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Ode to a New Orleans Sno-Ball

Snowball flavors

Chances are it’s still cold where you are. But way down in south Louisiana, where it’s 75 and (mostly) sunny at the end of February, sitting down with the season’s first cup of fluffy ice drenched in a diabetes-inducing sugary syrup is something we look forward to every year.  This is not a snow cone.  This is not shaved ice.  This is a sno-ball, a fabulous summer treat with ice that is much finer than the others.

My friend Hartley Casbon  explains that “in the familial hierarchy of frosty delights, the snow cone is like the weird, entirely uninteresting, unapproachable and altogether forgettable distant cousin – by marriage, of course – of the snowball. The snowball and the snow cone share no genetic similarity. Their only common ground is that they are both cold and they both are a vessel for flavored syrup.”  I wholeheartedly concur.

Sno-Ball Stand Menu and Flavors 4

Miss Ellen’s Sno-Ball Stand is a glow stick-yellow hut on an unpaved lot in Barker’s Corner, Louisiana, just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. It’s the kind of shop that you can drive by fifty times and one of two things happen. 1) You never even know it’s there or 2) you stare longingly at its little sliding window hoping/wishing/praying to see the OPEN sign, no matter what time of year it is. (Miss Ellen could be in a generous mood in December, right?)  Its coordinating hand-designed and ever-evolving menu board hangs all year round and touts it’s widely eclectic variety of snowball flavors. It’s easy to tell when new flavors arrive. They’ll be the ones written on slips of paper and taped to the sign.

Sno-Ball Stand Flavors

Once you get to the window, you’d better be ready.  Ever been to The Varsity in Atlanta? (“Whaddya have? Whaddya have?) It’s like that.  While the staff are happy to let you taste samples of ice topped with their favorite syrups, the patrons (read “kids”) in line behind you won’t take as kindly to the delay as they wait in the 90+ degree heat. Can’t decide? Feeling the pressure? Overwhelmed? Order a couple of different flavors.  They’re only about a buck if you don’t get fancy with ice cream and other extras.  The biggest bargain in the South!

Sno-Ball Flavors

I ordered one of my favorites, “LSU” topped with condensed milk. An “LSU” is a half grape and half cake batter sno-ball that is yummy and oh so purple and gold!  I watched as they packed the snow in my cup, shaped the top with with a funnel, and started the deluge of syrup. A New Orleans sno-ball isn’t just topped with syrup. You don’t simply get ice with a tinge of color.  You should be prepared to immediately stick a straw in your mouth to suck down the overflowing juice before doing anything else. Once you’ve cleared the rim of the cup, you can safely move on to the business at hand. (Insider tip: those in the know order a “small insert-your-favorite-flavor-here sno-ball in a medium cup.”)

As I waited for my mom’s cup of grape heaven, I looked over at the flavor menu. Even though I’ve read it a hundred times, I’m still amazed at the creativity – good and bad – of its offerings.  Sno-ball stands tend to be judged by locals on the number of flavor options.  Miss Ellen’s is over 100 choices strong, three of them named for cartoons, four different cakes, ten are named for alcoholic drinks, several variations of “Clear”, “Sour”, and “Sugar Free”, pickle juice and the ever-popular “frog in a blender.”  The mac daddy of sno-ball flavors, however, seems to be Nectar or Cream of Nectar, a super-sweet flavor with origins in the mythical K&B drugstores. Typically a blend of almond, vanilla, red and something fruity. Like gumbo, everyone has their own recipe.  The ultimate result is a flavor that is akin to the nectar of the gods. 

Sno-Ball Stand Menu and Flavors 3

My husband, a New Yorker, has embraced most things New Orleans during the last 15 years.  He loves sno-balls and readily admits their superior quality to any other – even  to those from his beloved Big Apple.  He will not, however, stray from his ice cream stuffed creamsicle sno-ball to try any other flavors. While sno-ball fans will defend their favorite flavors with a ferocity usually reserved for sports teams, he should at least try something else so he’ll have a point of reference, right?  I’m going to say that this lapse hurts his street cred as an adopted New Orleanian.  Certainly not felonious, but it gives me pause. Lucky for him, I’m usually distracted by a gaggle of happy children with a rainbow of colors running down their little hands…or my happy mom.

Sno-Ball Stand Menu and Flavors 5

We’re excited that it’s finally sno-ball time this year, and it’s not even Mardi Gras, yet! Have you tried one of these perfect treats? What’s your favorite flavor?