Dolley Madison could have given a few tips to Baskin-Robbins.
Like Brown Bread ice cream. Or Parmesan Cheese ice cream.
As wife of President James Madison, Dolley liked to serve these up on hot summer afternoons in 1814 to boost the morale of Washingtonians who were a little down about the War of 1812.
Yesterday afternoon, one of her weekly parties was re-created on the back lawn of the Octagon Museum (operated by the American Institute of Architects Foundation), 1799 New York Ave. NW, a house into which the Madisons moved 171 years ago, two weeks after the British burned the White House.
The afternoon even featured Dolley herself -- actress Bonnie Cavanaugh, fresh from a 10-week Philadelphia run of a one-woman show on the first really famous first lady. She was dressed up and mingling with the guests as they sipped lemonade or raspberry liqueur punch, chatting about the clothing of the day and how it's thought that the Chinese invented ice cream.
There was a mezzo-soprano in the drawing room, a VCR on the lawn that ran the short film "Dolley and the Great Little Madison" and in the kitchen downstairs, there were the servants demonstrating how ice cream was made in Dolley's day. They spent most of the afternoon taking turns sitting on a bench bent over, twisting a small container back and forth in a bucket of ice.
"I have great respect for Dolley Madison," said one, whose fingers were on their way to giving out. "This is real hard to make."
Another talked about their long skirts and drawstring tops: "They weren't meant to be pretty. They were meant to be functional."
Unfortunately for the cause -- the continuing restoration of the museum -- the turnout was probably half the 200 hoped-for. It could have been the admission fee: $15 for adults and $10 for kids. For that you got two scoops -- no more, no less -- of today's ice cream: Chocoholic or Caramel Turtle Fudge or Frangelico Hazelnut or Old-Fashioned Vanilla.