Thomas Jefferson: American President...and Ice Cream Maker?

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What comes to mind when you think of Thomas Jefferson? Third president of the United States, check.

Principal author of the Declaration of Independence? Sure.

Founding Father of the American Nation? Without a doubt.

Developer of ice cream recipes? Well…maybe not.

Thomas Jefferson: American President...and Ice Cream Maker?

On a recent visit to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, I was intrigued to see that the eatery there features ice cream based on a recipe from none other than Thomas Jefferson. (His visage sits between George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt, forever etched in Black Hills granite).

Faces, Mount Rushmore

Ice Cream at Mt Rushmore

Thomas Jefferson, the man who helped bring the United States into being, the man who served under George Washington before becoming president himself, was a bit of an ice cream connoisseur. As the story goes, Jefferson became interested in French cooking while serving first as a diplomat there and then as the United States Minister of France in 1785. When Jefferson took up residence in his home in Charlottesville, Virginia (Monticello), he was known for serving guests his recipe for vanilla ice cream.

Thomas Jefferson's Ice Cream Recipe

Photo credit: Library of Congress:

You can try Jefferson’s ice cream recipe for yourself by following his directions. Or, use the updated, modern version. Please note that in Jefferson’s recipe, a sabottiere is the inner part of the ice cream maker. Both recipes are from Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe

2. bottles of good cream.
6. yolks of eggs.
1/2 lb. sugar
mix the yolks & sugar
put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla.
when near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar.
stir it well.
put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent it's sticking to the casserole.
when near boiling take it off and strain it thro' a towel.
put it in the Sabottiere
then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. put into the ice a handful of salt.
put salt on the coverlid of the Sabotiere & cover the whole with ice.
leave it still half a quarter of an hour.
then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes
open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabotiere.
shut it & replace it in the ice
open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides
when well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.
put it in moulds, justling it well down on the knee.
then put the mould into the same bucket of ice.
leave it there to the moment of serving it.
to withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.

For Cooks Today: Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe

Marie Kimball's Thomas Jefferson's Cook Book provides an updated version of the recipe:
Beat the yolks of 6 eggs until thick and lemon colored. Add, gradually, 1 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil 1 quart of cream and pour slowly on the egg mixture. Put in top of double boiler and when thickens, remove and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. When cool add 2 teaspoonfuls of vanilla. Freeze, as usual, with one part of salt to three parts of ice. Place in a mould, pack with ice and salt for several hours. For electric refrigerators, follow usual direction, but stir frequently.





Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at


Photos courtesy and copyright Kristen J. Gough, except where noted. Word photo creative commons




Note: this article was originally published in 2013 and updated in 2018