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The Great Dessert From the South – Snowballs [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

Seriously, isn’t that cool, colorful picture absolutely mouthwatering on this hot summer day?  During my trip to New Orleans, I was introduced to Snowballs, a most refreshing dessert.  They’re much more than just syrup and water!  While many cities have their own version of Sno-cones, the south does them best! Let me know if you can find one of these in a city near you!

Snowballs are well known in the southern United States.  A Snowball is not a slushie, not sherbert, and not your standard ice with flavoring.  The consistency is just like new fallen snow. Fresh ice is shaved superfine from a brick of ice, and then doused with home made flavorings.

The Front of Hansen's Sno-Bliz

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz was the location I visited to sample the dessert.  According to their website, the stand located at 4801 Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans opened in 1944; after selling the dessert on the street since 1938.  The ice is still served the very same way as it was in the beginning.  A worker shaves each cone from a massive block of ice, for every customer’s unique order, using a specially designed, saw-like machine. Standing at the counter waiting for your treat, you can see the gloved man shaving away.  From what I’ve been told, it’s hard job, so cold the ice shaver must wear gloves to avoid frostbite on his fingers.

Each and every one is home made.  No machine pushing syrups with CO2.  There are also a massive variety of sizes, from a tiny cup to a giant trash can size that was for a frat party!

The dessert can be served with multiple home made fruit flavored syrups, or a splash of condensed milk, marshmallow, crushed pineapples, crushed strawberries or whipped cream. Even ice cream can be added.  I chose a rainbow flavor Snowball, but there are literally hundreds of combinations.  I’m glad I chose rainbow, because it ended up looking the prettiest.

The second smallest size, which is what I ordered, was filling enough for me. I believe the charge was $2.50.  The cost goes up as you add toppings and bigger sizes.

After choosing your flavors, the shaver places your cup of plain ice-snow on the counter, where another worker then adds each individual syrup.  These syrups are not just your standard sugar and water from the local grocery store.  These are specially made with a secret recipe right there in the shop.  They seem to have a cream or milk like consistency.  From what I’ve been told, by a friend who worked at another location, only a few people are permitted to make the syrup mixture as some of the chemicals could be deadly!

What you get in the end is a very fine, snow like dessert with an explosion of color and whatever flavors you choose.  For the rainbow, the flavors were cherry, pineapple, and blueberry.  Our server applied each flavor one at a time like an artist painting off of a palette.

The walls of Hansen’s are lined with menus of at least 30 different flavors and an infinite amount of suggestions for mixing and matching.  I do regret not adding crushed pineapples and extra syrup to mine (which is an up charge).  Someone from Dairy Queen should check this place out and see all the combinations they’ve got going!

At first it’s required to eat the treat with a spoon, but as it melts it can be enjoyed through a straw, still as tasty as when you started.

According to their website, the idea first came about for the Sno-Bliz stand during the depression, when Ernest Hansen saw a small street vendor serving the snowballs from a single block of ice and not being very clean.  Being a master machinist, Ernest created and patented his own machine, that is still in use today, for finely shaving the ice.  His wife Mary, being an Italian cook, created the line of syrups. They continued to work at the location until evacuating during Hurricane Katrina. They both passed away a few months later.

The location received national attention in the mid 80’s when The Today Show’s weatherman, Willard Scott, broadcasted live from the French Quarter in New Orleans, showing off the treats.  Numerous pictures from that broadcast as well as other newspaper, magazine, and media hang all around the interior.

A long line out the door.

I ended up waiting in line for over a half an hour in the blazing June sun, thanks to a clueless photography and restaurant blog group that pulled up in a tour bus and brought Hansen’s usually, very orderly operation to a standstill.  That huge group was taking a lot of time, asking tons of questions and shooting a million photographs.  While the staff was very courteous to them, those waiting on line were about to lead a revolt.  Although, long lines can be common here, the staff moves customers through fairly fast.

While the Hansen’s created their own location and flavors down in the Big Easy, they do have other locations. There are also rival, non-affiliated stands in the area as well.  Dozens of other outlets give the chain a run for their money, similar to all the Ray’s Pizza outlets in New York claiming to be the original Ray’s pizza.  Those who live in the area have their favorite stand.

So, what makes the snowball so special?  It’s that absolutely fine-shaved ice.  It’s just like snow and all made special order from hand.  No machine, other than the ice cutter, is used.  It’s that little, personal touch that we sometimes lose in our mechanical society today.  Rest assured the people have built a product to last.  I have seen these treats exported and served in other cities, but they are not like the original.  Not even the depression or a hurricane could shut this place down in the 72 years they’ve been operating. Judging by the line out the door and their massive Facebook friend list – this mom and pop stand is here to stay!

THE 411

What: Hansen’s Sno-Bliz

Serving: Snowball, a southern treat of extremely fine snow like ice and flavoring

Locations: around New Orleans, LA


JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: If you ever make a trip to the south, you’ve got to try a snowball!

The original Hansen’s Sno-Bliz chain or one of its Southern rivals is worth a stop.  The location I visited is only open March through November and is also closed on Monday’s.  They are also only open for several hours in the hot afternoon.  (I’m sure other locations, times, and dates vary).

If you can’t make it to a Hansen’s location, then definitely find a place that serves these Southern treats.  I so badly want another one right now.

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