The only thing better than waking up and discovering that school has been canceled is having school canceled preemptively the night before. Part of the joy of a snow day is the unexpected freedom to do whatever you want, untethered by the constructs of school or work; but when you get a chance to plan the night before, a snow day can be truly epic. For the Man Cub, yesterday was pretty epic.
After breakfast we took a family hike up to the forest at the end of our street. The snow hadn’t started falling yet, but there was enough residual powder from the day before to make the going difficult for 2 year old legs. My hike up the hill quickly turned from a leisurely stroll into a workout upon gaining a 32 pound barnacle. The barnacle detached once we reached the abandoned apple orchard at the top of the hill and began chasing after the dog. I took the moment to trim a few branches off of a Scotch Pine for tea. The adjacent property had once served as a 9 hole golf course, so Pinus sylvestris is prolific. I had hoped to also harvest some spruce needles, but the Man Cub took a spill in the deeper snow and had reached his limit for this outing. A quick hop in the sled and we were back home.
The snow started coming down by the bucketful by the time we stepped back inside. As soon as I closed the door, the Man Cub shouted, “Time to make the snow cream!” I had made the promise the night before and he was not about to let me ruin his snow day by forgetting. So off to the kitchen we went. I had never heard of snow cream until this winter when I stumbled across a recipe while researching homemade ice cream. It basically is exactly what it sounds like: snow mixed with some sort of milk or cream to create an ice cream like substance.
Most recipes that I’ve seen call for vanilla but we weren’t in a vanilla kind of mood. Two flavors were on the menu on this snow day. The first was highbush cranberry sweetened with maple syrup. The second flavor was pine needle sweetened with honey. Each flavor came in the form of a simple syrup, which was then mixed with the snow and milk. Half a cup of highbush cranberries were simmered in just enough water to cover until they burst and released their juices. Seeds and skins were strained out and a half cup of maple syrup was dissolved into the juice then left to cool. I made a cup of pine needle tea by simmering one cup of needles in a cup of water for 10 minutes and then steeping covered in pot for another 10 minutes. After straining the needles out, a half cup of honey stirred in to make a light syrup. Like the highbush cranberry syrup, this was left to cool.
While we were making our syrups, the snow was busy accumulating more than an inch per hour. By the time our syrups were cooled down to room temperature, there was about eight inches of snow on the porch. Using the largest wooded bowl we own, pushed open the front door and scooped up 8 cups of snow. To the snow we added our highbush cranberry syrup and two cups of whole milk. We stirred with a wooden spoon until the snow had all been incorporated into the liquid ingredients. Surprisingly, the milk and syrup did not melt the snow. Instead, the snow seemed to absorb the extra moisture and took on a somewhat creamy consistency. When trying this at home, you may need to play around with the amount of milk and or syrup you add depending on the makeup of your snow. I would imagine that wetter snows (good snowman snow) would require much less milk than a drier powdery snow, which is what we had. We wasted no time in eating this batch of snow cream. The milk gave it a very nice texture, similar to a sorbet. The musky tartness of the highbush cranberry came through but was slightly overshadowed by the maple syrup. If I do this flavor again, I would try doubling the amount of berries used in making the syrup to try to draw out more of the tartness. Still, it was a very satisfying batch of snow cream. There were certainly no complaints from the Man Cub until we had run out.
The second batch had to wait until after dinner. Again, we started with 8 cups of powdery snow and then stirred in a cup of the pine needle tea and honey syrup. Instead of whole milk, this time we used two cups of homemade sweetened condensed milk. For some reason, the condensed milk was not absorbed quite as well by the snow, so we added an additional two cups of snow to achieve the desired texture. The result was something much closer to actual ice cream than our first batch. The condensed milk gave it an incredible richness which was balanced out by the light flavors of the pine needle tea. I asked the Man Cub what it tasted like and he said, “It taste like, um… SNOW CREAM!” As good as this second batch was, I paid for it the rest of the night chasing after a hyperactive two year old who ended up staying up two and a half hours past his bedtime. Next time I might skip the additional sugar of the condensed milk if we are eating our snow cream before bedtime.