Snowfalls are not unknown in the Sunny South, but their occurrences are somewhat rare. However, when they come, they can be disruptive and damaging, partly because their infrequency has minimized readiness for them.
People vary in their responses to snow, with some liking it and some despising it. I still have enough young’un in me to like an occasional snow for its beauty and the playground it creates for the young and old, in spite of the inconveniences and hardships snow storms might bring to people, businesses, emergency services and school schedules.
Though snowstorms in eastern North Carolina are few, we have had our share. In a diary I have kept since 1947, I recorded most of the snowfalls. You will remember some of them from the following list, which includes only those snowfalls that were four or more inches deep.
The list includes 6 inches on Jan. 17, 1965; 9.5 inches on Jan. 26, 1966; 8 inches on Feb. 9, 1967; 10 inches on Feb. 7, 1973; 7 inches on Feb. 18, 1979; 4 inches on Jan. 31, 1980; 5 inches on Feb. 6, 1980; 18-20 inches on March 2, 1980, in Kinston; 4 inches on Jan. 30, 1981; 8 inches on Jan. 25, 2000; 4 inches on Jan. 3, 2002; 5 inches on Jan. 4, 2002; 5 inches on Feb. 26, 2004; 5 inches on Jan. 20, 2009; 4 inches on Feb. 4, 2009; 4 inches on Jan. 30, 2010; 4 inches on Feb. 13, 2010; 12 inches on Feb. 26, 2010; 4 inches Jan. 28-29, 2014; and 4 inches on Feb. 11, 2014.
Weather forecasts predicting snow and sleet send hordes of people to food stores for bread and milk and to convenience stores to fill up with gasoline.
In Smithfield this winter, we have had several dustings that were immeasurable or did not stick to the ground. However, in late January and early February, I measured on my deck’s picnic table two separate snowfalls of four inches.
It recently came as something of a surprise to me that some people, mostly transplants from northern states, not only have never made and eaten snow cream but also have never heard of it. Some of them even consider eating snow cream to be unthinkable and unhealthy. However, most native Southerners are not only familiar with it but take advantage of snowfall’s rare occurrences to make and enjoy snow cream. Its popularity must have grown and flourished in days before homes had refrigeration or kept ice cream on hand.
A little research concerning snow cream shows that the cream-based variety was made and eaten in continental Europe at least as early as the late 15th or early 16th century. And it has been suggested that the making of what was known only as “snow” might be even older than that.
In my childhood home, the making of snow cream was sure to take place when enough snow fell, if it was clean and free of sleet.
It might be an old wives’ tale, but many people say snow cream should not be made from the first snow but only from subsequent snows. It must be that those suggesting the precaution believe the first snow “flushes” the atmosphere, making the second and subsequent snowfalls clean and edible. More recent critics of snow cream might argue that the atmosphere was dangerous because of the fallout from atomic-bomb testing or other pollutant. However, with each breath, each one of us breathes in that same tainted air, somehow managing to survive without needing to wear a mask all of the time.
The recipes for snow cream are as varied as the people who make and eat it. In my growing-up years, we had a basic recipe that included plain milk, known to many Southerners as “sweet milk,” sugar, vanilla flavoring, snow and a pinch of nutmeg.
Though recipes for snow cream vary, they usually include milk, snow, sugar, vanilla flavoring and sometimes Nestle’s chocolate, chocolate syrup or fruit flavors. Some recipes include Egg Beaters for safety or raw eggs, for which warnings are raised because of the danger of Salmonella bacteria.
The amount of snow needed depends upon the number of persons to be served and the texture of the snow, whether it is moist or dry. It is important that the snow be clean and newly fallen. My practice has been to collect the snow from a clean table instead of from the ground, by scooping it from a level at least an inch from a table’s surface.
From my perspective, when snow cream is properly prepared, it is a delight. And as for any concern of danger from eating it, I can only say that I have eaten it several times a year for more than eight decades and have never experienced any ill effects, except when I ate too much too rapidly. Enjoy snow cream whenever you can.
Ray Hodge is a retired pastor who makes his home in Smithfield.