Snow for Sale!

BridebyMistakesmsllBring out your snow, bring out your snow!

Do you have snow where you are?
Anne here, wondering if anyone has snow for sale. Not just because it's particularly hot downunder where I am (it's summer here, remember) but because in the past people really did sell snow.

Snow for sale? 
That's right, in the past it was a business. Back in the 16th century, the snow trade in Europe was a very lucrative enterprise, so lucrative, in fact that people fought over snow rights. There were even bandits who tried to steal snow — and often succeeded. Sound crazy?

It's been going on for centuries
Before the advent of mechanical refrigeration, naturally forming ice and snow was the only source of cooling material. We tend to think iced drinks is a modern invention, but snow and ice has been gathered, transported and sold for the cooling of drinks and desserts for centuries. Snow

The Chinese were harvesting and storing winter ice for the hot summer months more than a thousand years before Christ. The Ancient Greeks and Romance picked up the habit of using ice to cool their drinks from the Middle East and learned from them too the methods of  harvesting and storing ice and snow for long periods. According to Pericles, snow was routinely sold in the markets of Athens from the 5th century BC, and not only to the rich. (pic right:

Alexander the Great used to store great quantities of snow in pits. The kings of Egypt had snow shipped from the mountains of Lebanon to Cairo. That's a long way! Across Russia, throughout Europe and all around the Mediterranean people collected snow and ice from the mountains in winter and stored it underground, in caves, pits and specially constructed ice houses.
At first it took place on a small scale — people would collect ice from a frozen pond and store it in their ice cellar or ice pit, packed in straw and buried under the earth to maintain the cool temperature. In places like Rome, where ice rarely occurred, any brief snowfall was quickly gathered up and the snow carried to the ice houses.

Some of these ice houses were just large, deep pits, lined at the base with branches and twigs for drainage, then straw, and then the ice or snow. If snow was all that was available, they beat it down with paddles, making it as dense and hard as possible. That was then covered with more twigs and branches and straw, and finally earth. 
Snow compressed in this manner was colder and lasted longer than ice taken from ponds, but it wasn't as clean. This led to various inventions — the wine decanter with a separate compartment for snow or ice, a system where a slender container of clean water was immersed in snow or ice until the water froze and of course, the simplest of all, the ice bucket that is still in use today. Or if you were a Regency gentleman intending on a large quantity of iced wine, perhaps this large wooden zinc-lined wine cooler would be more your style. BigRegencycooler
As the use of snow grew and spread beyond the needs of just the wealthy, the collection and storage of snow became not just a winter harvest, but the basis for a substantial year round business. Businessmen in 16th century Italy jockeyed for the right to control the snow trade. Exclusive rights (the snow concession) to provide snow from certain areas and for certain cities were given (no doubt as a result of a handsome bribe) to particular men. 

Stealing Snow!
And so we have the rise not only of snow collectors but snow bandits!
Complaints flew, accusations and counter accusations of people illegally collecting snow, illegally selling snow, and even bandits who held up mule trains carrying loads of snow and made off with the snow (and the mules.)

The more snow and ice was used, the more profitable a business it was, and the more uses were found for it — the creation of ice cream and sorbets (from the Turkish sherbets) iced soups, iced desserts of all kinds, not to mention the increased preservation of perishable foodstuffs and the use of ice as an aid to health. TurkishIcecream

Ice houses became more sophisticated constructions made of brick and stone and scientific experiments were made into the most efficient method of storing snow and ice, and of making ice. The pic here is of the 18th century ice house at Norton Priory, near Runcorn, Cheshire, England.
I won't go into the making of ice creams — Wench Joanna did a wonderful post on that last year — but in the mid 1800s on they started using ice and even created ice pillars as an early form of air conditioning for hot summer ballrooms. This, of course, was pioneered in the USA, where they had ample supply of ice, and hot, hot summers but there are also reports of British ballrooms cooling hot guests with ice pillars. 

It's a fascinating subject and I've barely touched on it. For further information about the history of the use of snow and ice, I recommend Elizabeth David's wonderful book Harvest of the Cold Month. If you want a North American slant, here's this site which shows the ice harvest of historic Howell's farm.

So do you have snow? Masses of snow? Are you fed up with it? Wish you could gather it up and sell it?  (Some hot people on this side of the globe might even buy some.)  Or do you use it in some way already? I'd love to hear about your experience with snow.

And if you don't get snow, tell me what kind of weather you've been experiencing in recent weeks — there's been a lot of weird weather around, plus I just enjoy hearing about the world-wide-wenchly-web— and I'll send a copy of my new book to someone who leaves a comment.

Anne here again, adding a postscript: on the news last night I heard of an amazing modern-day parallel —police arrested thieves who had stolen 5 tonnes of ice that they hacked from a fast disappearing glacier. Apparently glacier ice is popular in Chile served in drinks on fancy bars and restaurants. Amazing, eh? It still goes on.

