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Thomas Jefferson's Vanilla Ice Cream

Thomas Jefferson’s 18th-century ice cream was doubtless flecked with vanilla seeds and rich with cream from his own dairy. We’ve adapted Jefferson’s recipe for modern kitchens.

According to the Timber Press book Vanilla Orchids: Natural History and Cultivation, by Kenneth Michael Cameron, Jefferson’s instructions call for making the ice cream in a “Sabotiere.” This was a double-bucketed icing device very much like more modern crank-operated ice cream freezers, except the contents of the inner bucket were stirred with an ice paddle.

For a more authentic taste of ice cream history, source your cream and eggs from small local producers, use turbinado or Demerara sugar and get the best vanilla bean you can find.

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

2 pints cream

6 egg yolks

1/2 pound sugar

1 vanilla bean, split

In a heavy saucepan, warm the cream and vanilla bean until almost boiling.

Meanwhile, beat together the egg yolks and sugar.

When small bubbles have started to form around the edges of the cream, take it off the heat.

Very gently and slowly, add the warmed cream to the egg and sugar mixture, beating constantly.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and again heat it, stirring constantly and taking it off the heat before it boils.

Strain the mixture: Jefferson’s instructions at this point say “strain it thro’ a towel;” cheesecloth or a mesh strainer will do the job.

Chill in the refrigerator and make according to the directions of your ice cream maker; or freeze it in shallow pans, mixing the contents with a scraper every hour or so, until your ice cream is set.