Mom’s Hot Cocoa

One of the pleasures of taking a walk after a good snowstorm is the chance to observe the status of snow art and architecture in the neighborhood. The quantity and quality, as I judge it, varies from year to year, but there is clear evidence of creative urges in some children today.

Besides conventional snowmen, there are sometimes snowwomen and even snow families. I once saw a family of snow people complete with scarves, mittens and caps. The biggest one wore a beret, which made me think that it might be the Neige family visiting from France.

Snow monsters with strange faces, ears and protuberances have impressed me too, and I have marveled at how kids managed to sneak enough food coloring out of the house to turn their creations into red, blue or green individuals braving the whiteness of winter. With my first digital camera I took a photo of a snowman with an orange head, green jacket and blue bottom. Somehow the artists (there were lots of tracks around it) had also managed to trace a brownish stripe down the front. It looked something like a zipper.

I have been pleased to note that the construction of snow forts continues to this day, though none I have seen match the elaborate structures we built as kids, some designed after illustrations of medieval castles complete with moats, towers, keeps and dungeons. A couple of years ago, three ambitious youngsters built a good-sized fort with ramparts constructed of snow blocks quarried along the street and two access tunnels. Incidentally, the tunnels served their purpose: Neither I nor any other adult could get inside to attack the defenders. It was an impressive job that undoubtedly kept them out of their mother’s hair for a day or two.

Our mother encouraged us to build forts in the woods behind the house in summer and snow forts across the road where there were hard drifts along the snow fence. In fact, though modern mothers may disapprove, Mom sometimes ordered us to get dressed in snowsuits, boots, caps and mittens and go outside and play, even if it was below zero. Like eskimos we were taught how to live with cold, and we never ended up with any permanent damage.

One exception may be my ears, which are still very sensitive to below zero temperatures. That wasn’t my mother’s fault, however. She knitted me a warm stocking cap each year to fit her growing boy and told me to pull it down over my ears so they wouldn’t freeze when I walked to school. However, she couldn’t make me do that, because all us boys knew that only sissies pulled their caps down over their ears.

The teacher didn’t even tell on us when we froze our ears, since nearly every boy did it. She didn’t have much sympathy for us, either. “It’s your own fault.” she would say. “I’m sure your mothers told you to cover your ears. Just hold your hands on them and they’ll stop hurting after awhile.”

I think she told us not to do it again, too. Not that we followed her advice either, though many of us began pulling our caps down when we didn’t think anyone could see us. If you weren’t carrying books, you could cover your ears with your mittens. That was a pretty good technique because you could pretend to be adjusting your hat when you met someone.

Besides building snow forts we pulled our toboggan to a hill along the Namakagon River where we zipped down the slope and tried to keep from getting too scratched up in the blackberry bushes and thornapple trees at the bottom of the hill. We hiked or skied to a pond on the north forty of our property where we shoveled snow to make a skating rink, and of course we made snow angels, had snowball battles and in general enjoyed a time of year when, as a promoter of Bayfield, Wisconsin once wrote, there is no rain or mud or mosquitoes.

As much fun as those activities were, the best part was what awaited us after we had swept the snow off each other and gone inside. I can still smell and taste the cookies or cinnamon rolls and hot cocoa. In later years my mother began using chocolate milk mixes, but until I was nearly out of high school she bought cocoa powder in large tins for cakes, frostings, cookies and hot cocoa.

She made a syrup and stirred in milk. Then she put the pan on the back of the stove so the cocoa would be ready for us when we came in from the cold. She used real milk, but you can make it with low fat milk if you want. Speaking as an experienced consumer of hot cocoa, however, I assure you that adding a little cream or half and half improves the taste and texture.


2 T cocoa powder
2 T sugar
Dash of salt
3 T cold water
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


Mix the cocoa, sugar and salt together in a saucepan. Stir in the water and bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat. Use a fork to blend the solids into the water so you have a smooth liquid.

Whisk the milk into the chocolate with the fork and continue heating. Stir in the vanilla extract and stir the cocoa occasionally until it is steaming. If you want, you can top each cup with marshmallows.

NOTE: This recipe makes two cups of cocoa. Use your trusty calculator or a piece of paper and a pencil to increase the ingredients for the number of servings you need.

Once you try it, I think that you will agree that real cocoa powder, sugar and real vanilla with no ingredients added to extend shelf life or make it easier to stir the powder directly into the milk give this hot cocoa a richer flavor than anything from a mix.

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