Americans didn't invent ice cream, but rarely has an adopted child been made so completely a member of the family. We are responsible for the ice cream cone, the ice-cream bar, the soda jerk, and a bold approach to flavors that has led to such excesses as bubble gum and chili con carne ice cream.

Father of our country George Washington set the pace while serving his first term in New York City. During the summer of 1970 he ran up a bill for $200 for ice cream. (Since presidents entertain a lot that was probably not as piggy as it sounds.)

By 1851 a Philadelphia cookbook was giving recipes for 34 different kinds of ice cream, forerunner to Howard Johnson's 28 flavors and Baskin-Robbins' 31.

Early ices, dating back to the 17th century, were simply flavored creams or flavored waters frozen into solid chunks. Only later were instructions given to stir the mixture during freezing, and later still, pewter molds were made with handles to turn the container, so that the mixture wouldn't freeze unevenly, forming hard little icicles -- fromage aux epingles, as one early recipe is descriptively called.

Around the middle of the 1980s, an American invented the portable ice-cream freezer, with its dasher churning the cream smooth as it froze, and a million ice cream socials bloomed across the land. Children learned one of life's earliest trade-offs: If you turn the churn, you get to lick the dasher.

We may shuttle about in space, but ice-cream connoisseurs will argue that this method of making ice cream has never been improved on, and that there is no better way to spend an evening than making and eating ice cream.

As host or hostess of an ice-cream social, you should beg, borrow or steal several ice-cream makers so you can have different flavors. Vanilla, of course. Possibly peach or strawberry, and there are those who threaten sucide when they discover there isn't any chocolate. The cream bases should be made up the day before so they will be thoroughly chilled. Fresh fruit to be added to the ice cream should be pureed or cut into tiny chunks, otherwise you will have not strawberry ice cream but strawberry ice cubes.

The only other thing you will need is a supply of rock salt and cracked ice and, possibly, a selection of sauces -- butterscotch, chocolate, fruit purees -- and, lastly, and understanding on the part of all guests that when it comes to making ice cream, one good turn deserves another.

If you do not already have an ice-cream maker, the Kitchen Bazaar, 4455 Connecticut Ave. NW, and Seven Corners Shopping Center, has an electric dasher model for $32. The larger Hechinger's stores (Langley Park, Wheaton-Glenmont, Tyson's Corner, Baileys Cross Roads, etc.) carry a variety of ice-cream makers, ranging from the hand-turned at $13.95 to electric models at $19.95 and $24.95. Check the store nearest you.