Recipe for Spring: Start with 1.4 %Egg Yolk. Add Brain Freeze.

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.

Just a hint of a smile in this portrait…I bet he’s thinking about ice cream. Thomas Jefferson, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

When we visited Mount Rushmore a few year ago, we had no idea we could have eaten Thomas Jefferson’s way back ice cream. Guess we’ll have to visit again. Mount Rushmore, National Park Service, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Ted Drewes
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. “It really is good, guys..and gals.” By The original uploader was Indrian at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
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.

Our favorite local treat is Fritz’s Frozen Custard, a St. Louis tradition since 1983.

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.


14 thoughts on “Recipe for Spring: Start with 1.4 %Egg Yolk. Add Brain Freeze.

  1. Donna Volkenannt

    Thanks for this interesting post, which brought back some pleasant memories.
    I do enjoy a frozen custard on occasion– Silky’s or Fritz’s — in our neighborhood.

    Confession time: I was born in St. Louis 68 years ago and have never been to Ted Drewes. Most likely because it was on the South Side, but in my North Side neighborhood, Velvet Freeze ruled. The Grand Boulevard bus stopped in front of The Freeze at the foot of the White Water Tower — every day after school. Also a visit to Velvet freeze was a must after Sunday Mass, time for a cherry coke or a small chocolate chip in a cup. It was after Mass on Sunday, November 24, 1963, that my siblings and I stopped in Velvet Freeze. The workers had their plastic radio up full blast, and everyone cheered at the news that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot. Sorry for this long post, but it unwrapped a memory I hadn’t thought about in years.

    1. No need to aplogize. I love that this brought back such strong memories for you! Having grown up in Central Illinois, I didn’t eat much frozen custard as a kid, but we listened to the Cardinal games on the radio all the time and heard the Ted Drewes commercials (a little less PC then…”It really is good guys.”) Occasionally we would go for a treat after or before the game if we were coming to the stadium.

  2. Thanks, Sarah. Now it looks like this will be an eating-calorific-ice-cream day.

    If you find Jefferson interesting, I read a novel a few months ago you might like. It’s called America’s First Daughter, and I thought it was excellent!

  3. I’m confused, but I think what you call frozen custard is what I call ice cream. When I make it it has cream and egg yolks and it goes in and out of the freezer and I do my best to stir it when it’s not in the freezer. Frozen custard sounds a bit disturbing, as custard should be eaten hot, on top of a fruit pie, or crumble, or treacle sponge etc.

    1. Yes. The US Food and Drug administration, which is partially in the business of defining food terms for marketing purposes so that the American consumer knows what he is getting, specifies that if the frozen dairy product contains more than 1.4% egg product then it can’t be marketed as ice cream, but has to be called either French ice cream or custard. It is ice cream, really. And if I made it at home, that’s almost certainly what I would call it. But if you are in the US and you want to buy some ice cream, frozen custard will be creamier and richer. Ice cream will have more air in it and the ice crystals will be larger. Both are good. And both are ice cream. They just can’t be marketed that way. Hot custard is not particularly common, and I’m still trying to figure out what treacle is. All I know about it is that Rowling’s Hagrid doesn’t make a very good one. 😉

      1. Treacle is a runny form of sugar in varying degrees of thickness and colour. I use golden syrup. In my recipe for treacle sponge you make the sponge mixture and pour the syrup over it. Most of it sinks to the bottom. Pop it in the oven and cook it. The sponge rises and the syrup becomes a. Turn it out so that the syrup is on top and pour hot custard over it. Yum.

  4. I’m glad you know Milwaukee (Leon’s has the best ice cream) to be one of the go to place for frozen custards hehe.. I used to live there and I have visited Leons numerous times. I’m glad you already enjoyed yourself some at the start of spring 🙂

    1. You know, I used to live up near Milwaukee myself. It’s a nice little city. I was actually just surprised to learn that it has so much custard, as I always associated it with St. Louis. I guess Culver’s should have been a clue. I never ate custard from Leons, but I think I will have to try it the next time I’m in the area.

      1. I might not remember correctly, I think a president visit Leons for ice cream once but I can’t recall which one. Yes, Culvers is popular in Milwaukee too 🙂

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