History of Food

History of Food

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ice Cream, President Washington & June 13, 1789

On June 13, 1789  Elizabeth "Betsy" Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, first served ice cream to George Washington at the White House. The story is that this was the highlight of the dinner party was ice cream.  After this introduction to ice cream, it was often served at the White House presidential Thursday dinners.

This historical interpretation is somewhat disputed.  The other side of the story was General Washington had been "mighty displeased" with the very first dish of ice cream served by Mrs. Alexander Hamilton. To say that Washington had "screamed over the ice cream" was somewhat of an impish exaggeration of the toothless General's pained reaction which was hardly more than a stifled yell, a quick intake of breath caused by the cold dessert on his unprotected gums.

You see, by the time he became president, George Washington had lost almost all of his teeth. Because of constant pain constant from ill-fitting dentures, he had to eat soft foods (like fish and hoe cakes) throughout most of his adult life. Contrary to popular belief, George did not wear a set of wooden dentures. Instead, a talented Virginia dentist named John Greenwood hand-crafted his dentures with elephant ivory, hippopotamus tusks, and parts of human and donkey teeth.
This is speculation, but perhaps – as many people at the time, General Washington used Laudanum (also known as Tincture of Opium) to numb his gums so he could enjoy ice cream.  Although his gums would be sensitive, it seemed he really enjoyed the frozen dessert treat.  Interesting enough there is an entry in General Washington's ledgers that revealed he bought a "cream machine for ice" at Mount Vernon.  

And all this time you thought Dolly Madison was responsible for introducing General Washington to ice cream.

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