Baltimoreans Love Affair With Snowballs
By Linda L. Esterson
As long as he can remember, Mike Leavey has been a diehard fan of root beer snowballs.
As a kid growing up in Baltimore, he remembers stopping at random snowball stands around the area for the cold, flavorful treat. Even the JCC in Owings Mills had a stand.
“I definitely have fond memories of getting snowballs as a kid,” he says.
Today, the father of three looks forward to the onset of the summer sun and heat. That’s when he knows it’s “snowball season.” From Memorial Day to Labor Day, on average once a week throughout the summer, Leavey enjoys the frozen Baltimore treat from one of the many stands located throughout metropolitan Baltimore on street corners and in shopping centers.
“I like the flavor combined with the texture,” he says. “It’s like drinking soda, but better, and it has better flavor and texture than ice cream.”
And that last, syrupy quarter-inch, at the bottom, is just heaven.
Neal Pertnoy echoes this sentiment. Growing up in Randallstown, he remembers being as young as 3- or 4-years-old and having snowballs.
It was always and still is chocolate for Pertnoy, who sometimes tops it off with marshmallow or ice cream.
His childhood love of this frozen confection has not faded and he “cheats” on his way home from working downtown by stopping at the Summer Shack on Falls Road at least twice a week for a quick treat. He’s graduated to chocolate pudding flavor — chocolate with cream flavoring poured over it, which falls into the Hawaiian or specialty category at most area stands.
“I love them more than anybody I know,” he says.
Pertnoy’s wife, Marci, remembers getting snowballs for a sore throat as a child and feeling better after eating the cold treat. Today, they take their children, Logan, 9, and Carly, 14, once a week for this summer treat.
Leavey’s children are younger — his 15-month-old twins aren’t ready — but his 5-year-old daughter Nora was introduced to the Baltimore culinary tradition last summer.
“I have to make sure she likes snowballs and coddies,” laughs Leavey.
“It’s an experience,” he explains. “You go to the stand and sit on the curb to eat your snowball. There’s nothing else like it.”
But if you’re not from Baltimore, you may not understand. Leavey’s wife, Shauna, hails from Fort Wayne, Ind. and frankly prefers ice cream over snowballs.
Shauna Leavey was introduced to the treat when dating her future husband and she remembers desiring to turn the ice into ice cream. She got chocolate syrup as the flavor and had marshmallow put on top.
“Mike was horrified,” she recalls. “It was ice and sugar syrup. I didn’t crave it. Since then, I’ve never said I wanted to get snowballs.”
Instead, it’s a special time for father and daughter, something “just for them.”
“No doubt when the boys get older, it will be a thing all three (children) have with their dad,” Shauna Leavey realizes.
And although she grew up with snow cones in the Midwest and adjusted to life on the East Coast, she doubts it would be as easy for her husband to move west and be without his snowballs.
Suzanne Eisgrau tasted her first snowball in the late 1980s while attending Towson State University. Eisgrau, who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., remembers being confused when she had expected Italian ice. “This is just ice,” she says. “I had it one time and that was it.”
Her children, however, who are Baltimoreans, enjoy the cold treats poolside.
“I like ice cream better,” says Eisgrau. “It never caught on with me.”
Like Eisgrau and Shauna Leavey, Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Rhoda Silverman tasted her first snowball upon moving to Baltimore in July 1993. “What’s a snowball?” was her initial reaction.
“When somebody told me shaved ice and syrup, I said, ‘So?’ I didn’t get it.”
Silverman ordered chocolate and was pleasantly surprised.
“It was good. I remember thinking it was better than I expected, but I didn’t know what the hype was all about.”
What’s in a Name?
Here’s a quick rundown on the differences between these summer favorites.
Traditional Snowball — Baltimore snowballs were traditionally made from ice pellets flavored with sugary syrups and served in cups of various sizes. In later years, marshmallow and ice cream were provided as topping choices.
Hawaiian Snowball — Shaved ice sold in a paper or Styrofoam cup topped with different flavors. In Hawaii, the cup is first filled with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or sweetened Adzuki beans and after the ice and flavoring is topped with condensed milk.
Italian Ice — Ice treat that is smoother than a snow cone, blending ice with fresh fruit.
Snow Cones — Crushed ice formed to fit in a cone shaped paper holder and topped with flavored syrups.
Gelati — Combines the flavor of Italian Ice with the smoothness of creamy frozen custard in layers.
From Web sources