An egg custard snowball from Snoasis in Baltimore, MD. Photo by Jess Mayhugh from Serious Eats.

The Origins of the Baltimore Snowball

07/27/2017
By Waxter Intern

We’re in the midst of another sweltering Maryland summer, and in Baltimore there’s one classic way to cool down: a sweet Baltimore snowball!

ANATOMY OF A SNOWBALL

For those unfamiliar with the summer treat, they are distinctly different from snow cones and Hawaiian ice, and bear some similarities to the New Orleans snoball. Unlike the crushed ice snow cone, the Baltimore snowball typically consists of finely shaved ice.

Once the ice is packed into the cup, it can be covered with a flavored syrup. Some makers even add a dollop of marshmallow before adding the cone on top, or just drizzle the marshmallow over the top. Some popular flavors are:

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SHAVED ICE

As legands go, Baltimoreans have been enjoyed shaved ice since the 1800s. Trucks shipping ice to the south would pass through Baltimore, and kids would chase them asking for shavings. When they brought the ice shavings back home, their mothers would make flavored syrups, such as the Baltimore favorite, egg custard, made out of eggs, vanilla, and sugar.

Some business caught on, too, and snowballs were sold as intermission treats at theatres in the summertime as the perfect way to cool down in hot venues that didn’t have air conditioning.

During and after the Great Depression, the easy and cheap treat, became known known as the hard times sundae or the penny sundae. Making snoballs was also a way for those who fell on hard times to make extra money. Even during World War II, when milk and sugar were rationed, snowball sales remained strong.

New Orleans is a competitor in the claim to have invented the dessert first, with their snowball history tracing back to the 1930s, when Ernest Hansen patented an electric ice-shaver. So it seems that Charm City pre-dates Crescent City in snowball consumption.

CONTINUING THE TRADITION

Today, the Baltimore-based Koldkiss company creates hundreds of flavored syrups and electric ice shaving machines, making it easy for snowball stands to pop up almost anywhere – and homemade snowball stands are a familiar site in Baltimore. Baltimore expats have even been known to start their own snowball businesses wherever they are, including in Baltimore Snowball and The Snowball Collective in California, and the Baltimore Snowball Factory in Florida.

This post was written by Maggie Pelta-Pauls, a Waxter Intern with Preservation Maryland. A graduate of The College of William and Mary, Maggie is primed to research and write about Maryland history – especially culinary history. Learn more about Maggie and our The Waxter Memorial Internship program here: presmd.org/waxter.

Waxter Intern

A legacy gift from William D. Waxter, III established the Waxter Memorial Internship to help Preservation Maryland support the next generation in historic preservation.

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