Sunday, December 21, 2008

Drinking again.

When I was a child (and not just childish like I am now) we spent every Christmas Eve at my grandpa Don and Grandma Mable's house. It was a massive undertaking. EVERYONE was there. The main family of my mother's siblings and all their families would all be at Christmas dinner the next day, but Christmas Eve brought out all the aunts, great aunts, uncles, great uncles, great grandparents, cousins, cousins twice removed and everyone else we only saw at potlucks at the lake during the summer. If you're old enough to remember the reference, we looked like the King Family Singers.
It has colored my impression of what a holiday should look like for the rest of my life.

As the family would gather at my grandparents, everyone got a "Snowball". If you were a kid, you could have a snowball without the vodka. My grandpa Don would stand off in the corner of the kitchen with all his supplies ready. Ice. Ice crasher (not a crusher - this was a long handle with a ball bearing at the end surrounded by a rubber ring that he would use to "Whack" the ice cubes into his hand and smash them into smaller pieces). Whipping cream in a carton. 7-Up. Alcohol. Snowball glasses.

I can still picture it exactly in my head. Right over there in the corner by the fridge, in front of the cupboard that held my favorite glasses that had antique cars on them and of course the "farm glass" that had a drawing of barn and barnyard animals that I would "drown" when I filled the glass with grape juice up to the weather vane.

After my grandfather passed away, Christmas Eve moved to my family's house. Less extended family came by and more friends dropped in. My dad took over The Snowball Business.
Can I help? I'd chirp next to his elbow.
Why not?
Because why?
"Because I said so."
Why'd you say so?
"Because you don't get to touch booze."
Can I make one without?
But I won't touch the booze.
"You don't know what you're doing."
Can I watch?
Why not?
And then I would take a step back and spy on him anyway. We all did. The Snowball was shrouded in mystery as to how it works. Once we were older and closer to college age we would sneak into The Snowball zone on Christmas Eve while my dad was talking in the living room and try to make them ourselves. My dad would come back and shoo us away, "You don't know what your doing. You're just wasting all the ingredients. Here, I'll make you one. JUST ONE."

And then we got brave enough to try them on our own. I remember it exactly. My brother and sister were going to have a Christmas party that would start at my brother's apartment and finish at my sisters. They lived about two blocks apart and we could all walk between them. My sister would be doing all the food at her house and my brother announced he would be making The Snowball. I think my response was "Can we just do that?"

By this time we had all had a turn making snowballs on Christmas Eve behind my dad's back. When friend's would arrive and we didn't want to drag dad back to the kitchen, or tell him we had friends who drank alcohol.

The snowballs at my brother's house were amazing. They tasted just like the kind dad made at home with a hint of something illicit. We were officially adults now and we were still in our 20's!

I've carried this recipe with me in my head all these years and recently a cousin asked my mother about "the drink of our people" and my mom said "ask Jim." So I tried to write it down as best as I can. I think it's a visual. Impossible to write down. And yet I will try.

Be warned, this is a difficult recipe... Not because of the ingredients, but the technique it seems to require. I have a theory that you you must experience a “master” maker and an “apprentice” maker before you should attempt. For instance, in my group of friends who have learned from me (an apprentice level) they have all seen my dad make them (the master level). And I watched my dad when he was at an apprentice level and learned it all from my grandpa Don who was the master of the recipe (for all I know, he invented it!).

That being said, I am trying to share it anyway! This recipe has never been given away and I may even take it back later. My friend Gina McGowan is the one who coined the term "The drink of your people" in reference to this amazing cocktail and as such I feel very proprietary over it.

Not one ingredient or direction can be altered. (and trust me I have tried and failed)

Start with a tall straight glass glass.

In the bottom of the glass add three or four crushed ice cubes (or buy your ice crushed and add a handful) about three fingers measure from the bottom of the glass when you wrap your hand around the tumbler.

Then you pour one shot of Vodka over the ice.

Then one shot of whipping cream over the ice.

Now the tricky part!

Get a spoon (longer is better) and with one hand you start to jiggle the ice. With the other hand you slowly pour in 7-Up. DO NOT USE SPRITE. DO NOT USE DIET. (I don’t know why, but they don’t work!)

So, as you are pouring, and jiggling, the ice will start to free up from it’s place in the bottom of the glass. Jiggle a little more, then begin swirling the mixture. Still pouring the 7-Up slowly. The mixture will froth and foam... It will expand towards the top of the glass. SLOW DOWN! DON’T POUR TO THE TOP. Pause and give it all a good swirling and wait for the reaction to catch up and see where the foam is headed. If it stops just below the rim of the glass, pour a little hit of 7-Up through the foam to give it a bump up. If it has overflowed (like a root beer float will), wipe down the glass and serve it with a cocktail napkin.

Or perhaps you have stopped just right and... VOILA!
Two perfect Snowballs.

Updated: My brother wrote in to add these fine points on The Snowball.
1. The colder the ice is, the better it works. A little water on the surface of the ice, makes the drink fizz a little less. (so you should always rinse out the glass for a new drink)

2. The key to the drink, is the aroma of the vodka suspended in the foam at the top of the glass, therefore, better top equals better drink.

3. Don't use expensive vodka. It's best if you use whatever Dad brings. It's even better if he wins the bottle at the Elks club.
Updated 2:
Use a metal spoon.

The Snowball season is strict. Snowballs may only be consumed from after Thanksgiving dinner through the end of New Year's Day.


A Lewis said...

We spent every Christmas Eve at my grandmothers...the entire family did. And has since 1937. This will be the first year since then that it hasn't been done.

Lyle said...

mmmmm... snowballs!

jason said...

Oh my goodness!
I have to attempt this...although I fear I am doomed to fail, I must try.

Carol said...

Wow Jim,I can't believe that you gave out the "Secret Family Recipe"! Talk about bringing back memories. I don;t think I ever did get it right.

Cousin Carol

Frontier Psychiatrist said...

OMG. And here I was excited about Eggnog martinis. I read the recipe with breathless and growing excitement.

I will be trying one of these as soon as I can find an appropriately festive glass.

Rachel said...

And it has to be a METAL spoon. Remember that. And I think it's better if you put the cream in first and then the vodka (the vodka rinses the rest of the cream out of the shot glass then).

Lisa Austin said...

Hi Jim - This is your cousin Lisa. Aunt Barb sent the link to me, and I'm so glad I looked it up. As offspring of the original Rolling Stone, Steven and I only made it to a few of the parties as kids, but I do remember the Snowball drink. I tried your recipe last night exactly as you said, and it worked perfectly! Steven loved the story, too!

Next, you'll have to remind us about the proper execution of Silly String. (I still think I have some stuck in my ear from 1975.)

Merry Christmas! Lisa

Anna said...

Anna in Bellingham here, Christine V's friend. Got the supplies and tried it tonight. Low fizz, Came back to the blog, will put in Cream first , then vodka. Good thing I didn't buy the Stoli :) (on sale this month in Washington).
I think the ice has to be really cold like someone else said.
Get all ingredients together and THEN crack the ice.
Humm - maybe my organic cream is just too thick.??? BUT - it it SOOO good. Having Christine and the gals over tomorrow night fir Snowballs and Gimlets. OOOH dear. Got to go practice......
Thank you for the family recipe, it will be honored and the story told to all.