In addition to being the “birthplace of our nation”, Philadelphia is also the birthplace of American Ice Cream. Ice Cream has been around for Centuries, supposedly originating in China around 3000 BC as a combination of rice and milk over ice. Marco Polo is said to have learned of this delicacy from Kublai Khan and brought it back to Italy in the early 14th Century where stirring techniques and flavoring experiments elevated the dish considerably. Not surprisingly, it’s popularity spread northward through France where they added eggs like they do to everything, making a richer, smoother more custard like confection. But the lighter version that we Americans are most familiar with as ice cream, Cream, Sugar and Flavorings is called Philadelphia Style Ice Cream. While not as rich as French Style ice cream, it requires no cooking, and allows the natural flavors to stand on their own a bit more… quicker, easier, bolder flavor… sounds pretty American to me.
It is fortuitous that the founding of our nation, the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the man who led the Revolutionary army to victory can all be tied together with a sweet, cool, refreshing dessert that is the perfect treat on a hot July day.
George and Martha Washington were famous for their hospitality. They held well known, weekly, informal gatherings at their house in Philadelphia throughout George’s presidency. In the summer months it was very likely one would find ice cream served at these gatherings. Abigail Adams mentioned being “entertained with Ice creems and Lemonade” at one of these parties in the summer of 1789.
In the humid East Coast summer days before refrigeration, ice cream would have been a luxury worth mentioning. The Washington’s had an ice house on their property. This is a underground chamber where winter ice and snow is packed and kept cool for use in the summer months. This is where the ice cream would have been prepared.
The Mount Vernon household records show that ice cream was a central feature of the Summer Dining Menu there as well. The kitchen inventory included a “Cream Machine for Ice”, two “dble tin Ice Cream moulds” and another one that must have been much fancier costing $7, a dedicated ice cream spoon, two pewter ice cream pots and eight tin pots for the same purpose. Their 309 piece china service included “2 Iceries Compleat” 12 “ice plates” and 36 “ice pots”. And Martha Washington’s own copy of The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy contained ice cream recipes.
While a cold cup of ice cream requires a great deal less effort and expense today, it still holds the power to delight your guests, especially if it is homemade.
A selection of Red, White and Blue ice creams makes for a fun Patriotic assortment. The colors aren’t quite as vibrant as our flag, it’s more like pink, cream and purple but the sentiment is there. And if you decorate each serving with some extra fruit and a little whip cream, you have all the visual power you need.
This is a simple Summer Party Menu.
This works great as an ice cream and lemonade only party, or if you want something more substantial, just fire up the grill and cook some burgers, sausages, fish, veggies… George and Martha would approve of any additional hospitality you want to offer.