A DC Snow Cream? I Dunno…

snow cream

snow cream

I read this article from today’s Washington Post and immediately thought two things:

  1. Yum,
  2. and Eww. Eat DC Snow? I don’t think so.

But it does sound yummy:

Riding the MARC train to Baltimore a day before last week’s blizzard, I overheard two older women reminiscing about snow cream. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but a murky memory surfaced of crumbly, sweetened snow accompanied by supreme excitement. It is a child’s winter novelty, the stuff of snow days, reloading after a snowball fight and impatiently watching flakes accumulate in a bowl my mother had set outside.

Making snow cream couldn’t be simpler: Mix together freshly fallen snow; milk, cream, or condensed milk; sugar; and vanilla. (Some recipes call for the addition of whole raw eggs, making the snow cream custardy.) This homemade cousin of slushies, shaved ice and sorbet might not dazzle the palate, but it is a low-budget, traditional treat of the Mid-Atlantic.

I never had it before, and I was born and raised in the Mid-Atlantic – right in the heart of snoball country for goodness sake! – and I don’t recall this tasty treat. But I accidently got a flake of today’s snow on my tongue when walking back from the Teet, and I almost burned my tongue with it’s acid taste. I spit it out as fast as I could, much to the chagrin of my fellow walkers. Rude! I know, I know… but you would have done the same thing.

I just hope I don’t grow eyeballs on my elbows now, or something. You never know, with the pollution around these parts.

Clearly, the reporter and I are on the same page:

But back to snow cream, and eavesdropping on the MARC. The two women I heard talking about it had raised a key question: Is the snow today worthy of snow cream? In other words, is it a good idea to make snow cream in an age of air pollution and excessive urban grit?

To answer the question, I conducted a thoroughly unscientific study and then consulted a few experts on snow quality and environmental health. First, I collected four samples of snow in plastic bags from sites near my home in Columbia Heights, melted them and checked for visible particles. Aside from a few tiny whitish blobs, the melted snow looked clean enough (though it did have a slight chemical taste).

David Arnold, acting director of the regional air protection division of the Environmental Protection Agency, says snow could pick up particles, byproducts of the combustion fossil fuels from power plants or vehicles, on its way to Earth.

“Sulfate or nitrate particles might give it a weird taste,” Arnold says. “But they’re usually in low concentrations. We worry about inhaling them but not ingesting them.” The EPA does caution that melted snow should not be substituted for drinking water and that snow should not be consumed in large quantities.

John Groopman, professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, frowns on eating snow because of what the snow might pick up on the ground. “You would not drink from a water puddle on the sidewalk, so why would you want to eat snow from the same source?” Groopman asks.

Yet big snowstorms do yield snowdrifts reaching far above the street. And some snow cream devotees contend that the snow gets cleaner the longer it snows. Experts say there could be some truth to that idea.

I wonder if it’s possible to import fresh snow from the Andes?

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