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, traditions 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