Homemade Ice Cream

Introduction by Candace Perry.

Title image: 18th-century ice cream demonstration at the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival.

The story of ice cream has been told and retold countless times, and is one of a storied lineage of exotic locales and crowned heads of Europe and our own Founding Fathers. Not long after its arrival on American shores, however, the democratization of ice cream began and was well on its way to becoming the nation’s favorite treat.

By the 18th century, confectioners from France, Italy, and Great Britain began to explore the opportunities that the growing cities in the American colonies had to offer. And with them, they brought their recipes for all sorts of delicious treats—including ice cream (or iced cream). By the late 18th century advertisements were popping up in newspapers in Philadelphia for confectioners, mostly with French surnames, who specialized in ice cream.

In May of 1785 the owner of the Pennsylvania Coffee House in Philadelphia advertised “Iced Creams, Lemonades, Fruits, etc. in the best European taste.” Both ladies and gentlemen were welcomed to his establishment, which was perhaps a bit unusual—coffee houses were often not thought to be appropriate places for women. The owner was one Vincent M. Pelosi, one of the few Italians in Philadelphia in the 18th century. He even offered a “to go” option by “sending proper glasses.” (Pennsylvania Packet, May 17, 1785)

Victor Collet, said to have been of French-Creole descent from Haiti, was among the best-known purveyors of ice cream in Philadelphia in the 1790s, and was particularly known for his fancy molded custom fromage glaces or iced cheese. Interested in making an iced cheese for yourself? See the recipe at the end of this article. By the way, it’s not really cheese. But it’s a fun way to get the family going! (Philadelphia Aurora, March 13, 1795)

Recipes for ice cream began to crop up in English-language cookbooks in the 18th century, and that, along with the accessibility of ice cream in the city, may have helped pave the way for it to reach people in the country. In 1829, the following recipe showed in several publications, including the Lancaster Intelligencer:

Receipt for Ice Cream
Three-quarters of a pound of loaf sugar, one quart of cream, the whites of three eggs well beat up—mix together and simmer it on the fire until it nearly boils, then take it off and strain it, and when cold put it into the mould and churn it until it freezes. Scrape it from the sides of the mould occasionally, during the freezing process, and beat it up well with the ice cream stick. Flavour it with lemon, rose venilli, strawberries, chocolate, &c. as you like it. New milk is nearly as good as cream, and skimmed milk will do; but for the latter add the whites of two or three additional eggs.

The actual source of the recipe is unknown. The “ice cream stick” must have been a commonly used tool, but what was it? “Rose venilli” may have been rose flavoring and vanilla flavoring, or perhaps it was a combination?

Goschenhoppen ice cream

By Susan Cook.

For local at-home ice cream making in the 18th century, Susan Cook, manager of the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival’s ice cream station, provided the following excellent explanation.

Ice cream has been enjoyed in the Goschenhoppen Region for a long time. At the Goschenhoppen Historians Folk Festival we attribute our method and recipe to Sara Yates in the 1750s.

Ice cream was traditionally a summertime treat for the region’s farm families. While the ingredients were simple and available; cream, juicy, fresh fruit, sugar, ice, and salt, they were still costly.

The fruit, peaches or berries when ripe, had to be picked. The cream was mostly made into butter to sell at the market. Refined white sugar was an expensive luxury used most sparingly and salt was needed to preserve meats. Both had to be purchased with cash. Money was not spent frivolously. It helped if Papa enjoyed ice cream.

Ripe peaches, sugar and cream make luscious ice cream.

Getting ice was cold, hard work. Huge blocks of ice were cut out of the creek during the coldest part of winter and stored in the icehouse for use in the summer.

To make the ice cream, a large wooden bowl is filled with ice and salt. A smaller pewter basin (editor’s note: also known as a sabotiere or sorbetiere) with a close-fitting lid is placed in the salted ice. The fruit is peeled, chopped and mashed to a pulp, sugar to taste is stirred in and cream to fill the bowl is added. The mixture is gently blended, the lid placed on the pewter basin. Cover the whole arrangement with a heavy cloth and leave in the shade. The mixture will freeze to the sides and bottom of the interior bowl. Periodically uncover the bowls and scrape the frozen mixture from the sides and bottom of the interior bowl, recover to let the rest of it freeze. When all the ice cream has frozen, it is ready to be enjoyed.

