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My Little Prairie Home > Recipes > Desserts > Ice Cream
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Ice Cream

Have you ever wondered how the pioneers made ice cream? The first domestic ice cream makers weren't invented until 1843, when Nancy Johnson of Philadelphia was issued the first U.S. patent for a small-scale hand-cranked ice cream freezer. Such a handy, modern machine probably wasn't something common on the prairie, due to availability and cost, but that didn't keep the pioneers from the treat if they were lucky enough to have a cow, plenty of salt (it was a precious commodity where it couldn't be procured easily and was needed to preserve food for the winter!) and a stocked ice house.

Here is a simple, basic recipe:


  • 1 qt. ice cold full cream
  • 1 cup sugar (or 1/3 cup honey)
  • Ice
  • Rock salt (also called ice cream salt)
  • Two bowls of different sizes (Metal mixing bowls work best for this)
  • Sturdy wire whisk


Mix the ingredients together in the smaller bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Set inside another bowl filled with a mix of crushed ice and salt. (the salt lowers the freezing point of the ice and keeps it from melting too fast). Let sit for five minutes and mix the colder liquid on the outside of the bowl into the middle bit. Repeat until you start to feel bits of cream freezing on the inside of the bowl. The whole process will take over an hour and just the first stage might take up to 30 minutes before the cream is cold enough to start freezing around the edges. You might think that nothing is happening, but don't give up! As soon as you begin to feel the cream freezing, make sure to keep scraping up and mixing in the frozen bits every minute or two . . . you are the churner! A metal whisk works great for this!

I imagine, with their ingenuity and resourcefulness, the pioneers added berries or fruit or other flavorings. Ice cream and sorbet like treats had been around for a long time by the mid-1800's, so I can only imagine what flavors they came up with out on the prairie . . . sassafras? Maple sugar? Lemon flavoring? Blackberry??