I'm a little slow today. I just switched to Sanka. So...have a heart?

Monday, May 12, 2008


Do you ever have one of those cravings that hits you out of the blue, for something seasonal, that you absolutely, positively, cannot get where you live?

Today I had one.

As I was driving home from work today, I would have paid dearly for a Sky-Blue Snowball with marshmallow topping, rimmed with turquoise. Or an egg custard snowball. A bright orange-yellow egg custard snowball, frosted with marshmallow topping. (See above. And drool.)

What, you may ask, is a Snowball? Unless you're from Baltimore, you simply can't know. Even if you've been to Baltimore, chances are, you've never had a Snowball. not unless you've lived there.

I think you can probably approximate what a Snowball is, but it's not quite a snow-cone (there's a difference)... I found this article, that sums up quite nicely, what, exactly a Snowball is:

"Over the years I developed a certain pride in my city’s cultural idiosyncrasies, even the shaky ones such as Wild Bill Hagy and Chessie. But my education about the limitations of Baltimore’s effect on the outside world was far from complete: It was only very recently I learned that snowballs fall into the same category as soft crabs and Berger’s cookies—namely, foods no one else on the planet really eats.

This bit of knowledge truly rocked my world. I mean, snowballs! Of all the comestibles birthed in Baltimore, this was the one that just had to have worldwide appeal. Snowballs are sweet, brightly colored, and inexpensive—even low-fat, for cryin’ out loud. Who could possibly not crave such a shaved-ice confection on a hot summer day?

Most of the U. S. of A., as a matter of fact. Aside from the Midwest, where “snow cones” (cousins to the snowball, but made of coarser ice, crushed instead of shaved) are sold on carnival midways, nobody really does snowballs outside of Maryland. In New Orleans, they try to lay claim to the snowball-capital title, but their version consists of fruit flavoring over ice that’s been shaved so fine it’s nearly liquid. Sorry, but any frozen concoction that can be sipped through a straw is not a true snowball. And don’t even talk to me about Italian ices or slush cups: Although widely available, they have about as much to do with snowballs as bacon bits do with actual bacon—similar intent, vastly different composition."

I, too was surprised to find out that true Snowballs don't really exist outside of Baltimore -- not in the same neighborhoodly frequency. And outside of Maryland? Forget it.

Snowballs are a summertime institution -- universally beloved by... well, everyone.

Snowballs: sold out of a shed in an alley, or a parking lot, where teenagers grind blocks of ice on the loud, silver Koldkiss machine, and serve the shavings, liberally besotted with your choice of an a kaleidoscopic array of apothecary-liquid-colored sugar water in flavors from Bananna to Tutti-Fruitti; raspberry to spearmint, in a white styrofoam cup, with a white plastic spoon.

Cold, and wet and crunchy and sticky and sweet and quenchingly thirst-slaking; cooling and cozy and slurpy and tongue-stainingly, mouth-stainingly, shirt-stainingly craveable.

When I was three, almost four, one muggy August evening as the sun was low on the horizon, my parents took me over to the Snowball stand in the alley behind Dunkirk road (the next street over). I got a sky-blue Snowball. My mother was wearing leggings, and a loose shirt. After depositing me at my "Mom-Mom"'s house, I hadn't yet finished my snowball when my father called to let me know that I had a little brother.

When we moved from Towson (a town with more snowball stands per capita than anywhere else on earth), we would drive half an hour to Marriottsville, to the end of Route 29, and down Route 99, over the hills, and through the fields, into the deep country of Howard County.

Perched on a hill, in the front lawn of an Edwardian farmhouse, was the Snowball Stand. It wasn't two hundred paces away like my stand in Baltimore, but it was a snowball stand nonetheless. Howard County's lone beacon of icy-sugary goodness, home of the most satisfying brain-freeze South-West of York Road.

Snowballs are twilight and summer vacation. Miniature golf and riding bikes at night over to the next alley. Painted screen doors left open at night; sold where the Arabbers yelled, "Srawwwwwburris! Freeeeeesh b'NAAAAAAnas! Strawwwwwwwwwburris!" as their horses clopped between York to Bellona.

If today, you can't fathom why it would be worth it to drive half an hour for a cup of shaved ice, and sugar water, with marshmallow syrup, consumed sitting on the warm hood of your car, watching the sun set and listening to the crickets sing in the tall grass and bats and barnswallows flit through the air, while lightning bugs twinkle like earth-bound stars... then I hope, some day, you'll be able to.

Because a Snowball at dusk on a warm July evening is about the closest thing to heaven on Earth there is.