January 2009 Issue
When life hands you lemons — make lemonade. And when January delivers snowstorms and blizzards —make snow ice cream.
While many people face winter with a dread usually reserved for a root canal, I actually look forward to it. Watching those delicate white flakes of snow float to the ground conjures up happy memories of growing up in Medina County. In our neighborhood, the first snowfall meant sledding down the thrillingly steep hill on the local golf course, ice-skating on the neighbor’s frozen pond, building snow forts and making snow angels in the back yard.
Best of all, it meant eating snow ice cream.
It wasn’t that I was deprived of the store-bought kind. In fact, my mother usually had at least one half-gallon on hand. But snow ice cream — always vanilla, in my experience — was special because there was an element of magic in its making. My brother and I would bundle up and head outside, charged with the all-important task of filling a large mixing bowl with freshly fallen snow scooped off the top of our picnic table. Mom stirred in a few ingredients and —voila! In the time it took us to shed our coats, hats, mittens and boots, the snow turned into a sweet, frosty treat. Even if she tested our patience by putting it in the freezer so it could “set up,” the process was seemingly light-years faster than waiting for our father to turn out ice cream with his ice-cream maker.
When I finally decided to re-create that magic in my own home, however, I discovered that my mother had never bothered to write down the recipe. In her mind, the concoction was merely something she whipped up to entertain the kids, a trick she picked up from her own mother while growing up in rural northwest Ohio. Worse still, she’d forgotten the exact ratio of ingredients she used. “I just added a little milk, sugar and vanilla,” she insisted, exasperated that her domestically challenged daughter couldn’t figure out how to make something so basic. My childhood friends were even less helpful — they couldn’t remember eating snow ice cream, let alone how to make it.
An Internet search yielded instructions as well as a bit of history. Roman emperor Nero enjoyed snow and ice fetched from the mountains and flavored with nectar, fruit pulp and honey, according to the International Dairy Foods Association Web site. While references to iced dairy products have been found in 12th-century Chinese literature, actual cream ices may have made their debut in a Paris cafe during the 1660s, nearly 200 years before the first hand-cranked ice-cream freezer was patented.
But none of the recipes I pulled up on my computer screen sounded exactly like what my mother described.
Elizabeth Hermes, co-owner of A Water’s Edge Retreat bed-and-breakfast on Kelleys Island, finally saved the day by producing a recipe her Aunt Bernadine used to make snow ice cream while she was living with the family in Cincinnati. Elizabeth remembers whipping up a batch as a rare event in southwest Ohio, where snows are less frequent. “When it finally did snow, we had to go out and scrape it up because we only got about half an inch at a time,” she recalls. She in turn made it for her own three sons while they were growing up near Mansfield, where the key ingredient was far more abundant.
The recipe is admittedly different from my mother’s. In fact, some might say it’s better. (I figured anything Elizabeth came up with had to be good — she’s a fabulous French-trained cook.) Sweetened condensed milk and cream are used instead of milk and sugar, producing a richer, thicker, creamier result. And the almond extract enhances the flavor provided by its plain Jane vanilla counterpart.
“Aunt Bernadine would put a little extra something in it sometimes,” Elizabeth says, then laughs. “I think she put Grand Marnier in it.”
Aunt Bernadine was also more persnickety than most about the ice cream’s texture. Elizabeth remembers that she would pull it out of the freezer and stir it over and over again to prevent it from getting too hard. When the mixture reached the desired consistency — Elizabeth compares it to that of a McDonald’s McFlurry — she ran it through a colander to remove any undesirably large ice particles. And she insisted on a garnish, even when her nieces and nephews ate the stuff out of paper cups.
“The last step was sprinkling a little nutmeg or ginger on top and serving it with a cinnamon stick,” Elizabeth says.
Snow Ice Cream
Courtesy of Elizabeth Hermes
6–8 cups snow or shaved ice
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, chilled
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Place snow or shaved ice in a large bowl. Pour sweetened condensed milk and cream over the snow or shaved ice and add almond and vanilla extracts. Combine and serve immediately or place in freezer to serve later, stirring occasionally to prevent from freezing solid.
Despite the amount of snow used, the recipe yields only four to five portions. “Snow is full of air,” Elizabeth Hermes explains. “You really don’t end up with a whole lot of anything except chill factor. I would many times have to double or triple the recipe depending how many people I was serving.” If no snow is available, she suggests throwing bagged chipped ice in a blender instead of going through the time-consuming process of shaving ice. (Purists can try repeatedly running a cheese grater over an ice block.)