Ice cream reached the White House through Europeans, when members of royal families introduced high society Americans to the creamy treat in the 1700s. Ice cream appeared in the White House alongside the first president, George Washington. However, it gained popularity with fourth president James Madison and his wife Dolly, who had an affinity for ice cream.
Although now a popular treat among Americans of all socioeconomic classes, ice cream was once expensive and relatively rare, making it a dessert for wealthy citizens. In Europe, ice cream in its modern form did not even reach the masses until the 1600s, when it emerged in Italy. By the 1700s, however, ice cream and other frozen novelties, such as gelato and sorbet, enjoyed popularity among European aristocrats. The frozen treat found its way to the United States in the early 1700s, and the first ice cream shop opened in 1790. The White House and many estates even had in-house ice cream machines.
In the colonial days, ice cream came in different flavors. Some, like asparagus, Parmesan and oyster ice cream, were popular with White House families, including the Madisons, but never gained widespread acceptance. Others, like vanilla ice cream, remain quite popular, as do toppings such as berries and cream.