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What Would the Founding Fathers Eat?

founding father pinups

This week, Kitchen Overlord is going old school for Independence Day. Over on our boozetastic 4th of July post, you can learn how to make a cocktail version of the Philadelphia Fish House Punch our founding fathers were known to love and get instructions for whipping up a big bowl full of Martha Washington’s Rum Punch. After a stiff, fortifying drink, it’s time to look at what the founding fathers would’ve eaten.

It’s not pretty.

Tastes have changed pretty dramatically over the last couple hundred years. People who like to get nostalgic over history will tell you life was better when everyone was a locavore by necessity and all food was seasonal. They like to ignore the fact that before pasteurization, no one was surprised when a neighbor died of “milk poisoning” and vegetables were boiled for hours because everyone knew fertilizer was made of feces and no one wanted to eat that.

Instead of a backyard barbecue, the earliest Independence Day celebrations would’ve started with a local political speech followed by a parade, after which folks had a rare and coveted day off. Sandwiches hadn’t been invented yet, so there weren’t any early proto-burgers to grill. The specific meat tube we think of as a hot dog had yet to be invented, either, though you could get a hearty (and dubiously mysterious) sausage served up with a bowl of the incredibly popular turtle soup.

If you were standing in the streets of Philadelphia, you probably had some cheese and crackers in your pocket to snack on during the parade. Afterwards, you could pick up some cornmeal breaded, fried, incredibly greasy oysters from the omnipresent local street food vendors which Chef Walter Staib of the City Tavern in Philadelphia says were that era’s McDonald’s.

If you’re not in the mood for turtle soup and hours old fried oysters this Independence Day, there is one thing you could find both at an 18th century celebration and at your backyard barbecue – ice cream. The founding fathers loved it just as much as we do. Baskin Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery are part of a centuries long tradition of ice cream parlors. On a hot summer day in July, a scoop or two would’ve been the perfect post-parade treat.

Take a look at this late 18th century recipe from The New Art of Cookery, According to the Present Practice, by Richard Briggs.

Ice Creams. Take a dozen ripe apricots, pare them very thin and stone them, scald and put them into a mortar, and beat them fine; put to them six ounces of double refined sugar, a pint of scalding cream, and rub it through a sieve with the back of a spoon; then put it into a tine with a close cover, and set it in a tub of ice broken small, with four handsful of salt mixt among the ice; when you see your cream get thick round the edges of your tin, stir it well, and put it in again till it becomes quite thick; when the cream is all froze up, take it out of the tin, and put it into the mould you intend to turn it out of: mind that you put a piece of paper on each end, between the lids and the ice cream, put on the top lid, and have another tub of ice ready, as before, put the mould in the middle, with the ice under and over it; let it stand four hours, and do not turn it out before you want it; then dip the mould into cold spring water, take off the lids and paper, and turn it into a plate. You may do any sort of fruit the same way.

If those directions are a little daunting, here’s a nicely modernized version with a lot less sieve squeezing. Best of all, if you have apricots (or any other stone fruit) in your fridge, this ice cream makes an easy last minute addition to your Fourth of July shindig. It’s also a great talking point for chatting people up. Why, yes, I wanted to celebrate Independence Day the same way our founding fathers did, with beer and ice cream.

apricot ice cream

Founding Fathers Apricot Ice Cream

12 fresh apricots
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup white sugar
1 lemon

Peel, stone, and slice the apricots.

Put the apricots, sugar, and the juice of one lemon in a saucepan. Bring it to a simmer and put a lid on the pan. Let the apricots cook for about 10 minutes so they’ll get nice and tender.

Let the apricots cool for another 10 minutes. Pour the apricot mix and heavy cream into a food processor and let it whir away until you have a smooth puree. Modern technology makes this so much easier.

If you have an ice cream maker, pour in the mix and let the machine work its magic. If not, pour the mix into a plastic tub and put it in the freezer. In an hour, take it out and remix it, really putting in some elbow grease to churn it all up. Put it back in the freezer and let it sit for at least 3 hours to harden.

If you want to make your ice cream a little fluffier, attack it with a hand mixer on high for 4-5 minutes before putting it in the freezer for the first time. Let it sit for an hour, then double down with a hand blender to really get it all mixed up. Put it back in the freezer for another 3 hours to harden.

If you like a little texture in your ice cream, pick up 2 extra apricots. Peel and stone them, then cut them into chunks. Mix them into the ice cream after the puree comes out of the food processor.