How did Americans come to love ice cream so much?

vanilla ice cream

People in the United States cannot claim to have invented ice cream, but we sure do love to eat it. On average, US citizens each consume a staggering 40+ pints of ice cream in a year. Our fondness for the cold treat is as old as the country itself, says journalist Amy Ettinger. She talked to NPR’s The Salt to explain how ice cream became an American cultural touchstone

The nation’s Founding Fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, loved ice cream. Washington was so fond it of that when his estate was cataloged, one of the items was a 306-piece ice cream serving set. Jefferson likely brought back the first recipe for ice cream with him from one of his many trips to France. The recipe is very close to what home cooks use today, consisting of “six egg yolks, a half-pound of sugar, two bottles of good cream, and one vanilla bean”, but the method is a lot easier now with the advent of electric ice cream makers.

In the early days of the republic, ice cream was accessible only to the wealthy. As ice delivery methods improved, the dessert became less expensive, and therefore popular with the masses (because who wouldn’t like ice cream?). The fact that the country’s elite enjoyed it also played into its appeal. Once refrigeration became commonplace, there was no holding us back from eating gallons of the stuff. 

Prohibition even played a part in ice cream’s popularity. When booze was outlawed, temperance movement leaders suggested that instead of going to bars, people should instead socialize at soda fountains. And they did – in 1920, the first year of Prohibition, Americans consumed 260 million gallons of ice cream. 

Ice cream has remained popular ever since. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan – continuing the long line of Presidents who loved the frozen dessert – declared July to be National Ice Cream Month. There is no more delicious way to be patriotric this July 4 than to eat a heaping bowl of ice cream. 

Photo of True vanilla ice cream from  Bon Appétit Magazine

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  • Analyze  on  July 2, 2017

    What a cool history lesson! I personally LOVE making homemade ice cream – I'm partial to the the traditional flavors of my childhood, especially those with tons of candy or cookie pieces inside. I've made all of the recipes from The Ben & Jerry's Cookbook, and two of my other cookbooks also have a small collection of ice cream recipes that I've tried. I'm currently getting inspiration from a teenage business owner who makes pints chock full of mix-ins (littleg) and have notes on tons of her flavors that I'd like to replicate! I started out with the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, but currently use the Wynter SNO ice cream maker which plugs in, so you don't have to wait for the canister to freeze for 16 hours or take up freezer space; I also like being able to make back to back batches. Thanks for letting me ramble about one of my favorite desserts to make and eat 🙂

  • darcie_b  on  July 3, 2017

    Ramble on! I would love to have a compressor machine. I'm doing an ice cream sundae bar for a July 4 cookout. I do have three different canisters for my Cuisinart ice cream maker so that makes it easier. My biggest problem is deciding which flavors to make because I like everything.

  • sir_ken_g  on  July 3, 2017

    It's in the Constitution – don't yah know!

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