NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA & BALTIMORE, MARYLAND– There’s a story behind all of our culinary traditions.
There are a lot frozen treats involving ice and sweet syrup, but snowballs differ from their snow cone and Hawaiian ice counterparts. It’s all in the texture.
A snowball’s ice is finely shaved and it makes all the difference to produce a soft, highly pleasurable experience akin to eating the freshest snow, but saturated with cane sugar sweetened flavors
Hansen’s Sno Bliz is the oldest snowball shop in Louisiana. Owner Ashely Hansen has had snowball goodness in her family for generations, saying, “there have been snowballs since the time of the Romans. A shaved ice confection is nothing new. It’s different with us, because my grandfather figured out how to electrify the process and put a motor on it. He got a patent for his machine he made in the 1930s in the early 1950s.”
About 16 hours away, Baltimore Maryland has quite the history of snowballs as well. Paula Wittek and her brother own Walther Gardens, a snowball shop in Maryland that has been around since the 1920s. Before refrigeration, ice would travel from the north to the south on ice trucks and cities like Baltimore and New Orleans benefitted, especially in the sweltering summer season.
Paula says, “here in Baltimore the top flavor is a flavor called egg custard which is similar to a vanilla pudding or flan. The history behind this flavor dates back to when snowballs came to be. The kids would go down to the parked trains and get blocks of ice and come home.”
Here is the dilemma, since the 1900s New Orleans has been in a snowball fight with Baltimore about which city can lay claim to snowballs. Each city is evenly stacked with similarities. Billie Holiday was born in Baltimore, while Louis Armstrong is from New Orleans. Both cities have unique takes on seafood seasoning but depending where you are, crabs are either boiled or steamed.
Wikipedia says Hansen’s as “believed to be the oldest sno-ball stand in the United States.” However Wikipedia is a bit confused because on another page under snow cone history it says “in the 1850s, the American Industrial Revolution made ice commercially available. Ice houses in New York would commonly sell ice to places like Florida. To transport the ice to Florida, the ice houses would send a wagon with a huge block of ice south. The route to Florida would pass right through Baltimore where children would run up to the wagon and ask for a small scraping of ice. Before long, mothers started to make flavoring in anticipation of their children receiving some ice. The first flavor the women made is still a Baltimore favorite: egg custard.
Ashley Hansen’s grandfather Ernest, built an ice-shaving machine and dubbed it “Sno-Bliz” in the 1930s. It was the first ever block-ice shaver. His wife would then use her savvy business mind to start up a neighborhood fixture where the youth and the young at heart in New Orleans could buy all sorts of treats. That machine would be the early template that would revolutionize icy treats all over the country. “My grandfather worked in the hulls of ships that lined the river during the great depression. There was a huge industry here on how to make food taste better but also at that time you see a lot of fruit flavors engineered out of New Orleans,” says Ashley.
‘Meemaw’ Sinsz was an woman entrepreneur in Baltimore who operated a snowball stand. Over the years, the Sinsz family shop would be bought by the Wittek family and be reopened as a gourmet snowball shop, garden, and seasonal Christmas tree farm and pumpkin patch. “We have one of the original photos of what the snowball stand looked like in 1923 and that was started by the grandmother of the women who we bought this business. We were told she used to make her own flavors, chocolate and marshmallows in her own kitchen,” says Paula Wittek.
In the end, what is there to say? On one hand you have the innovator of an ingenious machine and on the other hand, you have an early recording of Baltimore snowball history. Walther Gardens snowball stand can be dated back to 1923, while Hansen’s Sno-blizz was opened in 1939. Either way, each team has it’s loyal followers and it’s hard to deny that there are few things better than a snowball on a hot summer’s day.