The South gets a lot of guff because a half inch of snow can close down an entire major metropolitan area for days and days — think Atlanta 2014 — but unlike our friends in the North who think nothing of zooming around in 74” of freshly fallen snow, we have things to do at home.
Like use up some of that milk we just bought. A time-honored way of doing that is to make snow cream. Humans have been making frozen desserts out of snow since the ancient Romans climbed up into the snow-capped Alps and schlepped down snow to make frozen desserts to serve at their drunken orgies. It was a decadent delight for people who loved their decadent delights.
And though public orgies never found favor in the South, ice cream made from snow has never lost its allure as a decadent delight. But it does seem to be a regional thing. Jody Crawford of Mount Airy says it’s “definitely southern.” She proposes in a YouTube video in which she demonstrates how to make snow cream that Southerners consider it a delicacy since it snows so seldom.
Barbara Elmore grew up in western Massachusetts where snow cream was unheard of but after a few decades living in State Road, she thinks a little salt is useful to cut the sweetness. Marilyn Geiger of Pilot Mountain is from Watertown in upstate New York where there is plenty of snow but no snow cream. After moving to Surry County, she was introduced to snow cream by her friend Salley Wells, who gave her a “general” recipe. “I gave it a try and made banana snow cream. It was tasty, though like an ice milk. We enjoyed it.”
Jennifer Counasse of Elkin grew up in northwest Pennsylvania and remembers having snow cream when she was a kid. “My first memory of having it is in Sunday School and my neighbors made it sometimes.” Katie Billings of Ronda says, “My college roommate from Illinois was familiar with it, but her parents were from Texas, so don’t know if that influenced her knowledge.” Could be. Charlie Cummings of Copeland says, “We had it in Texas as I was growing up.”
It’s not surprising that Maryland takes a middle road since it is considered a Southern state by the North and a Northern state by the South. Kathy Snow of Elkin grew up there and says, “We had it when I was a kid in Maryland, just called it snow ice cream.”
Mercedes Krider divides her time between Statesville and Tarrytown, New York, and may have a handle on why there are pockets of snow cream found in the North. “I’ve lived in several snowy states and outside of the South and parts of Pennsylvania, it only seems to be known by southern expats.” Mercedes, along with most snow cream aficionados will tell you that the key to good snow cream is light, fluffy snow. Perhaps the quality of Southern snow is more conducive to good snow cream.
She says, “The icy snow from Minnesota and parts of New England will give you a chunkier consistency. Adding raw egg will make it more velvety, but eew.” She adds that spending a good deal of time in Flagstaff, Arizona, taught her, “Arizona’s powder makes terrible snow cream.”
Ground zero for snow cream denial seems to be Ohio. It’s hard to find anyone from the Buckeye State who knows about snow cream, no matter how long they have lived in the South. Kelly Jones Urban, who has been in North Carolina for ten years, first in Yadkinville and now in Holly Springs, didn’t believe snow cream was a real thing until questioned for this article. After being reassured that it does, in fact exist, her response was “Not healthy, people! Buy ice cream — back away from the snow cream.”
Kelly’s condition for consuming snow cream: “Unless you are truly in a god forsaken place without cars, tractors, or animals making yellow snow or near manufacturing releasing allowed carcinogens into the air — basically if you are on a 450+ acre compound with pristine snow.”
Though Kelly Urban’s conditions for snow to be edible are much more severe than most snow cream aficionados, she touches on one point on which all snow cream lovers will agree. “NEVER EAT YELLOW SNOW.” Lois Myers feels this information is worthy of an all caps warning.
Joy Billings of Ronda adds another warning, “You will die a horrible germ death if you eat the first snow. The first snow always takes the bad out of the air and you can’t make snow cream with the first snowfall.”
Most folks aren’t quite so certain about the exact consequences of eating the first snow or exactly why one shouldn’t eat it but the prohibition against eating first snow is almost universal. Lori Young of Elkin says, “Don’t eat it. Don’t know why.”
Heather Colvard is adamant that she is not a scientist but she is a high school science teacher and she has an idea where the prohibition against eating first snow comes from. She says, “Snow does somewhat ‘clean’ the lower atmosphere; however, once on the ground or close to it, the snow (which is intricately frozen water crystals and water being the universal solvent) can pick up and dissolve with other solutes. Every snow of the year is going to take out some nasty chemicals in our atmosphere. My opinion is wait a few hours after a heavy snow begins to fall to catch your main ingredient. Also, the more populated an area, the more pollutants that may exist.”
That last sentence could explain why the more industrialized North does not find snow cream quite the tasty treat as the rural parts of the South.
As committed to avoiding first snow as most snow creamers are, they can be very creative in their definition of first snow. Joie Rush says it snowed at her home in Winston-Salem for about an hour and a half on Friday. Then it stopped and restarted at 10 p.m. that night. “I got my snow at about 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. So I told myself that was the second snow so I was good.” This line of reasoning is generally considered acceptable. Katie Billings even accepted a heavy rain just previous to the weekend snow as a first snow and stands by her decision. “We’re still alive, so…”
Carmen Long’s mother-in-law in rural Kentucky said they made snow cream every time it snowed. “No wasting that first snow for them.” They had five kids and the Kentucky snow killed no one. Carmen’s mother-in-law said it was especially good because they really didn’t have access to ice cream like we have today.
