Tuesday, January 8, 2008


While New York City hasn't had much snow this winter (it's nearly 60 degrees in New York today), when the big nor'easter does come there will be plenty of recipes to choose from. Snow, as an ingredient, makes its appearance in quite a few early American (and many British)cookbooks as evidenced in a search through Feeding America, the wonderful digital archive of American cookbooks from the University of Michigan.

But according to Alan Davidson in his Oxford Companion to Food, when cookbooks list snow as an ingredient they are not necessarily referring to the stuff found outside, but rather to a mixture of stiffened egg whites, cream, and either rosewater, sugar or a variation on the two. Sometimes this edible "snow" was used on twigs to replicate real snow on table centerpieces, and sometimes it was used in recipes.

Apple Snow, a recipe found in quite a number of cookery books of the time, Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book and Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook to name just two, calls for heated, peeled, and cored apples to be mixed with sugar and then added to stiffened egg whites.

Another recipe, Snow Cream, also calls for egg whites to replicate snow. It was apparently a very popular recipe throughout the 18th and 19th century, as I found recipes for it ranging from Richard Bradley's 1762 book The Country Housewife, to Fanny Gillette's 1887 book The White House Cookbook. Richard Bradley's recipe reads:

A pint of cream, sweetened to your taste, and the whites of four eggs, whip them up in a froth; take it off as it rises, and lay it in glasses, or a dish, with mashed raspberries or strawberries underneath.

Elizabeth Lea's 1869 book Domestic Cookery also features a recipe for Snow Cream but she forgoes the egg whites completely, and adds real snow to the mixture right before serving:

Take the richest cream you can procure, season it with a few drops of essence of lemon, or syrup of lemon peel, and powdered white sugar, and if you choose a spoonful of preserve syrup, and just as you send it to the table, stir in light newly fallen snow till it is nearly as stiff as ice cream.

And some recipes just use the snow, as is. Take, for example, the recipe for Snow Griddle Cakes in the Women Suffrage Cookbook:

Take six tablespoonfuls flour, add a little salt, and six tablespoonfuls of light freshly-fallen snow. Stir the flour and snow well together, adding a pint of sweet milk. Bake the batter in small cakes on a griddle, using only a very little nice butter. They may be eaten with butter and sugar, and are very delicate.

So next time you're out and about in the mess of the city, cursing the mile-high snow banks stained brown and yellow, think of all these delicious recipes you could be making instead.


Elizabeth said...

What a wonderful post, thank you! And please don't forget snow ice cream... In my house growing up it was a bowl-ful of fresh (clean, non-NYC) snow mixed with a tsp of vanilla extract and sugar to taste. Stir fast but not too vigorously...

Rebecca Federman said...

That actually sounds pretty good, provided the snow is clean!