Tuesday, December 04, 2012

A Flaming Christmas Tradition

(A repost from four years ago.)

This blog is primarily about Norwegian-American family history, so naturally, you might assume that I would write about a Christmas tradition that crossed the Atlantic Ocean with my ancestors a century and a half ago.  Or, perhaps a story from 80 years ago, when my farming family members were content with modest pleasures for the holidays: a box of apples, a bag of nuts, and a package of ribbon candy brought home by a horse-drawn sleigh through the snow. Then, there is always the puzzling tradition that Norwegian-Americans are still known for: the inevitable holiday consumption of lutefisk.

But, this time, I would instead like to tell you about a more recent holiday tradition: the "Flaming Ice Cream Snowballs" that were always served on the Christmas Eves of my childhood.

Flaming ice cream? Was this something like Baked Alaska--doused with alcohol and artistic flare, and brought to the table consumed in a glorious blue flame? Or, perhaps Snowballs were more related to international-flavored crunchy fried ice cream enjoyed in Mexican Restaurants? But no, the humble Flaming Ice Cream Snowball had a more commercial, blue collar beginning.


Soon after Foremost Dairy Foods created Flaming Ice Cream Snowballs, my mother discovered them in the frozen food compartment at the local Safeway store in Richmond, California. Each year during most of the Fifties and Sixties, they seemed to appear in the store right after Thanksgiving and disappear after the supply had run dry on about New Year's. Mom never failed to remind Dad, who did the majority of the family grocery shopping back then, to "be sure and bring home the snowballs!"

It was no matter that Snowballs were a simple, relatively tasteless, fast food treat. The fact that they were a once-a-year opportunity made them very special to my sister and me, but I think Mom enjoyed the fun of them even more.

Each one was a ball of vanilla ice cream covered with icing, and then dipped into fine coconut. The top was iced with green and red frosting in the shape of a sprig of holly. The snowballs came a half dozen to a box, with a paper doily and red candle for each. When Mom served the snowballs for Christmas Eve dessert, she placed each one on a doily, and pushed a slender candle into the holly-shaped icing. As soon as she lit the candles, she would turn the dining room lights out so that we could all admire the Snowballs in their brief moment of glory. A minute or two later, on came the lights again; everyone blew out their candles and slowly began scrapping off small spoonfuls of the coconut icing before finishing the ice cream.

I do not recall when Snowballs disappeared from the grocery store frozen food cases, but Mom still misses them to this day. I sometimes find myself waxing nostalgic over the memory of them, too, but, it certainly isn't because of their taste. Over the course of a few years, their limited epicurean value suffered even more when the holly-shaped icing atop each Snowball was replaced by a plastic insert. Instead, the nostalgia felt is more due to the realization that even the smallest, most unassuming traditions can bond people, especially during the holidays. Old or new, tradition mean family and security--something we all continue to long for from year to year.

Written for the 61st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy


Image: Flaming Ice Cream Snowballs

7 comments:

  1. Neat! Too bad they stopped making them but they provided you with a wonderful family memory.

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  2. Chery -

    What a fabulous piece of your family history. Your description was exquisite and mouth watering. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I read your lovely Snowball blog, and found myself wondering how so many families had the exact same tradition. We grew up in San Francisco in the 50's and 60's, and our mother served the snowballs exactly the same way, complete with lights off. And then there were the different ways that members of the family ate them. I ate all the white and saved the yummy frosting until the end. And yes, it was such a disappointment when they switched to plastic holly and leaves. I personally think that was the beginning of the end for the snowballs. This Christmas I'm going to try making them for the family's Christmas Eve dinner - 28 of them! The trick will be to find a frosting that will be as good as the original. And one substitute I will make is to use premium vanilla ice cream, so they won't be quite as white as the bland originals. I'm sure people won't mind that difference in detail.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this! I was just reminiscing about the Foremost man delivering these to our house each year, in the Richmond district of San Francisco in the early 60s. You never forget a treat like this. So special :)

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  5. So my memories are like yours but we had them a bit more often than Christmas Eve. My dad worked for Foremost in Oakland (mechanic) and often brought home ice cream that was past the due date or extras they just gave out.

    Feeling somewhat nostalgic does anyone have a recipe for those snowballs? I know it's round ice cream but the frosting and wasn't it cocoanut it was rolled in?

    BTW there is a new Fenton's opened up where the Nut Tree was up I40? Probably not as good as Oakland's.

    Alan Wilkerson Portland

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  6. oh yes - we were in Oakland in the 60s and had the same tradition --- I can still remember the smell of the candles and the taste of the coconut

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  7. I have a childhood memory of having these at Grandma's house during the Christmas season. I just knew there were people out there like me who remember these things!

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