Monday, February 27, 2017

Ice Cream: Sink Your Teeth into this Recipe and Short History

Recipe Provenance
The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

The Recipe with General Directions for Churning Ice Creams

Ice Cream
5 pints new milk, 4 eggs, 4 extra whites, well beaten with 1 ½ lbs. sifted sugar made into a custard & Flavoured with a vanilla beanor lemon. After it is cold, stir in one pint of nice cream.

To Make Ice Creams
break a few pounds of ice, almost to powder, throw a large handful of half of salt upon it. Prepare it in a part of the house where there is little warm air to reach it. The Ice & Salt being in a bucket, out your cream into an Ice pot and cover it; immerse it in the ice, & draw that round the pot so as to touch every possible part. in a few minutes put a Spatula or Spoon in & stir it well, removing the parts that ice round the edges to the centre. after it has been well beaten, frozen & quite smooth, put it in a mould shut the bottom close and move the whole in the ice, until sufficiently firm –note: when any fluid tends towards cold, the moving it quickly accelerates the cold; & when any fluid tends to heat stirring it will facilitate its boiling

About Ice Cream
The Chinese may have invented a device to make sorbets and ice creams. This device was simple and brilliant all at the same time. According to Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat in History of Food, "they poured a mixture of snow and saltpetre over the exteriors of containers filled with syrup, for, in the same way as salt raises the boiling-point of water, it lowers the freezing-point to below zero." Toussaint-Samat also suggests that Marco Polo (1254-1324) brought the idea and practice of making ice cream home to Italy. It is documented that recipes for ice cream date back to the sixteenth century in Italy but clearly could date back much further.

The first recorded mention of ice cream in England was in 1627, and the first published recipe in that country was by a Mrs. Mary Eales in 1718. This is an ice cream recipe in the 1733 edition of Mrs. Eales's Receipts:

To ice CREAM.
Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten'd, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close; to six Pots you must allow eighteen or twenty Pound of Ice, breaking the Ice very small; there will be some great Pieces, which lay at the Bottom and Top: You must have a Pail, and lay some Straw at the Bottom; then lay in your Ice, and put in amongst it a Pound of Bay-Salt; set in your Pots of Cream, and lay Ice and Salt between every Pot, that they may not touch; but the Ice must lie round them on every Side; lay a good deal of Ice on the Top, cover the Pail with Straw, set it in a Cellar where no Sun or Light comes, it will be froze in four Hours, but it may stand longer; than take it out just as you use it; hold it in your Hand and it will slip out. When you wou'd freeze any Sort of Fruit, either Cherries, Rasberries, Currants, or Strawberries, fill your Tin-Pots with the Fruit, but as hollow as you can; put to them Lemmonade, made with Spring-Water and Lemmon-Juice sweeten'd; put enough in the Pots to make the Fruit hang together, and put them in Ice as you do Cream.

The earliest record of ice cream being served in America is by the Lady of Governor Blandon of Maryland in 1744. While not too popular throughout the bulk of the eighteenth century, ice cream’s popularity seems to have taken an upward turn with Thomas Jefferson’s devotion to it. The first American recorded recipe for ice cream is written in Jefferson’s hand. Here is that recipe:

Ice Cream
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

Jefferson’s visitors to Monticello remarked at the frequency with which ice cream was served there. Massachusetts' congressman Manasseh Cutler dined with Jefferson in February 1802 and remarked on the menu included "Ice cream very good." In addition, Jefferson is remembered for staging a stunt at a state dinner when the ice cream was served baked in pastry! 

In an era where refrigeration was non-existant, the earliest recipes for ice cream included the amounts of snow or ice needed to complete the task of freezing the cream. Fortunately, the ice house at Monticello provided Jefferson with an almost year-round supply of ice; sometimes ice was available there even as late as October. 

Jefferson was not the only one connected to the American presidency to have loved ice cream. Dolley Madison, wife of President James Madison “set astir an Air of Expectancy among her Guests” when she served “a large, shining [pink] dome” of ice cream to guests at her husband’s second inaugural ball.

Ice Cream Equipage
Jefferson mentions the need to use a piece of equipment called a Sabotiere (also spelled sorbetiere). This is an early form of an ice cream maker that is essentially just a copper cylinder with a lid that could be plunged into a barrel of ice and salt. The confectioner handling the sorbetiere had to turn the contraption in the ice for a long time, about 45 minutes. Additionally, the tricky part of using a sorbetiere is that the cream needs to be stirred and scraped down every few minutes. Removing the lid and doing this without getting the salty ice crystals inside is indeed tricky. The historic site where I am food historian, the c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum in Riverdale Park, Maryland has a reproduction sorbetiere which I have used so I have had first hand experience with this demanding process. 

