Ice cream frequently appears in visitors' accounts of meals with Thomas Jefferson. One visitor commented: "Among other things, ice-creams were produced in the form of balls of the frozen material inclosed in covers of warm pastry, exhibiting a curious contrast, as if the ice had just been taken from the oven."
Jefferson was able to enjoy ice cream throughout the year because ice was "harvested" from the Rivanna River in winter and taken to the Monticello ice house, which held sixty-two wagon-loads. The ice house located in Monticello's north dependency wing was used throughout the year primarily to preserve meat and butter, but also to chill wine and to make ice cream. In 1815, Jefferson noted, the ice supply lasted until October 15.
While George Washington's papers contain a prior reference to an ice cream maker, the first American recipe for the dish is in Jefferson's hand:
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.
The original recipe is found in the Jefferson Papers collection at the Library of Congress.
*The sabottiere is the inner cannister shown in the drawing. There was no crank to turn it; when Jefferson wrote "turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes," he meant for someone to grab the handle and turn the cannister clockwise and then counterclockwise.
Marie Kimball's Thomas Jefferson's Cook Book gives modern versions of this and other recipes:
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 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 with ice and salt for several hours. For electric refrigerators, follow usual direction, but stir frequently.