When he took on the office of the President of the United States in 1801, Thomas Jefferson brought with him his love for ice cream. Having most likely gotten his favorite ice cream recipe from his time serving as Minister to France, Jefferson often had the dessert served in what would, after a few years and a fire, come to be called the White House.
Jefferson accomplished a lot in his political career, but contrary to rumors that suggest otherwise, he did not introduce ice cream to the United States. He did, however, probably contribute to the spread of its popularity, and his handwritten recipe is the oldest of its kind known in the US.
It calls for cream, of course, and sugar, vanilla, and plenty of egg yolks. I’m sure it was good, and if you want to try Jefferson’s recipe, you can allegedly do so while visiting Mount Rushmore where the National Park Service will be happy to sell you a cone.
But according to the FDA, what you’ll be eating won’t technically be ice cream, which is defined as a frozen dessert containing at least 10% milkfat, a maximum of 100% overrun (the amount of mixed in air), and less than 1.4% egg product. You’ll have to call it French ice cream, or frozen custard instead.
It’s the eggs that make the difference, as most American ice cream recipes now forgo eggs all together in order to make production cheaper and handing easier. Custard is generally served fresh, and is stored at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream. And custard has a much lower overrun, making it denser (upside down frozen custard has been holding onto spoons since long before Dairy Queen’s Blizzards) and creamier and, often, much more delicious.
You can trust me on this because we St. Louisans know a thing or two about frozen custard, which outside of the return of baseball(and yes, I’m going to go out on a limb here and speak for all of us) is our favorite sign of spring.
Finally this week, spring has sprung here in Missouri. It happened officially this past Monday, but all the unofficial signs have begun arriving, too. The temperature reached into the 80s (it didn’t stay there, because Missouri), tornadoes have touched down, the dog is shedding EVERYWHERE, and the seasonal frozen custard stands are finally open.
This last one matters most to our family, and especially to my nine-year-old son. We pass one of his favorites every day on the way home from his school, and every day I have to decided whether I will stop to get an after school treat or whether I will explain to him why it’s not a custard day.
Obviously we stop much less often than we don’t, but he never fails to ask. Fortunately this stand, like many in the area, closes in late November and doesn’t open again until early to mid-March, so I get a few months off from this tedious conversation.
But now it’s open, and my son is relentless. What can I do? He’s a St. Louis kid. And he loves his frozen custard.
The Midwest fell in love with this creamiest of frozen dairy desserts in the 1930s. The first machine designed for producing frozen custard was about ten or twelve years old at that point and had already taken the Jersey shore by storm, but no one loves the stuff as much as Midwesterners (the true cultural center of the nation).
The city that grabbed hold the most enthusiastically is Milwaukee. Since Wisconsin is made of dairy cows and ice, it was a natural fit. Today that city calls itself (unofficially) the frozen custard capital of the world and boasts that it contains more frozen custard stands per capita than any other city. Good for them.
I mean no disrespect to my Milwaukee friends when I say this, but we have an arch, and a better baseball team, and Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, named by celebrity chef Bobby Flay as the best dessert he’s ever eaten. Ted Drewes has been a part of St. Louis since 1931, and as they say in their extremely clever catchphrase, “It really is good guys…and gals.”
My son and I don’t drive past a Ted Drewes every day on our way home from school, but just because our stand is less famous, doesn’t mean it’s any less beloved. And most importantly, it’s now open for the season.
We’ve already made our first stop for rich, creamy, frozen dairy deliciousness complete with more than 1.4% egg yolk, consumed so enthusiastically that my son gave himself his first brain freeze of the spring. I think Thomas Jefferson (coincidentally my favorite historical president, only partially because of his love for frozen custard) would be proud.