How Chef Augustus Jackson Changed Ice Cream Forever

It's tough to be a true innovator no matter your time in history, but Chef Augustus Jackson managed to pull it off in the 1800s. Jackson, a Black man, worked in the White House as a chef under three American presidents from 1817-1837, just as ice cream was having its moment in America.

Jackson developed a technique while working in the White House where he added rock salt to the ice while churning ice cream. The salt helped the ice melt slower and the ice cream freeze faster. It was ingenious. The ice cream also came out with an overall lower temperature, which meant it would stay frozen longer than ice cream that was churned without rock salt.

When Jackson left the White House, he returned to his hometown of Philadelphia. He opened a confectioner's shop and set to leveling the ice cream playing field. Although ice cream had earned its place in the hearts of America's elite, it was still inaccessible to the masses. Packaging it to stay cold wasn't easy, and transporting it was a problem as well. Electric refrigeration was still under development, and at best, families had ice boxes to keep things cold.

Jackson packaged his improved ice cream in metal tins and built a thriving business selling $1 quarts to customers, including Black customers otherwise cut off by white-owned establishments. Navigating his business in Jim Crow times, Jackson never patented his ice cream technique but cemented himself regardless as a culinary pioneer and savvy businessman.

In ice cream lore, who dropped the egg?

During Jackson's White House years, the ice cream served was more like a creamy frozen pudding. It was a French-style recipe that included egg, cream, sugar, and ice. Jackson had started to fiddle with that recipe and, as some stories go, landed on a whole new ice cream.

Jackson's recipe omitted eggs and added salt, which boosted the flavors and lowered the temperature of the ice cream. However, precise tracking of ice cream history gets murky on this point. Food writer Felicity Cloake wrote for The New Statesman that it was actually Eleanor Parkinson who seems to have launched the eggless style ice cream in her Ice Cream Saloon, also in Philadelphia, when Jackson would have been around 10 years old.

Whether or not Jackson was the first to de-egg the French-style ice cream recipe and turn it into the "Philadelphia-style" that most Americans recognize as the standard for ice cream today, his salt-and-ice churning technique fittingly earned him the moniker "Father of Ice Cream." What remains tragic though, is without a patent, Jackson lost out on any compensation for his ingenuity. When the first ice cream freezer was patented, it used Jackson's salt-and-ice techniques with no mention of Jackson — an injustice that did not succeed in wiping his name from culinary history.