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Historical recipe: vanilla ice cream

In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, we recreate vanilla ice cream – a dessert enjoyed by an 18th-century US president.

Published: November 5, 2021 at 11:43 am
  • Preparation and cooking time
    • Total time
  • Difficulty 5/10

US president Thomas Jefferson’s love of ice cream is well documented, and led to its huge popularity in the US. Jefferson was in France between 1784 and 1789 and brought back lots of exciting recipes – pigs’ feet, fruit tarts, peach flambe – including this recipe. His hand-written ice cream recipe – the first of its kind in the US – still survives today.

Traditionally ice cream would have been frozen using a salt and ice technique. I’ve included this method for those readers who fancy trying some fun food chemistry.


  • 6 Egg yolks
  • 1pint Single cream
  • 1pint Double cream
  • 250g Caster sugar
  • 2tsp Vanilla extract, or one vanilla pod
  • a pinch of salt
  • ice and salt (if you’re using this freezing method)


  • STEP 1

    Beat the egg yolks until they are thick and a pale yellow colour. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt.

  • STEP 2

    Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl. Add the vanilla and allow to cool.

  • STEP 3

    Freezing using ice and salt: You’ll need a plastic tub with a lid for the ice cream, and a larger container (a small bucket is ideal) for the crushed ice and salt (three parts ice to one part salt). Put the ice cream tub into the ice and salt mixture and shake every hour or so to stop ice crystals forming. The ice and salt should react, drawing heat away and freezing the ice cream more quickly.

  • STEP 4

    Freezing using a freezer: Put the tub of ice cream mix in the freezer and after around an hour give it a really good mix to get rid of any ice crystals. Continue to whisk every hour or so until the ice cream has set.

Recipe courtesy of DigVentures

This article was first published in the August 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine

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