For such a simple treat, there is some controversy about the recipe for snow cream. Tammy Beals Morris says her Granny used snow, milk, sugar, and vanilla flavoring. Cathy Folger and Joy Billings agree. Beverly Crews does the same, but with brown sugar.
Amy Walker insists that proper snow cream contains only three ingredients: “snow, vanilla and sweetened condensed milk. That’s it. Vanilla is the only acceptable flavor. No table sugar. (Makes it grainy.) No pudding, perish the thought. For God’s sake, deviation from those three ingredients is snow cream blasphemy.”
Bridget Henderson agrees in principle if not in fervor that “One easy way is to use a can of condensed milk.” Southern food guru and famous diabetic Paula Deen also favors this method.
Glenda Brown of State Road says, “My mom always made it with eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. I have found that adding a can of Meadow Gold Sweetened Condensed Milk to a large bowl of snow gives you the flavor closest to homemade snow cream, but only Meadow Gold works — the other brands leave a funky aftertaste. It sure beats raw eggs or having to temper your eggs. Mama always just used raw eggs and we never had any problems, just like her grandmother used to make.”
On the other side of the egg debate, Allen Hincher feels the addition of egg deviates his “mo simple, mo better” principle of cooking. “If you’re going to the trouble of making a custard I think it takes away from the spontaneity of the process. I can literally whip up a batch of simple snow cream in less than 5 minutes. If I want Breyer’s French Vanilla, it’s in the fridge.”
Joy Hemming’s mother in Siloam recalls a long-ago technique to utilize snow to make homemade ice cream. “She said that her mother put milk, sugar and vanilla in a King Syrup gallon bucket with a handle. Then in a bucket or kettle, they would put the syrup bucket in and surround it with snow, then twist the bucket until you make ice cream. It took lots of snow and taking turns twisting the bucket. It was wonderful!”
Carmen Long’s mom said they also used snow to pack around the ice cream freezer to make ice cream in Indiana. Carmen adds, “All this talk about ice cream would make me want some if I wasn’t cold.” It really doesn’t make sense to get so excited about ice cream in the middle of the winter. “It must have been the fun and fellowship that went with it.”
And perhaps that is the answer to the enduring popularity of this rarely available treat of questionably safety but undeniable deliciousness. Though the worldwide food network makes the concept of out-of-season an oxymoron, you can still only eat snow cream when it snows. Just like our ancestors. Much has changed but that is one thing that remains the same.
Following is a number of recipes for the various types of snow cream. If in doubt, it is always advisable to do as Tammy Morris suggests and make it like your Granny did.
8-10 cups of snow
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp. vanilla flavoring
Mix together. (I like to add a splash of milk). You can also add other things you might like, such as chocolate syrup or use almond flavoring instead of vanilla.
I have been eating almost non-stop since Saturday. Goes great with champagne.
Whisk 1/4 cup sugar into 1/2 cup milk until sugar dissolves. Add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon vanilla (to taste). Add snow to desired consistency.
Never ever use the first snow according to my Granny Southard. That first snow cleans the air; any snow after that is good.
1 large bowl of snow
1 glass of milk sweetened
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
a tablespoon vanilla flavoring
Stir the milk and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add more snow if needed to make a thick slush consistency
A whole lot has to do with the consistency of the snow — really fluffy versus kind of packed. Everything is approximate:
7 cups snow
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla flavoring
1/2 – 3\4 cups sugar ( I don’t like it too sweet)
Evaporated milk — I pour some in and kind of fold it into the snow then pour more until it looks like all the snow is “wet” with it. Taste and adjust ingredients.
Gallon of snow
1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
couple of tablespoons vanilla.
Allen lives in Jacksonville, OR, but grew up in Wilkes County, NC.
My Mom always used just whole milk, sugar, vanilla flavoring and a pinch of salt. I’ve modified it a bit over the years.
For me personally (1 serving), I used:
1 cup half and half
1 tsp. real vanilla extract (McNess if you have it)
Pinch of salt
Sugar or Splenda to personal taste
Mix everything up in a big bowl, take the bowl and a spoon outside, and start adding fresh snow, stirring as you add until it”s thick enough to suit you.
- Prechill the base a bit after making if you have a large enough freezer.
- Sweeten the base more than to initial taste. As you add snow and it melts, it will be watered down.
- I don’t think the finished snow cream freezes well. Enjoy immediately as it crystallizes hard in the freezer.
- On the other hand, if you have a huge freezer, you can freeze fresh snow to enjoy making snow cream later. Just put it in the freezer straight from outside.
- Add 1/2 tsp Almond Extract thus making Vanilla Almond Snow Cream. You could experiment with other flavorings
- You could use heavy cream if you wish to really pig out. Half and half is rich enough for me.
Oh, joy! Snow cream is one of my favorite recipes. I’ve been experimenting for years.
Personally, I open a 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk and pour it into a large stainless mixing bowl. Stir in up to a tablespoon of real vanilla extract, depending on your taste, and place the bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours.( Cold is your friend.) While the mixture chills, gather up to a gallon of “clean catch” snow in metal mixing bowls. (Keep bowls away from roof eaves, and away from tree branches and power lines where birds like to hang out. Also best to let the snow fall for about an hour, and don’t try to catch snow during windy conditions. You’re trying to avoid as many pollutants as possible.) When you have enough snow, pull the snow cream mixture from the fridge and quickly stir snow by the cupful into the mixture until it reaches a consistency that tickles your fancy.
To change it up a bit, add the juice of a lemon or a lime and or some minced strawberries.
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