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.

  • Snowballs: Imperial Woodpecker, New York

    After hosting snowball parties in her diminutive New York apartment for months, Neesa Peterson opened Imperial Woodpecker Sno-balls this spring. (Photo: Noah Fecks)

  • Snowballs: Imperial Woodpecker, New York

    Peterson serves New Orleans-inspired standards, including Sweet Lou's Nectar Cream (named after her grandfather), alongside original creations such as Key Lime Pie. (Photo: Noah Fecks)

  • Snowballs: Skylite Snowballs, San Francisco

    In the Bay Area, Katie Baum uses local ingredients such as San Francisco-based TCHO chocolate and Four Barrel coffee for her Baltimore-style balls, which she serves from her roving Skylite Snowballs truck. True to the Baltimore tradition, Baum tops her creations with homemade marshmallow crème. (Photo: Aya Brackett.)

  • Snowballs: Fleur de Lis, Nashville

    Tanisha Hall understands that not everyone has a sweet tooth. At Fleur de Lis Flavors, available at the Nashville Farmers' Market, Hall surprises visitors with a salty dill-pickle snowball. Sweet seekers needn't worry: They can choose from more than 40 other flavors such as classic Tiger's Blood, lime and grape.

  • Snowballs: Bayou Bakery, Arlington, VA

    Don't be spooked by the alligator head in the lounge; it's just part of the New Orleans vibe at Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Virginia. There, chef David Guas crafts boozy snowballs for summer, including a rummy Hurricane, zapped with a mix of citrus juices, watermelon and pineapple.

  • Snowballs: Mardi Gras Snowballs, Tallahassee

    At Mardi Gras Snowballs in Tallahassee, partners Brenda Retif and John Brown don't make customers choose between condensed milk and marshmallow fluff. Rather, they bring richness to the dessert by stuffing their snowballs with vanilla ice cream, which visitors can enjoy while sitting at the bead ar, a counter decorated with Mardi Gras flair.

  • Snowballs: Sal's Sno-Ball Stand, New Orleans

    A New Orleans institution, Sal's Sno-Ball Stand has been shaving ice and squirting syrup since 1960. Eccentric flavors such as Robin, Joker and Purple Dawn attract loyal fans every year from late February through October, when Sal's shuts down for the winter.

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