By Marcella Escarfuller
Click aqui para español- > Snowballs
Winding up for summer in New Orleans can be tough. Hurricane prep is no joke and finding ways to beat the heat often leaves locals coming up empty. But there is one thing about summer in New Orleans that every local looks forward to – snowballs.
Snowballs have been a New Orleans tradition since the 1930s. Not to be confused with the snow-cone, with its crunchy texture and sink-to-the-bottom syrup, the New Orleans snowball (or snoball) is made of perfectly fluffy shaved ice that absorbs every drop of syrup, creating the perfect summer treat. And when it comes to the syrup, picking your flavor is a game unto itself. Ranging from New Orleans favorites like bananas Foster and praline pecan, to fruity tangerine and cherry, to downright weird (buttered popcorn), there’s always a flavor for every taste.
Especially when you add that extra touch of condensed milk to top it off. It should come as no surprise that it’s thanks to the innovation of locals that we get to enjoy this New Orleans summer staple. When the SnoWizard ice shaving machine was invented in 1936, the effects of the Great Depression were still sending shock waves through businesses around the country.
George Ortolano, a New Orleans grocer of Sicilian descent, was looking for new ways to drum up business during the economic downturn. He invented a machine originally made from wood and started selling shaved ice to customers in his store. Shortly thereafter, he got requests from small-business owners to make similar machines for their snowball stands.
Demand was so high that Ortolano left the grocery business, created a metal-based machine now termed the “SnoWizard,” and dedicated all of his energies to automating the production of his invention. In 1934, Ernest Hansen was already in the process of inventing his own snowball machine. Previously made by handscraping blocks of ice, Hansen dreamed of a more efficient and sanitary way to make the refreshing summer sweets. He succeeded in developing his invention and kept it within the family until opening his own snowball stand in 1939. By 1944, Hansen had opened Hansen’s Sno-Bliz snowball stand in their current location on Tchoupitoulas.
Thanks to these machines, snowballs have become the New Orleanians’ favorite way to cool down during the summer months. Everyone has their favorite snowball stand, whether it’s Hansen’s or Plum Street Snowballs or SNO-LA (home of the original cheesecake filled snowball), we just can’t seem to get enough.
The one-time locals don’t mind standing in the suffocating humidity and
sweltering heat is when they’re standing in line for their snowballs. By the time you have that icy goodness in-hand, your clothes feel sticky and your head starts spinning, but who cares? The delirium makes your snowball taste that much sweeter.