Frozen treats historically have been for the rich and elite. Fruit ices date back to the Roman Empire, Runners were sent into the mountains to bring snow to the Emperor’s cooks who mixed the snow with fruit juices and served them at banquets. In the 1700s and 1800s, French chefs made cooked egg custards and froze them. Both Presidents Washington and Jefferson enjoyed a great deal of ice cream in a variety of flavors and mixtures. Dolly Madison made her reputation as a Washington hostess with her imaginative ice cream displays.

Here in the Goschenhoppen Region, it was a simpler treat that could be enjoyed by many. In the 19th century hand-cranked machines were invented for home use. They also giving rise to Ice Cream Socials at which groups of people would enjoy ice cream and each other’s company. Local town celebrations on the 4th of July were not complete without ice cream.

Here are a few more recipes to try, including the promised iced cheese!

Ice cream recipes

Iced Cheese à la Bourgeoise

from Parks Canada Heritage Gourmet Recipes

2 cups 35% cream 1 cup milk 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten ¾ cup refined sugar 3-4 tsp lemon extract or orange blossom water

Place the cream, milk, and egg yolk in a saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add the sugar, beating continuously with a whisk, and bring to a boil. After 15 minutes, the cream should start to foam indicating that it is beginning to boil. Continue to beat for one minute. After 5 or 6 large bubbles appear, remove from heat, add the flavoring and beat slightly. Taste and adjust the flavour.

Pour into six single-serving dishes and freeze for 2 hours, then unmould and serve.

Alternately, pour into a tin mould and freeze for four hours. To remove, plunge the mould into hot water for a fraction of a second; place a dish on top of the mould then turn upside down. Serve immediately.

Credit: Recipe tested by Chef Scott Warrick, Algonquin College School of Hospitality and Tourism. The recipe was adapted from the book A Taste of History: The Origins of Quebec’s Gastronomy, Yvon Desloges and Marc Lafrance (Montreal: Éditions de la Chenelière, 1989). English-French book. ISBN: 2-89310-028-7. The authors found the original recipe in La Cuisinière bourgeoise, by Menon, which dates to 1772.

And from the Willing Workers Cookbook, Frieden’s Union Church, Sumneytown, PA (1924):

Vanilla Ice Cream

1 quart milk, 1 pt. cream, 1 level tablespoon cornstarch, 1 egg, one-half lb. sugar. Let milk come to a boil. Add cornstarch dissolved in a little cold milk. Remove from the fire, add egg and sugar well beaten together. Mix well. Set aside to cool. When cold mix in the cream and vanilla flavor. Freeze. —Mrs. Irwin Rahn

Junket Ice Cream

1 quart milk, 1 junket tablet, 1 cup heavy cream, 1 teaspoon cold water, one-eighth teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, one and one-third cups sugar, 1 teaspoon almond extract. Mix the first four ingredients, add the tablet which has been dissolved in water. Let this mixture stand until it is set. Add flavoring and freeze.

Sour Cream Ice Cream

The cream may be thick, sour, and used with perfect safety so that the most fastidious person could not detect it. It is not only a matter of economy but makes a much richer cream than the same amount when sweet. For Chocolate, let one quart of milk come to a boil, then add two beaten eggs, one cup of sugar, and one tablespoon flour (moistened in little milk). Boil again a minute, stirring constantly. Melt two squares of chocolate and add to the custard. When cold flavor with vanilla. Just before freezing add one pint of sweet milk, 1 cup of sugar, and one pint of sour cream and beat until thoroughly mixed. Freeze in the usual way. Sour cream may be used with other custards, in a similar manner, adding it after the custard is cool, and beating it thoroughly. It is especially delicious with fruits. —Mrs. Niel Detweiler.

Making ice cream with a “hit and miss” engine at the Mennonite Heritage Center’s Apple Butter Frolic.

Candace Kintzer Perry is curator of collections at Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center.

2 thoughts on “Homemade Ice Cream

  1. I’ve never heard of putting sour cream in ice cream! I will be adding it to my list of ice creams to try this summer. Although I’ll be using a machine instead of a stick ha!!


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