Color Wheel

A Southern summer tradition goes national

In some cities, summer means baseball and base tans.

But in Baltimore and New Orleans, the sticky season has a different marker: snowballs. As the weather warms, locals flock to their favorite stands to watch masters douse balls of shaved ice with a kaleidoscopic array of fruit-based syrups.

Finally, the rest of the country is catching on as snowball shops drift into cities across the nation (click here to see a slide show).

The snowball (or "sno-ball" if you're in New Orleans) is a relative to the snow cone, but calling it such will surely provoke a fight. Snowballs are demarcated by the hyper-fine texture of the ice, which should be powdery enough to approximate fresh snow.

A proper stand will make its own simple syrups, which are then combined with concentrated fruit extracts to produce a parade of flavors. The spectrum ranges from classic cherry to Tiger's Blood–a NOLA signature (which preceded Charlie Sheen's appropriation of the term), which blends strawberry and coconut. In New Orleans, the desserts are often gilded with a squeeze of condensed milk, while Baltimore residents prefer a marshmallow crème crown.

Whichever way you top it, be sure to eat these treats quickly, lest you face a bowl of cold iridescent soup.