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From the moment that my great-grandmother, Patra Lee Jones could stand on the bottom of an upturned bucket so that she could reach the surface of the kitchen table, she cooked. Patra Lee learned to cook the same way her mother, Julia Ann Shanklin Jones, learned….by doing, by tasting, by feeling, by hearing, and by remembering.

Those skills were passed down to my grandmother, Annie Rebecca, for whom I am named. She taught me and the other women in our family what her foremothers handed down to her: good cookery skills, masterful presentation, and the intangible gift of a palate that just knows what good food should taste like.

So, I invested not only in myself, but also in the legacy of my ancestors to produce artisanal and small batch confections that are inspired by the time when cakes, cookies, pies and yes, ice cream, was handmade, shared and sampled, kitchen to kitchen. 

The 1848 Ice Cream brand is truly inspired. It is as sumptuous and straightforward as it is both downhome and decadent.

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WHY 1848?

The year 1848 marks the year of independence for Edmond Albius, who as a 12-year-old slave on the island of Bourbon (modern-day Réunion) invented a method to hand pollinate vanilla orchids. Prior to Edmond’s discovery, the only people who were able to cultivate it successfully were the natives of South and Central America and the Caribbean, the Totonacs.

The uprooting of the vanilla orchid from its native land is akin to and consistent with the global slave trade. History tells us that Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez “discovered” vanilla in Mexico and brought it to Spain; however, his homeland lacked the stingless Melipone bee which was the plant’s chief pollinator. This insect was native to Mexico. Almost three hundred years after vanilla was first “discovered,” the French and Dutch colonists got ahold of the orchid; however, they too lacked the ability to grow and pollinate it with any degree of success.

In the 1820s, French colonialists brought the orchids to their colonies with the belief that they’d be able to grow and pollinate the plant in climate-friendly, tropical regions. But the vines remained sterile because again, there was no native insect that would pollinate them. Until 1841.

Edmond figured out how to hand pollinate the vanilla blooms using a stick and his thumb. His intellect and curiosity had achieved something that so many had failed to do before him. His method completely transformed the cultivation of vanilla. Edmond was trotted about by his masters to teach other slaves held on other plantations his techniques. Vanilla plantations and production began to sprout up all across the globe, from Madagascar to Uganda, from India to Indonesia.

Since hand pollination of the vanilla orchid was discovered by a black, slave child, the method and its creator were immediately contested. The stories abound. One of which is how botanist Jean-MichelClaude Richard claimed to have taught the technique to Edmond three to four years prior to his discovery. This tale went on through the beginning of the 20th century when some in the French press made the claim that such a discovery could not possibly be made by a Black man, that Edmond was in fact white.

When the French abolished slavery in 1848, Edmond was made a free man; but he never did receive any financial benefit from his discovery. Edmond enabled many French colonialists to make a fortune; however, he died penniless in 1880. today about 75 percent of the world’s vanilla comes from the islands of Madagascar and Réunion. It is because of Edmond that this brand exists. May we never forget.

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