Ice cream ruled, even centuries ago

Get a cool and refreshing taste of history at George Washington’s Mount Vernon


Gail Cassidy, left, and Anette Ahrens demonstrate how ice cream was made centuries ago at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. (Mount Vernon )
August 16, 2014

When you crave a treat on a hot summer day, what do you think of? We’re sure many of you would say, “Ice cream!”

George and Martha Washington felt the same way. They regularly served ice cream to guests during the summer months. But it was a much bigger treat in the 18th century than it is today.

“It would have been a special thing,” said Mary Thompson, a research historian at Mount Vernon, the Washingtons’ estate. “It would have been something you would have been pretty rich to have. You had to save ice during the winter and put it in an icehouse.”

The Washingtons had blocks of ice from the Potomac River stored in the estate’s ice house. But there was no guarantee how long it would last. In hot Virginia summers, “sometimes the icehouse didn’t cooperate,” Thompson said.

The couple purchased a “cream machine for ice” in 1784. Thompson said the devices from that time period were usually made of tin with a wooden paddle for stirring. At-home ice-cream makers didn’t change much until electric freezers were invented.

Martha used a recipe from a popular cookbook from the day, which called for cream, berries, sugar, ice and salt.

The somewhat watery version of today’s ice cream was served in special “pots,” or cups, and sometimes in fancy molds shaped like melons or castles, Thompson said.

If you want to learn more about ice cream back in George and Martha Washington’s day, head to Mount Vernon on Saturdays during August. Interpreters will demonstrate how ice cream was made in the 18th century. You also can take a copy of Martha’s recipe and try it at home. Yum!

— Christina Barron

What: 18th-century ice cream demonstration

Where: Mount Vernon, 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria

When: Saturdays in August, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

How old: All ages

How much: Included in admission. Adults $18, ages 6 to 11 $9, and age 5 and younger free

For more information: A parent can call 703-780-2000 or go to www.mountvernon.org.

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