New Orleans Snowballs are the Frozen Treat We Crave All Summer Long
If you grew up in the South, you probably know a little something about the summertime playbook. The sacred-if-unspoken guide to surviving a Southern summer has but a single theme: how to stay cool during peak swelter season. If you've ever attended a Southern wedding between June and August, you know what we're talking about. If the bride elected to hold her big day outdoors, well bless your heart.
Every Southerner has their favorite tips and tricks for beating the heat. You'll find the wisest of them lingering under the shade of a big oak tree, dabbing their wrists with ice cubes, and rocking breezy linen ensembles all season long.
For me, the secret to staying cool during a long, hot, oppressively humid summer is indulging in a healthy medley of cold, sweet treats. A super-sized Sonic cherry limeade, gas station ICEE, juicy hunk of watermelon, vanilla soft serve, even a red-white-and-blue Bomb Pop—I love it all. But of all the glorious frozen summertime treats, my favorite has to be the New Orleans snowball. It checks all the boxes. It's cold, it's sweet, and it's blissfully nostalgic.
Snowballs (also spelled snoballs or sno-balls) originated in New Orleans in the 1930s, when locals George Ortolano and Ernest Hansen both separately invented electric ice-shaving machines. Their innovations produced a much finer ice than what was previously achieved through the hand-chipping method, and thus, the snowball was born.
While many confuse snowballs with their close cousin the snow cone, a couple key differences earn snowballs the title of superior sweet. The main difference is the type of ice used in each. Snow cones are made with coarse, dense, somewhat crunchy ice, while snowballs utilize fluffy, finely shaved ice. The way the feather-light ice of a snowball melts when it meets the tongue is far preferred to munching your way through a snow cone.
But outside of offering a dreamy consistency, the fine shave of a snowball also makes it better for soaking up sugary syrups—which is extra important considering flavored syrup is the dessert's only other ingredient. Uneven syrup distribution is a common problem in snow cones. The top of your cone goes down as a flavorless, icy blah, and by the time you get to the bottom of the cup, you're left with a puddle of sticky syrup that's too sweet to eat. Snowballs, on the other hand, are expert at absorbing flavored syrups, infusing each bite with just the right amount of blue raspberry, wedding cake, or tiger's blood (watermelon, strawberry, and coconut).
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Nothing says summer like a New Orleans snowball. Don't believe me? Try one for yourself. There are snowball stands and shops all over the city of New Orleans. For a true taste of the classic treat, I recommend Hansen's Sno-Bliz, opened by the shaved-ice machine inventor himself in 1939, Pandora's, or Red Rooster. If you're feeling bold, you can even get your snowball drizzled with sweetened condensed milk or stuffed with vanilla soft serve or cheesecake. With a cold snowball in hand, suddenly the idea of a long, hot Southern summer doesn't seem so bad.