By: Shawn Abraham
In most parts of this country, most people only think of snowballs when the temperature drops and winter has come. These people are the same ones, however, who think that snowballs are spheres of compact snow to be used in children's games. This couldn't be further from the truth.
The snowball is a delicious dessert that was born and raised in the homes of Baltimore,. Unlike its inferior and brattier younger sibling, the snowcone, or upstart cousin, the Italian ice, the snowball has a rich and cherished history. Legend has it that the snowball was born in the mid 1800s. Trucks carrying large blocks of ice from the north to the south would rumble their way through Baltimore, and children would chase the trucks on unbearably hot summer days, begging for chips of ice. Ice chips in hand, they would run back to their mothers, and this is where the concoction known as snowballs were born. Chopped ice packed into cups, liberally drizzled with flavored syrup, and topped with a layer of marshmallow. The syrup comes in hundreds of flavors, but the traditional might be the classic egg custard or the fruity tiger's blood.
It is difficult to explain how a unique item of food starts out as a throwaway, grows into a local legend, and works tirelessly over generations to win a place in the hearts and minds of Marylanders everywhere. It must be made clear also that this isn't a treat known to all Marylanders. Mainly made in the Baltimore and surrounding regions, the snowball is one of Maryland's best-kept secrets. The egg custard flavor, in particular, is one of its kind in the country. New Orleans can claim to have a similar dessert, but upon further examination its ice chips are so finely shaved they would dissolve your apatite into a soupy mess. Or at least, that's what most Marylanders would have you believe.
Because the snowball isn't just food. Food is never just food, and definitely not in Maryland. During the great depression, selling and buying snowballs was the cheapest business for many people, and became a Baltimore city staple. Snowball stands crammed neighborhoods from street to street, and people even began to complain about their prevalence. But no one, including the mayor, was willing to curb their popularity. During world war II, when sugar and milk were rationed, snowball sales stayed high and steady. These weren't just cheap treats to the people of Maryland; for many they were a livelihood, and others a way of life. Over the years they became a time-worn staple, a point of pride among both makers and consumers.
Up in the mountains you might find it slathered in icecream, down in the city you might find some newly invented mix flavors like lemon/lime or rassberry ice. In many places, electric machines shave up ice and pack them into cups, faster and more efficient than ever. Other side-street stands will lovingly scoop out every drop of syrup by hand. But wherever you go, especially on a hot summer Maryland day, you can find the snowball Standing the test of time, against all odds and perhaps in the shadow of its fellow desserts. But not in Maryland, where its definitely neither last nor least.