My first experience with peppermint was from the pretty little green leaves that my grandmother plucked to garnish her summer tea punch. It made the summer drink extra special, especially after I found out the story behind mint. According to my grandmother’s tale, Minthe was a beautiful river nymph from Greek mythology. Hades sort of took a shine to her, but his wife found out and decided to cast a spell on Minthe by turning her into an ordinary scrubby green plant. Hades tried to fix the spell but was only able to make the new plant have a strong, sweet smell that people would remember when they touched it. I mean, what 6-year-old wouldn’t remember this intoxicating story?
Later, my father introduced me to Howard Johnson’s pink peppermint stick ice cream. I can remember waiting eagerly for the lady in the pink Ho Jo uniform to scoop out the ice cream and plop it on the sturdy brown sugar cone. For years, that was the only place you could find this flavor. Somehow, my father discovered that “The Helen Corbitt Cookbook” had a perfectly decadent peppermint stick ice cream recipe that could be made in the crank freezer. He swore that it came close to Ho Jo’s original! I was never sure. At some later time, grocery stores picked up on the popularity of this flavor. My mom immediately latched onto a new recipe, no doubt from “Woman’s Day” or “Lady’s Home Journal.” For years she whipped up her traditional frozen peppermint and chocolate pie for Christmas dinner. The adults got the pie, and the cousins received her famous snowballs made with peppermint ice cream. Sometimes she would get creative and turn the snowballs into snowmen faces for the little ones.
These days, peppermint stick ice cream is sacred. The grocery stores only have it (if you are lucky) between mid-November and New Year’s. Sometimes I find it necessary to go from store to store to stock the holiday freezer.
I would like to share three of my favorite minty holiday recipes. If you try them, please remember that without the spell of the poor Greek nymph, Minthe, peppermint might not have made its way into our gardens, kitchens and holiday hearts.
MINT STICK BROWNIES
This was one of the favorite three-layer decadent confections from our Abingdon General Store bakery. It was especially festive during the holidays because we would add crushed peppermint candy to the top for an added layer and a little flair. A few years ago, I found a sneaky shortcut, which cuts out the “brownie from scratch step” and makes prep time quicker and the outcome just as tasty. Betty Crocker came to the rescue with her Hershey’s Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix. If you stop at Sam’s you can pick up a box with four 20 ounce packs just in case you want to make several batches. The brownie bottom is delicious and every bit as good as the one we made from scratch.
So step one is to pick up the Betty Crocker Hershey’s Brownie Mix and make the brownies according to directions on the box. To make 20 brownies, you can use an 9x9 or 11x7 greased pan and a bag of the 20 ounce mix. Let these cool completely while preparing the next two layers.
2 cups confectioners sugar
4 Tbs. butter, melted
1 Tbs. half and half or light cream
3-4 drops clear peppermint extract
A few drops of green food color
Option: a couple Tbs. Crème de menthe liqueur can be substituted for extract and food color.
Blend together thoroughly until smooth and a spreadable icing consistency.
If too thick to spread, add a touch more half and half, but don’t get it too thin.
Spread on top of cooled brownies and set in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 Tbs. butter
Heat together in double boiler or microwave and stir until smooth.
Pour over top of green mint layer and spread evenly until covering top.
Sprinkle top with crushed peppermint candy.
Refrigerate until ready to cut.
Use a flat spatula to cut and remove brownies, so you get all the bottom layer up.
These are perfect to keep on hand over the holidays and make a wonderful gourmet gift from your kitchen!
Chef Susie Buckner always has her secret recipes tucked away for special occasions. So when I called her to see what peppermint wonder she might have lurking in the recesses of her mind or recipe box, she instantly sent me one of her favorite holiday drinks. It had my favorite peppermint stick ice cream as the main ingredient, so I knew it would be a winner. I have to say that after whipping up a batch, my family came to the same conclusion, and I already know it will become a new holiday tradition.
2 cups peppermint stick ice cream (only available during holidays) Note: don’t use mint chip.
2/3 cup whole milk
1-2 drops peppermint extract
3 Peppermint Patty candies, chopped
1½ ounces whipped cream-flavored vodka (Yes, Virginia! This does exist!)
Peppermint candies, crushed
In a blender, combine ice cream, milk, extract, vodka and peppermint patties.
Blend until slightly chunky and pour into wine or old-fashioned glasses.
Top with whipped cream and crushed peppermint candy.
Use a candy cane for stir stick if desired.
Note: To make without alcohol, increase milk by one-half cup. Perfect as non- alcoholic holiday punch for children!
MAMA JANE’S PEPPERMINT SNOWBALLS
These can be made with about any kind of ice cream, but I think peppermint and chocolate makes it special at Christmas time. This recipe will give you two ideas for snowballs.
Peppermint stick ice cream
Chocolate ice cream
Sweetened shredded coconut
Crushed peppermint candy
Chocolate sauce (optional)
Soften peppermint ice cream for about five minutes at room temperature.
Scoop out about 1 cup of ice cream and form into a ball.
Roll quickly in shredded coconut.
Put on wax paper on cookie sheet and return to freezer for at least one hour.
Soften chocolate ice cream for about five minutes at room temperature.
Scoop out about 1 cup of ice cream and form into a ball.
Roll in crushed peppermint candy.
Option: Serve with chocolate sauce and garnish with sprig of mint.
To turn coconut snowball into snowman face:
Make a mouth of dried cranberries.
Use raisins for eyes with half maraschino cherry.
Make a nose with candy corn.
Use two peppermint candies for ears muffs.
Stick back in freezer until ready to serve.
You can get even more creative with different kinds of candy — but work fast to decorate the face so ice cream won’t melt.
Jennifer King Ferreira grew up in Kingsport, where she received her first cooking experiences from her grandmother, Genevieve Shivell. She is the past owner of the Abingdon General Store and Plum Alley Eatery, a gourmet store and restaurant in Abingdon, Va., and is the former director of the Cooking Along the Crooked Road Culinary Program.