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Ice Cream

The first reference to ice cream at Mount Vernon dates to May of 1784, when a "Cream Machine for Ice" was acquired for one pound, thirteen shillings, and three pence.1 Additional utensils for preparing and serving ice cream were purchased by the Washingtons on several occasions during the presidency, including: two "dble tin Ice Cream moulds" acquired for $2.50 in May of 1792 and another was added in June of 1795, at a cost of $7.00. One year later, in June of 1796, the Washingtons spent five shillings for an ice cream spoon.2

Both the mould and spoon were acquired during the presidency, when Martha Washington served ice creams at her weekly levees. Abigail Adams described one of these events, held each Friday evening at 8 o'clock, where the "company" were "entertained with Ice creems & Lemonade."3 A dinner guest at the presidential mansion, Senator William Maclay, recalled that "The dessert was, first Apple pies puddings &ca.; then iced creams Jellies &ca. then Water Melons Musk Melons apples peaches nuts."4

The inventory of Mount Vernon completed shortly after George Washington's death lists two pewter ice cream pots valued at $3.00, and another eight of tin valued at $1.00, both stored on the second floor of the kitchen.5 The large number of ice cream pots suggests that this was a favored dessert at Mount Vernon. Since Washington died in December and the inventory was taken almost immediately afterward, it is logical that the equipment for making that summery dessert would have been in storage.

Within a set of white and gold French china purchased by George Washington during the presidency were an icery, as well as several serving trays and small footed cups known as "ice pots." The 309 piece service set originally included "2 Iceries Compleat," twelve "ice plates," and thirty-six "ice pots." The ice plates and pots were placed at intervals on the table during the dessert course, where they were filled from the iceries. The small cups were a practical way of serving ice cream, which had a more liquid-like consistency in the eighteenth than its modern counterpart.

Mary V. Thompson
Research Historian
Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens

Bibliography
1. Ledger B (photostat, Mount Vernon Ladies' Association), 198a.

2. Decatur, Jr., Stephen. Private Affairs of George Washington (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1933), 253; "Philadelphia Household Account Book, 25 June 1795 and 28 March 1796" (photostat, Mount Vernon Ladies Association).

3. Abigail Adams to Mrs. William Stephens Smith, 9 August 1789," New Letters of Abigail Adams 1788-1801, ed. Stewart Mitchell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1947) 19.

4. William Maclay, The Journal of William Maclay, United States Senator from Pennsylvania 1789 to 1791 (New York, D. A. Appleton and Company, 1890.), 136-137.

5. George Washington, Inventory, "Up the Kitchen Stairs" (photostat, Mount Vernon Ladies' Association)