Battling Through Winter

AP-avatar Cara/Andrea here,

Snow2 Like much of the U.S., the Northeast (where I live) has been slogging through a pretty severe winter. Since the end of December we’ve been hammered with several blizzards that have dropped massive amounts snow—many longtime residents of the area are shaking their heads and saying they can’t remember drifts this deep. Ever.

Snowstorm-5 I emerged from my half-buried house on the morning after the first storm and tried to walk to the end of my driveway, only to find the snow up to my thighs. I was huffing and puffing after a 100 yards, and simple tasks, like trying to fetch some firewood from the pile behind the garage, became a comedy of epic proportions. (Tripping, falling, snow angels . . .you get the picture) Thankfully, the snowplows showed up later in the day, helping life get back to normal fairly quickly, but it got me to thinking about winters of old, when high tech technology wasn’t there to roll in and tidy up the mess. I mean, how the devil did people and essential goods manage to move around? It must have been quite an ordeal . . .

Napoleon_group Speaking of ordeals, further thoughts on the subject of snow—while curled comfortably under a blanket sipping hot tea—naturally brought to mind one of the epic winters in history: Russia, 1812, when the snows and freezing temperatures are credited with doing what no army had yet accomplished in over a decade of war—defeat Napoleon and his Grand Armee.

Napoleon_march In early September of 1812, after much cat and mouse maneuvering between the invading French and the Russian defenders, Napoleon and Kutusov clashed in the Battle of Borodino. Both sides suffered grievous losses, but when the Russian retreated to lick their wounds, Napoleon was able to march into Moscow, confident that Tsar Alexander would soon capitulate and add the vast stretch of Slavic forests and taiga to the French sphere of influence.

Even if the Tsar dragged his feet, the Emperor wasn’t overly worried. He was perfectly comfortable with the idea of hunkering down for the winter within the splendid confines of the Kremlin. And the rest of the city promised to provide a respite from the constant marching and foraging for his weary soldiers.  (They had been on the march for months, covering mind-boggling distances on foot.)

Napoleon_retreat_from_Russia_by_Adam As we all know, the Emperor was a brilliant military tactician, but he hadn’t anticipated the grim determination of his Russian foes to drive their enemy from the Motherland. Rather than provide sanctuary, the city soon turned into a raging inferno. Fires set by the Russians accomplished what the bullets at Borodino had failed to do. Napoleon and his troops were forced to flee.

Napoleons_retreat_of_moscow The snows started early that year, and as the first flakes fell, the Emperor was faced with a chilling dilemma—what to do? With cold setting in, there was little chance of living off the land if they tried to march deeper into enemy territory. But with the lands behind them already ravaged, the picking were also slim. Still, there seemed little alternative but to make the trek back into central Europe.

And so began one of the most brutal retreats in military history. Weather played a huge factor. The first weeks were cold and snowy, decimating the already weakened troops. Then a warm spell made the going even more difficult—frozen streams and rivers turned to icy waters, making crossings a nightmare. Rutted roads softened into muddy quagmires. And as they struggled, the maurading Cossacks cavalry kept up a constant and deadly harassment.

Retreat_from_Russia The snows then returned with a vengeance, and the retreating French suffered more and more losses to freezing and starvation. Hearing rumbling of a coup in Paris, Napoleon left his struggling army and was whisked away to France in a private sled, The troops were not so fortunate. Step by weary step, they fought their way west, finally crossing the Neiman River into Poland in late December. What had once been a proud army of over 600,000 men was
now a rag-tag band of scarecrows, numbering less than 1000,000.

Having been daunted by a mere stroll down my suburban driveway in heavy snow, I can’t even begin to imagine the hardships suffered. I mean, here we all are trading war stories about what we’re going through, but really, it can’t hold a candle to the past, when there was no one to dig you out of a deep hole. After re-reading some of the accounts of the retreat of 1812, I decided to stop my kvetching about ice on the driveway and the frozen gutters. Somehow, I think I shall survive!

So how about you? Any other winter disasters in history you can think of? And how are you all coping with the weather?

Christmastide: Trees and Reindogs

Cat 243 Dover

by Mary Jo

I have an adorable picture of myself when I was three or four sitting on Santa’s lap.  (All kids that age are adorable, it’s a law of nature.)  Unfortunately, since I have to finish a book by the end of the weekend, I haven’t the time to figure out my recalcitrant scanner, so I can’t scan the picture.  Maybe next year.

But I can talk about bringing in the tree.  I grew up in the snow country of Western New York, where green Christmases were unheard of and I thought it normal that snow drifts were routinely above my head.

The Great Tree Hunt

We lived on a 70+ acre farm, with the back section woods, including some 3000 Scotch pines that my father got from the extension service and planted back there.  DSCN0096 (He had a degree in forestry and liked trees.)

So come December, he’d hitch the tractor to the wagon (think of the buckboards in old TV Westerns and you wouldn’t be far off) and we’d go bouncing over snow hills to pick a Christmas tree.  Despite all those long-needled Scotch pines, we wanted a short needled spruce, and we had those, too.

