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Summer snowballs

Catherine Owers | Sunday, April 7, 2013

For most of America, summer seems to go hand-in-hand with beaches, baseball and barbecues. I like sandcastles, home runs and barbecued chicken as much as the next girl, but for me  – and much of New Orleans  – summer means snowballs.
When I was younger, it was always a fun surprise to see my dad come home from work with snowballs for all of us. Postgame snowballs were the highlight my short-lived cabbage ball career. Now, when I go to my brothers’ swim meets and baseball games, a snowball makes the New Orleans heat and humidity bearable. Snowballs are the perfect after-school treat and a quick dessert to get on the way home from dinner. Most snowball stands are open from mid-afternoon until 11 p.m.
Snowballs are the infinitely better second cousin of snow cones. In my experience, snow cones are chunks of ice in flimsy paper cups, with maybe seven flavors to choose from. Snowballs, however, are finely shaved flecks of ice, and most of the snowball stands back home have at least 30 flavors. Of course being New Orleans, we have to be a little over the top, even in our desserts. It’s not uncommon to see snowballs with condensed milk toppings or soft-serve ice cream.
Like beignets and bananas foster, there’s not much healthy about snowballs. The only redeeming quality is the inherent portion control. The syrup is so sweet it’s nearly impossible to eat multiple snowballs at a time –  although my little brothers have tried. High-fructose corn syrup and red dye number five are the perfect complement to whatever dinner you may have had, whether filet mignon or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
New Orleanians are particular about the snowball stands we frequent and the flavors we like. For some, loyalty to a snowball stand is only behind loyalty to your church parish and the place you watch Mardi Gras parades. I always feel vaguely guilty if I go to a different snowball stand with friends. My family is incredibly consistent in what flavors we get. I can easily rattle off my family’s typical snowball order. My go-to flavor is strawberry, although sometimes I branch out and try pink lemonade or grape.
Snowballs are a great equalizer. They can be as inexpensive as a dollar, and there’s absolutely nothing dignified about eating a snowball. You sit outside and alternate slurping and slapping at mosquitos. Your tongue will inevitably end up an outlandish red, purple, blue or green. Whenever I eat a snowball, I feel like a little kid again, excited for vacations and no school.
In case you all couldn’t tell, I can’t wait for summer in New Orleans.