Recently, while planning for our upcoming events, I was looking through some receipts (recipes) in both The Monthly Genesee Farmer Magazine and the New-York Farmer, and American Gardener’s Magazine and came across a curious receipt for “Snow Bread” in each one. Huh? Snow bread? Bread made with nothing but cornmeal, a little lard and snow? Would that really work? How would it hold together once the snow melted in baking?
Take a look at the original historical receipt. I will give you a modern take on the recipe to try for yourself at the end.
If the editor of the Genesee Farmer will permit me to occupy a small space in his valuable journal, I will take the liberty to communicate one or two modes to make corn bread. They may be interesting to some of its fair readers, and peradventure assist them to give more variety to the cheer of the domestic board.
The Monthly Genesee Farmer, Volume 1, No.4, April 1836
This is made by taking a quart of corn flour, and mixing intimately with it a table spoonful of lard. Then take two full quarts of snow and stir it well in the flour with a spoon; pack it close in the pan or oven in which it is to be baked, and submit it to a quick fire. If managed successfully, it will be found to be a far better article of its kind, than the famous snow soap, which attracted so much of the attention of our good housewives some years ago. It is exceedingly light and spongy, and will require nearly three quarters of an hour to bake.
Since we here in western New York are <ahem> looking forward to the prospect of a serious winter snow storm this weekend, it seems to present the perfect opportunity to try making some snow bread and see if it really works. I have made many a “pioneer” cornbread in the Hetchler log house over the years, using nothing but fine cornmeal, salt, and water but it makes a very dense, heavy, though filling cornbread. According to the receipt for snow bread, it should come out “exceedingly light and fluffy.”
Okay, this I must try. I got out my pan and greased it. The receipt doesn’t say to do that, but I know from experience that I need to grease the pan. I got out another bowl and measured in a quart (4 cups) of corn flour.
Next the receipt says to work a “table spoonful” of lard with the corn flour “intimately.” Now, a quart is a quart both then and now but a table spoon is not necessarily a tablespoon at all. In the 19th century, a “table spoon” was whatever spoon you used at the table – more like a soup spoon or small serving spoon today.
I scooped out a spoonful of lard and used the back of my spoon to work the lard into the corn flour until it was all thoroughly crumbly with no evident lumps of lard appearing when I stirred through the flour. That’s about as intimate as it can get, I guess. Now it is time to work in the snow.
Be sure your snow is clean when you gather it. No yellow snow. The cornmeal is the best way to make your cornbread yellow, if you know what I mean.
Working the snow in was a bit more difficult than I thought. Perhaps freshly fallen snow would work better but I was working with snow that had been on the ground awhile and had settled a bit. It worked in but wanted to clump up. I also quickly realized my bowl was too small and had to find a much larger bowl and transfer it over so I could fully mix it in. Keep mixing and kinda chopping the clumps of snow into the corn meal until it is all dispersed and no big lumps of snow are apparent throughout the mixture. Now dump and pack the mixture into the pan well, then get it into your hot oven to bake until it is done.
Wow! It really works. The bread held together and is quite fluffy when compared to ordinary “pioneer” cornbread. It was a little more crumbly than my usual cornbread and definitely could use some salt to alleviate the blandness but otherwise it tastes great too.
Okay, but can snow bread really have been a thing? I guess so. A quick online search brought up numerous receipts and references to snow bread in various publications dated from 1834 through 1882.
If you’d like to try this at home – and I encourage you to do so – here is my modern take on it. I used Indian Head Old Fashioned Stone Ground Yellow Corn Meal for mine but any corn flour or floury-textured cornmeal will do. I also added some salt to this recipe since it needs it. If for some reason you don’t want to use lard, you could easily substitute bacon grease or shortening for the lard if you prefer.
4 cups very fine cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon lard
8 cups of clean snow
Preheat your oven to 400°. Grease a metal pan. (A glass pan may crack from the shock of the cold and heat of the oven.) About 9″ X 9″ square or one or two small round cake pans should do it.
In a large bowl, combine cornmeal and salt, whisking together until well blended. Using the back of a strong mixing spoon, work the lard (or bacon grease or shortening) into the cornmeal until you cannot discern any bits of fat in the meal and the mixture is all crumbly. Next, quickly work the snow into the cornmeal mixture with the spoon, folding and cutting the snow into the mixture until the whole mixture is a crumbly mass.
Working quickly, dump the mass of “batter” into the greased pan (or divide it between two greased pans if necessary) and pat firmly into the pan with the back of the spoon. It should be about 2 inches thick, although thinner is okay too. Place into a preheated hot oven and bake until the bread pulls away from the sides of the pan and is done; about 40-45 minutes for 2 inch thick batter or 25 minutes if the batter is only 1 inch thick. Remove from oven and cool a few minutes. Cut and serve with butter. Yum!
That’s all there is to it!
We hope you will try this out for yourself and let us know in the comment section below how yours turned out. It would make a fun family experiment with children or grandchildren during the upcoming winter weather and if there is snow on the ground when our Maple Sugar Festival rolls around this March, you might even catch Mrs. Jones in her farm kitchen or one of the women at the sugar shack whipping up a batch of snow bread.