Here is the sorbetiere at Riversdale. The photos were taken in the 1830s dependency kitchen there where monthly open hearth cooking demonstrations are held: 

Photos courtesy of Riversdale House Museum

In 1843, Nancy Johnson of Philadelphia received the first U.S. patent for a small-scale hand-cranked ice cream freezer. The ice cream freezer was a pewter cylinder. This patent applied in both the US and England. Here is an image of that first hand-cranked machine:

Jacob Fussell (1819-1912) is known as the “Father of the Ice Cream Industry” because he opened the first large scale ice cream factory in the U.S. in Baltimore, Maryland in 1851. Fussell ran a dairy business and decided that he could use the excess milk and cream he purchased from dairy farmers from York County, Pennsylvania to make ice cream. He sold it "for 25 cents per quart, delivered in moulds or otherwise day and night." Interestingly, because Fussell was selling at high volume he was able to undercut competition by reducing the price per quart by 35 cents (it was averaging 60 cents per quart at the time) and was still able to make a profit.

1853 Matchett's Baltimore City Directory

A British Victorian confectioner, Agnes Marshall (1855-1905) received a patent for an improved variation on the hand-cranked ice cream maker. This maker purportedly could freeze ice cream in just five minutes!

Marshall's Patented Ice Cream Maker
(Source: Advertisement in Agnes Marshall, 
Mrs. A.B. Marshall's Larger Cookery Book, London, 1891))

Ice Cream Flavors
While making ice cream was a labor and time-consuming affair in the days before electricity and refrigeration, people who could afford it loved to eat it. They loved the visual appeal of ice creams dyed different colors, and they liked their ice creams to come in a variety of flavors. Many historic ice creams would suit modern palates, such as those made from a number of different fruits, cinnamon, orgeat (sweet almonds),  coffee, and chocolate. However, they also enjoyed making interesting flavors such as artichoke, brown bread, chestnut, noyau (apricot kernels), and even parmesan cheese

Morris's recipe suggests flavoring the ice cream with either vanilla or lemon. These are simple flavors; however, the vanilla has an interesting history.

Vanilla grows wild in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. It was first-ever harvested in these hot tropical jungles and not known to Old World Europe until its introduction there by the Spanish at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Despite the fact that vanilla is native to the Americas, it was not used widely in British North America until the nineteenth century; this is most likely the result of its being native to regions too far away from North America to make its existence well-known. 

Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing vanilla to America after he returned from France in 1789. He ordered 50 vanilla beans to be sent to America from his French attaché. However, it is difficult to say that Jefferson was responsible for introducing vanilla to Americans. Jefferson may have played a part in promoting vanilla to Americans, but it is not likely that his influence sparked a large American market for it. The limited use of vanilla in this 1824 Baltimore manuscript exemplifies that it was known but not embraced in a wide array of recipes as it is now for cakes, cookies, etc. Rather, the favored contemporary flavorings of choice were rose-water, orange-blossom water, lemon, nutmeg, mace, etc. 

Vanilla’s popularity did not soar until later in the nineteenth century, when it was capable of being artificially pollinated. Up until that point, the only place it was produced was in its home-land in the tropical regions of the Americas where it was pollinated by a peculiar American variety of the sting-less bee. In 1830, a French gardener developed the method of artificial pollination; his work produced the strain of vanilla that would become the ancestor of all vanilla plants in the Mascarene and Comoros Islands and Madagascar; eventually, vanilla plant cuttings were sent to Tahiti, too, where they flourished. 

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Vanilla or Lemon Ice Cream

  • 2 1/2 Cups Whole Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 3/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, Split and Scraped or the Grated Rind of 2 Lemons
  • 1 Whole Large Egg
  • White of 1 Large Egg

  1. Read Ice Cream Maker Manufacturer's guidelines for freezing the bowl. Then, proceed to make the custard in step #2,
  2. In a saucepan, whisk together the milk, cream, sugar, vanilla beans and pod (or lemon). Heat on medium heat until the mixture reaches about 175º F. 
  3. Whisk together the egg and egg white in a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Temper the Eggs: Add about 1/4 cup of the hot mixture to the eggs and stir. Add the eggs to the hot cream in the saucepan and whisk.
  5. Return the custard to the stove and cook on low heat for a few minutes, until the custard reaches about 160º F and coats the back of a spoon.
  6. Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve and place in container with a lid.
  7. Allow the custard to cool in the refrigerator for several hours or even overnight. 
  8. When the custard is completely cold, follow ice cream maker manufacturer's directions to make the ice cream.

  • Davidson, Alan. The Penguin Companion to Food (New York, 2002)
  • Fowler, Damon Lee, ed. Dining at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2005)
  • Smith, Andrew. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, 2nd edition (Oxford, 2013)
  • Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. History of Food (English Translation, 1994)
  • Weir, Robin. Recipe from the Dairy (The National Trust-London, 1998)

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