part, Hemings did. Jefferson just had the influence to popularize it on such a large scale.

"This is an opportunity to talk about Thomas Jefferson as a great gourmet, which he was, but it's also the opportunity to talk about the African American cooks who were integral in transforming the American diet," Twitty said.

Today, ice cream as Jefferson used to eat it can be purchased at Mt. Rushmore. Lloyd Shelton, who runs concessions at the memorial, began serving it there three years ago in partnership with North Dakota ice cream company Pride Dairy.

He said it's as close to the written recipe as possible. Pride Dairy even sources its vanilla bean from Madagascar, which is likely where Jefferson would have gotten it.

"The ice cream is the same as they would've eaten it in the 1780s, with the exception that the milk is pasteurized ...," Shelton said to Munchies. "[It] really provides the visitor with the ability to taste history."

Interested in making Jefferson-era ice cream? Try it with the recipe, courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., below!

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.

For those of you less interested in Jefferson's language, here's a modern version.

Beat the yolks of 6 eggs until thick and lemon colored. Add, gradually, 1 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil 1 quart of cream and pour slowly on the egg mixture. Put in top of double boiler and when it thickens, remove and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. When cool add 2 teaspoonfuls of vanilla. Freeze, as usual, with one part of salt to three parts of ice. Place in a mould, pack in ice and salt for several hours. For electric refrigerators, follow usual direction, but stir frequently.