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


Apple said...

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

Luci J Baker Johnson said...

Chery -

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

Judy said...

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.

Sylvie said...

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 :)

Alan said...

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

Anonymous said...

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

Kat said...

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!

BJ said...

Hi everyone !

My Dad was a Foremost milkman. He would approach our house in his truck and two trailers, honk the diesel horns and I would run out and off wee went to Oakland and San Francisco. Stopping in Gilroy, Dad would hand me a ten dollar bill to get us hamburgers, fries and a shake.

We had snowballs all year round. Dad would always bring us the latest Foremost treats, like a new ice cream or yogurt. I still have Dad's Foremost purple hat with a black brim.

My memories in that Foremost truck with my Dad are priceless. I felt like a little Prince. I ended up being one of the last Foremost home delivery milkmen. I would love to hear from anyone with Foremost stories. Please write me at princeofcarmel@yahoo.com


DonnaLee said...

I also have the Christmas Eve snowball, lights out memory, in the mis '60s. My Grandmother would buy and serve them. We lived in San Mateo. Is this a San Francisco/Bay Area thing? It was a memory that faded away until a few years ago when it came back to me. Looks like I'll have to find a recipe and resurrect the tradition. Seems simple but it's what Christmas is about. Traditions, families and the memories we make and share.

Chery Kinnick said...

Thanks for your comment, Donna. I did try making Snowballs last year, but what I ended up with were frozen hands, lopsided snowballs, and holly trim with red berries that looked a little drunken... They tasted the same, though!