Before there was ice cream, the world was a sadder place. But people did have lots of creamy desserts – custards, creams, syllabubs, possets, and frequently, snows. Snows were made various ways. Most commonly they were mixtures of cream and egg whites along with a flavoring like rosewater and some sugar. Sometimes egg yolks were added. Almond paste, rice flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel were other possibilities.
The electric mixer hadn’t come along yet, nor had the wire whisk. As a result, cooks tied twigs together and used them. Some tied a sprig of rosemary or a slice of lemon peel to the twigs. Since it took some time to beat it thick enough, they would add flavor to the mixture.
The snow might be served on its own or atop some bread, as we might top cake with whipped cream. But often it was simply dished into a bowl and decorated with sprigs of rosemary.
I adapted this recipe from one in Hannah Wolley’s 1672 cookbook: The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet Stored With All Manner Of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying And Cookery. Very Pleasant And Beneficial To All Ingenious Persons Of The Female Sex. The result is a lush, creamy dessert that can be a frothy topping for cake or pie or ice cream or served and enjoyed just as it is.
3 large egg whites
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ pint of heavy cream
One teaspoon orange flower water
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary (optional)
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and then gradually add the sugar. Continue beating and slowly add the cream. When the mixture returns to soft peaks, add the orange flower water. Beat until the peaks hold in attractive swirls. Scoop into serving dish and garnish with sprigs of rosemary, if desired. Chill.