Recipes from the Historian’s Cookbook

Alexander Lee | Published 08 June 2018

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) – the third president of the United States – was an early fan of ice-cream. He probably encountered it while serving as America’s ambassador in France between 1784 and 1789, and, after returning to his estate at Monticello, took steps to ensure that he could continue enjoying it. The instructions he wrote for his cook (below) constitute the first recipe for ice-cream ever written by an American.

2 bottles of good cream [= about 4 pints / 1.9 litres]
6 yolks of eggs.
½lb. sugar
One stick of vanilla
Handful of salt
Large quantity of ice

Mix the yolks & sugar. Put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla. When near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs and sugar.

Stir it well. Put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent its sticking to the casserole. When near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel. Put it in the Sabottiere [a metal canister, small enough to fit into the tub used for the ice]. Then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. Put into the ice a handful of salt.

Put salt on the coverlid of the Sabottiere & cover the whole with ice. Leave it still half a quarter of an hour. Then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes.

Open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabot[t]iere. Shut it & replace it in the ice. Open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides. When well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.

Put it in moulds, jostling it well down on the knee. Then put the mould into the same bucket of ice. Leave it there to the moment of serving it. To withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.

Allen Ginsberg’s Cold Summer Borscht

Born into a Jewish family in New Jersey, the poet Allen Ginsberg came to embody the 'Beat Generation'. But he was also famous for living extremely simply - even at the height of his fame. Among his favourite dishes was this recipe for cold summer borscht, which recalled both the flavours of his childhood home and his family's Russian origins. The directions and ingredients are given exactly as he wrote them. 

Serves 10-12 extremely hungry people. 

Dozen beets [UK beetroots] cleaned & chopped to bite size salad-size Strips
Stems & leaves also chopped like salad lettuce
All boiled together lightly salted to make a bright red soup, with beets now soft - boil an hour or more
Add Sugar & Lemon Juice to make the red liquid sweet & sour like Lemonade

Chill 4 gallon(s) of beet liquid.

Serve with: 
(1) Sour Cream on table
(2) Boiled small or halved potato on the side (i.e. so hot potatoes don't heat the cold soup prematurely)
(3) Spring salad on table to put into cold red liquid
1) Onions - sliced (spring onions)
2) Tomatoes - sliced bite-sized
3) Lettuce - ditto
4) Cucumbers - ditto
5) a few radishes

Via the Allen Ginsberg Project

Pizza Marinara

In the mid-19th century, Neapolitan fishermen were fond of eating this simple, but hearty pizza for breakfast, before heading out to sea. Indeed, so eagerly did they wolf it down that, according to legend, it was named the ‘seafaring pizza’ (pizza marinara) in their honour.

Makes three good-sized pizzas.

Pizza Dough

4 cups / 18oz Italian tipo ‘00’ flour or bread flour
1 ½ cups / 12 fl oz water
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon active dry yeast

  1. Place the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well, until the dough is smooth.
  2. Shape into a ball and cover with a clean cloth. Allow to rise for around two hours, or until it has doubled in size.   
  3. Punch the dough down to remove the air bubbles.
  4. Divide into three roughly equal pieces, and shape each into a ball.
  5. Pinch the top of each ball, and gently stretch the dough, wrapping it around the rest of the ball as you go, so that it forms a sort of outer coat. 
  6. Dust lightly with flour, and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to ‘prove’ for around an hour.

Marinara Topping

230g / 8oz. chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
olive oil

  1. Preheat your oven to 250°C (480°F)/ fan 200°C (390°F).
  2. Stretch the balls of dough into circles and place on a non-stick pizza pan.
  3. Put 1/3 of the tomato, a few slices of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of oregano onto each pizza. Use your fingers to distribute the toppings evenly.   
  4. Bake for 5-10 mins, or until the edge is golden brown. 
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