Baltimore: Birthplace of the Snowball
For the better part of thirty years, I have indulged every Summer in one of Baltimore’s most iconic iced treats. Surprisingly, I had no idea that Baltimore was famous for the type of snowballs we’ve been producing since before the Great Depression.
According to ThreeRoberts, when portable ice became available some time in the 1800’s, vendors would shave off cups of ice and sell them to locals. It was in Baltimore, though, where the children were creative enough to realize they could add flavoring to the shaved ice.
After the Great Depression, the modern snowball took form. With flavored syrups being made available outside of the home and a cost around two cents, the snowball quickly became a popular dessert for families still struggling to make ends meet. New Orleans likes to claim that they started the snowball craze, but history shows their version of this treat started some time after 1930, at least 50-60 years after Baltimore.
Today, the snowball remains on of Baltimore’s classic summer treats. Summer doesn’t quite start until you have a snowball. Rita’s has nothing on that!
Anatomy of the Snowball
As the picture above demonstrates, the Baltimore snowball is made entirely of shaved ice, unlike many regional snowballs that sport a giant ball of chunked ice. At the bottom sits a layer of ice and syrup, covered by a small layer of marshmallow. Quality is key from ice texture to syrup style. On top of that sits even more flavored ice with a nice thick layer of marshmallow topping off the entire thing. Baltimore is even credited as the birthplace of the Egg Custard snowball, a flavor that’s literally everywhere.
From now until October, you can find snowballs between street stands and well established restaurants. Snowballs are ubiquitous! My favorite comes from Elizabeth & Zyggie’s Shaved Ice Snowballs in Parkville, Maryland. No matter where you choose, you are guaranteed a hefty, flavorful experience. Other cities do their own iced treat like Hawaiian Shave Ice but Baltimore is the home of the snowball.