Some Cold, Hard Facts About Ice Cream

By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.

History says ice cream’s European debut occurred in Italy in the latter part of the seventeenth century. It spread through the royal houses of Europe including England where “one plate of ice cream” was served during a 1671 fest of King Charles II and again at a 1688 banquet to celebrate the birth of the son of King James II.

In the eighteenth century, English cookbooks begin to include recipes for ice cream. These early recipes called for cream and fruit but no eggs. By the middle of the century, recipes said the mixture should be stirred during freezing, and the ingredients included eggs. That resulted in a smoother, richer, creamier substance that closely resembled modern ice cream.

Recipes advised ice cream makers to use one container for the cream mixture and a second, larger one for the ice and salt. Mrs. Elizabeth Raffald’s 1775 cookbook stated, “set the mixture in a tub of ice broken small, and a large quantity of salt put amongst it, when you see your cream grow thick round the edges of your tin, stir it, and set it in again till it grows quite thick, when your cream is all froze up, take it out of your tin, and put it into the mould you intend it to be turned out of, then put on the lid, and have ready another tub with ice and salt in as before, put your mould in the middle, and lay your ice under and over it, let it stand four or five hours.”

Ice cream began to appear in the American colonies during the first half of the eighteenth century. The first known instance of ice cream being served occurred in Maryland in 1744, when Governor Thomas Bladen put it on his dessert table. It was May, and the sight of something frozen to eat in the warm months astonished the guests. One of them, William Black of Virginia, wrote of it in a letter that stated, “a Dessert no less curious: Among the Rarities of which it was Compos’d, was some fine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most Deliciously.”

Historians know of at least two royal governors who served ice cream at the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg. A hailstorm in July of 1758 gave Governor Francis Fauquier the chance to make ice cream in the summer. In his memoir, Fauquier writes that hailstones were so large they broke every window on the north side of the Palace. When they were collected, Fauquier added, “he cooled his wine, and froze cream, with some of them the next day.” It was Fauquier’s first year in Williamsburg and his first exposure to the violence of American weather. Ten years later, his successor, Lord Botetourt, arrived in Williamsburg, where he served as governor until his death in 1770. The inventory of Botetourt’s belongings included pewter ice molds, which would have been used to form ice cream into pretty shapes. The inventory mentions “1 tin ventilator,” a device that could have doubled as a sarbottiere.

So a few Americans were eating ice cream long before Jefferson went to France in 1784 as American ambassador to the court of Louis XVI. Although Jefferson did not introduce ice cream to America, he encountered it in Paris, and he enjoyed it enough to jot down a recipe that calls for “2 bottles of good cream, 6  yolks of eggs, 1/2 lb. sugar” to be flavored with vanilla and frozen in a sarbottiere. Jefferson took notes on icehouse construction when traveling in Italy and Virginia before building his at Monticello. near the north terrace in 1802. It required “62 waggon loads of ice” from the Rivanna River to fill. A 1796 inventory lists “2 freising molds” in the kitchen, so his servants were making ice cream at least that early. When he was president, Jefferson had an icehouse built for the President’s House, now the White House—and on Independence Day in 1806, hired a servant to turn the ice cream maker. This introduced many to ice cream, hence the belief that Jefferson brought the dish to America.

Martha Washington did not invent ice cream any more than Jefferson or Dolley Madison, but she served it at Mount Vernon. The Washingtons acquired a “cream machine for ice” in 1784, the year George directed his estate manager to build an icehouse on his estate.

And the favorite flavors of the day? Strawberry, vanilla, and raspberry seem to have been popular. A recipe for apricot ice cream appears in one cookbook with the notation that the cook can use “any sort of fruit if you have not apricots.”

Perhaps the strangest flavor is found in Mary Randolph’s cookbook—oyster ice cream. “Essentially it was frozen oyster chowder,” historians believe.

In Pennsylvania

C. Jacob Fussell, a Quaker, ran a milk and cream delivery business in Baltimore selling “country fresh” dairy products from farms in York County. An opportunity arose when a dairyman who operated a small catering business that sold a frozen concoction of milk, eggs, and sugar in Baltimore defaulted on a debt to an older Quaker who had no desire to take over the business. The lender asked Fussell to take on the operation.

Knowing supply and demand of milk was highly unpredictable, According to the Baltimore Sun, as a “country produce dealer,” Fussell used his surplus milk and cream to manufacture ice cream and market it “for 25 cents per quart, delivered in moulds or otherwise day and night.” The newspaper reported that ice cream at the time was selling for sixty cents a quart.

Faced with the decision to manufacture ice cream close to the market or near the supply, Fussell decided in the winter of 1851 to relocate to Seven Valleys where he contracted a local miller, Daniel Henry, to build an ice house and ice cream factory on Main Street adjacent to the Codorus Creek. He supervised the production of ice cream during the summer of 1852 and for the following two years his frosty confection was packed in ice and shipped by rail to Baltimore through the fall of 1854. Although he eventually moved his operation to Baltimore and abandoned the Seven Valleys factory, the York County community is recognized as the location of the first commercially produced and distributed ice cream in the United States. Fussell also earned the title of the Father of the Wholesale Ice Cream Industry. 7