My memories hold more reminicences of “real” snowfall occuring during the 1960s than the type of snows we get in Eastern Nebraska these days. The past several years, our snows usually start out as unsatisfying, dangerous “wintery mix” precipitation. I haven’t actually checked the meteorological data, so I may be relying on distorted, selective memory. However, it seems like Nebraska had more snow in the mid 20th century than we do now.
This is probably how my unabashed love of winter came to be. As a little boy, playing in the deep snow was much more fun than sweltering in the unforgiving humidity of summer. My parents didn’t have to “twist my arm” to convince me to play outdoors in December.
Deep snow became my artist’s medium. An old pail was the mould for “bricks” that I used to construct forts and igloos. The skill was self-taught by trial and error, nobody instructed me about this technique.
One afternoon, during the holiday break from my second grade classes, I used up nearly all the snow from our backyard to construct an igloo. It had to be large enough for me to stand up within it. I needed to hurry to complete it because dusk was quickly closing in. I did finish the igloo before suppertime.
After the evening meal, mom prepared hot cocoa as our dessert. Dad gave me permission to enjoy my cup inside the new igloo. I still remember sitting inside of it with a flashlight as illumination. The rich warmth of homemade hot cocoa was the finishing touch to an unforgettable childhood memory.
I also vividly remember mom preparing hot cocoa for the family, many times. Her method was written on an index card and kept with her other favorite recipes in a green, steel index card box. When I thought about writing this bluejayblog post, I remembered to dig out my copy of mom’s old hot cocoa recipe. I then gathered the ingredients and prepared a half batch to enjoy.
Mother Johnson’s Hot Cocoa
1/2 cup of granulated white cane sugar
1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pinch of salt
1 or 2 dashes of ground cinnamon
1/3 cup of boiling water
3 cups of milk
1 cup of half and half
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Blend the dry ingredients together well in a suitable saucepan. Quickly stir in the boiling water and whisk it together until the sugar is fully dissolved. Over medium-high temperature, keep the mixture simmering while constantly stirring for two minutes.
Add the milk and half of the half and half to the mixture.
Cook until just hot. Do not allow a skin to form on the top, so constantly stir while heating.
When everything is piping hot, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the vanilla and the rest of the half and half.
Pour the hot cocoa into cups or mugs and serve. You can add marshmallows if preferred.
Yield: four servings
Yes, this is a very rich treat. That’s why mom prepared this particular version only on special occasions. At other times, she prepared hot cocoa as suggested by the cocoa powder manufacturer’s recipe printed on the can’s label.
I haven’t used this recipe for many years, so it was a really special treat to enjoy mom’s style of hot cocoa once again. I saved a cup of it to reheat and enjoy later today, National Hot Cocoa Day.
The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers the ingredients of youthful happy winter days: Sweaters, parkas, mittens, big drifts of snow, school cancelled because of blizzards, sledding down a steep street with friends, snowball fights with them, and warming up with hot cocoa shared with those friends.