January 30, 2011
The Big Kielbasa
Recently, Forbes reported on the snowiest cities in the United States. Cleveland ranks second. According to the magazine, “The winds of Lake Erie pushing storms over the city drop an average of 59.3 inches of snow onto Cleveland each winter.”
Cleveland comes in right behind Denver — which, as you’ll recall, is nicknamed the Mile High City as its official elevation is exactly one mile or 5,280 feet above sea level. Denver is in the Rocky Mountains.
We here in Cleveland are not in any mountain range. Our Lake Erie shore is just 569 feet above sea level. We do, however, lie on a series of irregular bluffs roughly parallel to the lake so the land rises quickly from the lakeshore. Public Square, less than a mile inland, sits at an elevation of 650 feet; Shaker Heights, about 6 miles inland, is roughly 1,050 feet above sea level. Weather.com explains: “Areas of relatively high elevation downwind of the Great Lakes generally receive heavier amounts of lake-effect snow than do other locations in this region.”
Why, if we live with so much snow every year, are we not more descriptive about it? No matter what kind of snow we get, it’s snow. Snow thundering down from Arctic Canada through Chicago or Detroit. Snow blowing across Lake Erie. Snow that sort of misses us and dumps on Buffalo. It’s all snow, just snow.
It’s an urban legend that the Inuit in Alaska have over 100 words for snow. Yes, they have a lot, but most are extensions of a core word, with new ones made by adding suffixes.
The Inuit have named powder snow; snow that is crusted on the surface; drifting snow; snow that falls in large wet flakes, and small flakes. Snow that falls slowly, or quickly, or is blowing, or packed down, or crusty on top but soft underneath. Snow in your beard, or between your fingers and toes or in your groin. Green, pink, blue, and really really white snow. Snow sparkling with moonlight, and sunlight, and starlight. Snow mixed with your breathe, or mud, or the shit of your Husky.
I have to admire how deeply the Inuit have thought about the myriad variations of white stuff that falls from the sky and surrounds them. We should too.
Because we here in Northeast Ohio just love our comfort food in winter, I think we should name our types of snow after food, with a nod toward our diverse culinary heritage. Let’s start. (Feel free to submit suggestions!)
A light snowfall that doesn’t accumulate could be confectioner as who doesn’t like desserts sprinkled with icing sugar that dissolves on your tongue, and no one minds snow that disappears quickly.
Small to medium-sized flakes could be panko after the variety of bread crumbs used in Japanese cuisine and more and more, by us American cooks. It’s white, crisp and airy.
Schnitzel could work for a thin crunchy layer on the roadway; if it breaks into pieces when stepped upon, it would be matzo. A two to three-inch depth with a crispy top could be called scalloped potato. Queso Fundido might work when we’re slogging through melting snow containing nuggets of dirt as queso is nothing more than gloopy cheese with bits of chorizo added.
What about those head-sized clumps that build up curbside after the snow plow has gone through which make stepping off a sidewalk to cross the street treacherous? Those must be cauliflower, which is on the American ick list as it accounted for only .5% of total produce sales in 2009.
Burnt marshmallows come in March, when the exterior of every mall parking lot snow mound is black but the interior is still white and firmly packed enough to stick on a stick.
So what to call the snow that doesn’t stop for hours, amounting to a good 8 inches that shuts the city down? When every meteorologist warns us to “stay inside, don’t go out,” and closings crawl on the bottom of the TV screen? Well, that would be The Big Kielbasa and if you want to make a bawdy joke about the name, go ahead. What else can we do indoors on a snowday when we can’t venture out?