George Washington's Ice Cream Recipe: First, Cut Ice From River

  • One of the uniforms made from fine wool, known as a livery, worn by the male slaves, along with a variety of kitchenware found in the home of George and Martha Washington as a new exhibition at Mount Vernon.
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    One of the uniforms made from fine wool, known as a livery, worn by the male slaves, along with a variety of kitchenware found in the home of George and Martha Washington as a new exhibition at Mount Vernon.
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  • These large iron pots from the Mount Vernon kitchen were probably used to cook large cuts of meat like ham, beef and fowl. The metal hooks were used to pull the giant pots out of the fire.
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    These large iron pots from the Mount Vernon kitchen were probably used to cook large cuts of meat like ham, beef and fowl. The metal hooks were used to pull the giant pots out of the fire.
    John Rose/NPR
  • Like other 18th-century housewives, Martha Washington would have used a still to extract essences of mint or rose petals. The essences flavored cakes and puddings.
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    Like other 18th-century housewives, Martha Washington would have used a still to extract essences of mint or rose petals. The essences flavored cakes and puddings.
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  • This plate heater was filled with hot water to warm dinnerware.
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    This plate heater was filled with hot water to warm dinnerware.
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  • One of Martha Washington's favorite desserts was ice cream, but she could make it only if the Potomac River had frozen enough to provide ice. The ice would have to be stored until spring, when the cows gave milk. Once made, the ice cream would be kept cold in this dish by putting ice on top.
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    One of Martha Washington's favorite desserts was ice cream, but she could make it only if the Potomac River had frozen enough to provide ice. The ice would have to be stored until spring, when the cows gave milk. Once made, the ice cream would be kept cold in this dish by putting ice on top.
    John Rose/NPR
  • After the labor of preparation, the ice cream would be served in small dishes resembling teacups with handles to keep the delicacy from melting from hands around the dish.
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    After the labor of preparation, the ice cream would be served in small dishes resembling teacups with handles to keep the delicacy from melting from hands around the dish.
    John Rose/NPR
  • A plate warmer with an open back would be set in front of the fireplace at Mount Vernon and filled with plates for the evening's guests.
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    A plate warmer with an open back would be set in front of the fireplace at Mount Vernon and filled with plates for the evening's guests.
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  • A French cocotte, purchased by George Washington from the French Minister in 1790, would be used to serve warm sauces and ragouts.
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    A French cocotte, purchased by George Washington from the French Minister in 1790, would be used to serve warm sauces and ragouts.
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  • This ledger displays the meticulous documentation of every product at Mount Vernon, including ham, geese, ducks, butter and oysters.
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    This ledger displays the meticulous documentation of every product at Mount Vernon, including ham, geese, ducks, butter and oysters.
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  • Brewing coffee meant toasting the beans in front of the fire. George Washington clearly loved his joe, ordering hundreds of pounds of beans.
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    Brewing coffee meant toasting the beans in front of the fire. George Washington clearly loved his joe, ordering hundreds of pounds of beans.
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  • Fancy fruit cakes were a typical dessert served at Mount Vernon.
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    Fancy fruit cakes were a typical dessert served at Mount Vernon.
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  • Martha Washington, portrayed by actor Mary Wiseman, serves modern-day guests the same dishes the First Couple enjoyed.
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    Martha Washington, portrayed by actor Mary Wiseman, serves modern-day guests the same dishes the First Couple enjoyed.
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This year would not be a good year for ice cream. In fact, there would be none at all if we relied on the technique George Washington used at Mount Vernon, his Virginia estate that's perched on the banks of the Potomac River.

His source of ice was the frozen river. Given the warm winter we've had here in D.C. , there's no chance. Seems the weather is nothing like it was on Jan. 26, 1786, when Washington wrote in his journal:

"Renewed my Ice operation to day, employing as many hands as I conveniently could in getting it from the Maryland shore, carting and pounding it."

That's according to a new exhibition on the cookery of Mount Vernon, "Hoecakes and Hospitality," that opens this President's Day weekend.

That ice was stored in a dry well or ice house until milk and cream became available from dairy cows in the spring.

Martha Washington used a recipe from the most popular cookbook of the day, Hannah Glasse's Art of Cookery, to prepare a slushy, creamy version of the sweet treat we've come to love. (Her copy of the book is shown in the exhibit.) But forget chocolate or vanilla. Fruit was the only thing added to the cream and sugar. And the Washingtons served their guests tiny portions, doled out in delicate white French porcelain cups, that appear to hold no more than an ounce or two.

The Salt got a sneak peak of a new exhibit showcasing dozens of artifacts from Martha Washington's kitchen. Some are original, and some are reproductions of items known to be owned by Mount Vernon.

There are the mundane items such as big pots and pans. But there are also some wonderful pieces that we're likely not have in our modern kitchens: a tin still used to distill mint or rose water. A petite, fancy, French cocotte used for serving recipes such as asparagus ragu. And a nifty tin spice container that originally had a grinder at its center.

There's also a page from one of Washington's ledgers that meticulously documents the procurement of kitchen and household items. After touring the exhibit, it's clear the Washingtons had some fussy culinary habits.

For instance, they were big-time importers of coffee. According to one of his ledgers, George Washington imported 150 pounds of beans in November of 1799. And not just any beans. Turns out the Founding Father George loved beans from the Red Sea port of Mocha. Sometimes he also exchanged flour or his Potomac-caught herring for coffee beans from the West Indies.

The amount of labor that went into brewing a cup of joe was pretty intense. Enslaved cooks used one of two "coffee toasters" placed in front of the kitchen fire and then used a hand grinder to grind them.

And other imports? Wine from the Canary Islands; double Gloucester cheese from England; brandy and olives from France; pickled mangoes from India and lots of Mediterranean anchovies, capers and currants.

Coconuts, limes and turtles from the West Indies, and my favorite: pickled walnuts. Why pickled walnuts? Well, maybe it was to preserve them. But it's also possible that the pickling softened up the nuts, making them easier to chew for our nation's first president, who had notoriously bad teeth.

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