Tasty History: Ice Cream

19 Jun

I feel like before I start I need to offer the general disclaimer that I’m not a historian, did not study history in college, and didn’t really get into history until pretty recently in my life so sometimes I’m probably going to sound like I’m stating the obvious. This may be one of those times. So bear with me.

My best friend, Gwen, and I were in Colonial Williamsburg this weekend. We had an amazing time and ate TONS of good food. I’d heard tell before we got there that M. Dubois Grocery would be open when we got there. While it would have been fun to see it as an historic trade (like the Apothecary or Milliner, where you can see what shops were like in the 18th century), it was equally fun to see it set up, open, and serving ice cream (and other things, of course).

Which got me thinking… how does one make ice cream in the 18th century? You know, before refrigeration was invented? That is, I knew they had ice cream in the 18th Century; Dolley Madison and Martha Washington both reportedly served it at receptions hosted by their husbands as President. So I did a little digging, and apparently ice was harvested in winter from rivers and lakes, and kept in semi-underground ice houses throughout the year. The Papers of George Washington has an interesting article you can read on the ice house at the Executive Mansion in Philadelphia.

All this to say, I knew that ice cream absent a refrigerator was possible if you could find ice (therefore a possibility in winter), but I didn’t realize that ice houses were capable of keeping things freezing for so long.

The other fun find from this little research project (read: Google search) was the discovery that the Library of Congress is in possession of Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream recipe. Paula Deen helpfully has a modern/transcribed version here. Happy eating!


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