A suitable tree would be chosen (my father’s vote was the deciding one), and he’d chop down the tree, put it on the wagon, and back to the house where with luck, my mother would have hot chocolate waiting.  She wisely avoided the expedition to the back 40. <G>

Interestingly, when I talked to my older sister last night to confirm details, she said I didn’t much like these expeditions because it was Cold!  And Wet!  And Uncomfortable!  Apparently I am my mother’s daughter, though I have no memory of disliking the process.  But I do remember the tree trips.

Putting up the Tree

Even more I remember erecting the tree with an old tobacco can as a base.  The physics of this were not geared for stability, so guy wires were improvised of heavy twine and fastened to doorknobs and hinges in the corner of the living room. 

Then the decorating.  My sister, who has always had more class than I, would careful drape each strand of tinsel in an exact place.  Then, and now, I have always believed that good taste can be overdone, especially at Christmas.  <G>  I liked lots of tinsel, glittering madly. (This was the old fashion lead foil tinsel, by the way.  The kind that breaks if you look at it cross-eyed.) 

Reggie at Christmas 001 Cats in Trees 

In an amazing bit of synchronicity with Joanna’s post yesterday about feline box sitting, it is also true that cats have a great affinity for trees.  Especially indoor trees.  With branches well spaced for climbing. 

More than once, I remember a tree crashing over despite the guy wires.  Smashing ornaments, swearing parents, and one or more cats hightailing it to the high timber, wearing their best “Who, me?” expressions. Ah, those were the days…!

Many things have changed over the years, but I am here to tell you that cats still like to climb Christmas trees.  No, the cat above is not from my childhood, but entirely current.  He is Reggie the Rascal, whom I have twice this year removed from the middle branches of the tree when he’s decided this isn’t a good idea, but he doesn’t know how to get down. 

The tree hasn’t fallen—yet—because bases are a lot more stable these days.  But all bets are off if Reggie decides to climb higher, since he is small but amazingly dense. 

Other Christmas Critters?

In keeping with the theme, here are some of Laura Resnick’s pictures of this year’s Cincinnati Reindog parade, sponsored by the Cincinnati SPCA to raise money and also provide great entertainment for all concerned.

Almost as good as riding in a car! 

Hannukah hundt 

Like my horns 

So—how do pets figure into your Christmas?  Cats in trees, dogs treating the tree as if it was outdoors, parrots perching in the branches?  If you have any good seasonal pet stories, by all means, share!

Santa's Elves Mary Jo, adding that this is your last day to make a comment that will enter you in our Word Wenches giveaway — a Word Wenches Library with a book from each of us for a winner picked at random from among all those who post on the blog in December! Good luck!



Plenty of Room at the Inn!

Nicola3 Happy Boxing Day, everyone! I have very few photographs from when I was a child but I have managed to find a photo of the family that was taken by my grandmother on a sunny Christmas Day. You can see the balloon decorations in the window! I'm the smallest person in the picture, with a cute hairband. I love my aunt's glamorous 1960s mini kilt and my mother's tartan dress! And the boy with the cat is my cousin Neil who I hero worshipped!

My parents divorced when I was about five and after that I rarely saw my father but I did spend one memorable Christmas with him and his new family when I was about nine years old. My father was the sort of man who might be called a raconteur – he was a great story teller and I often suspected that those stories had received a considerable amount of embroidery and polish. But after my experiences that Christmas I never doubted him again.

On Boxing Day, December 26th, we all set off to drive to the English Lake District for the day. It was Scafell_pike beautiful sunny weather, cold but clear, and my father fancied a bracing walk on the Fells. The Boxing Day walk is a British tradition. We arrived in time for lunch at an inn in a village called Ambleside and most of the adults then went off to climb the mountain Scafell (in the photo), leaving me with my step-cousin Wendy and her mother for the afternoon. By the time that they returned some five hours later it was dark and very cold and the beautiful clear day had turned into a snowstorm with huge flakes falling. We set off for home but after about an hour we had barely gone a half mile. Then we drove into a snowdrift and were completely stuck. It got colder and colder. I remember my father wrapping me in a rug before he and his brother in law went off to fetch help. After about three hours we were rescued by a farmer on a tractor who dragged the car out and towed us back to the inn at Ambleside, where they revived us with Scotch Broth soup and mulled wine (very exciting and intoxicating for a nine year old!) The landlady put me to bed in a huge fourposter with a fat mattress and five hot water bottles. And when I got home the next day and my mother asked me how I had got on, I told her it had been the most exciting Boxing Day I had ever known!

Have you had a Christmas experience that didn't quite turn out as planned?

Wench Memo:

The Word Wenches will be giving away a fantastic prize on January 1st 2011 – a Word Wenches Library containing a book by each of the Wenches! For a chance to win, all you have to do is comment on one or more of our December blog posts. We'll gather the list of names on January 1, 2011 and pick a winner! (If you've already posted in December, you're already entered — comment again for more chances to win!) Good luck to all and Happy Holidays!