Just like crabs and cold Natty Boh—nothing says summer in Baltimore like a good old-fashioned sno-ball. As temperatures climb—young and old alike line up at neighborhood sno-ball stands to indulge in this cold, flavorful delight. When were sno-balls introduced to Baltimore? Check out the story of snow-balls…
A sno-ball (or snowball) is soft shaved ice mixed with flavored syrup contained in a styrofoam cup. The quality of the ice is important. It should be like soft fresh snow. If it is the right consistency it will mix with the flavoring and be a delicious crunchy sweet treat.
While many people think of snowballs as a modern treat requiring electric ice shavers and manufactured ice and syrup, snowballs have actually been around for a long time. The first documented ancestor of snowballs was made in 27 B.C. The Roman Emperor Nero sent slaves to collect snow from nearby mountains that he then flavored with a fruit and honey mixture. In imperial Japan, similar things were happening. The wealthy lived in warm areas that were near the snow-capped mountains. These wealthy would send poor people to retrieve the snow, which they would flavor.
In Baltimore during the 1870’s, snowballs were very popular in theatres during the hot summer months. Signs hung in theatres telling patrons to finish their snowballs before returning to their seats for the second act. Because these cold delights were served in theatres, they were considered a treat for the wealthy. Hand shavers were used in Baltimore theatres to make the snowballs and were served in butcher boats. Elsewhere in the city, the syrupy treats were served on newspaper. It wasn’t until the 1890’s till people began using electric ice shavers.
Today snowball stands dot the city and serve hundreds of different flavors. Some people even add their favorite adult beverage to their snowballs. My favorite flavor is egg custard topped with gooey marshmallow. The marshmallow topping originated from back in the day when people used it as an ice cream topper. With the hundreds of flavors and flavor combinations available (everything from amaretto to tutti-fruiti)—there’s something for everyone. It seems everyone has their favorite snowball stand, and each stand has its own specialties. Creating snowballs today has risen to a new art form and are more popular than ever. Only in Baltimore, hon!