Fun Foods - Snow Cones

Who can resist an icy, frosty cold beverage on a hot day? There is nothing like a freezing cold, multi-flavored concoction such as a snow cone to bring cheer to your heart and a smile to your face on a sweltering day. So many flavor selections to make, so many varied combinations of syrups from which to choose. Where do you start? How daring do you want to be?

The basic snow cone is a sweet treat made with tightly packed, shaved ice flavored with one or more vividly colored, sugary syrups, generally fruit-flavored. One of many variations, the "stuffed" snow cone has a layer of soft-serve vanilla ice cream in the middle. Some snow cones need a spoon for them to be consumed, while others are meant to be held like an ice cream cone.

The snow cone is a remainder from the Roman Empire (27 BCE to CE 395). Loads of snow were lugged down the mountain tops to the city. Syrup was added to scooped snow to make possibly the world’s first frozen dessert. Enter the snow cone or snow ball.

Skipping approximately 1,500 years, we arrive at the snow cone’s next milestone. At that time, hand tools, such as hand-held ice shavers, were designed specifically to produce snow balls. By the late 1800s, numerous manufacturers were turning out ice shavers having the ability to shave a block of ice into soft, fluffy "snow." It wasn’t until the 1920s that this icy treat became popular in locales such as New Orleans.

In 1919, at the State Fair of Texas, an enthusiastic crowd was able to buy handmade snow cones from Samuel Bert of Dallas. By 1920, he had invented a snow cone-making machine. He continued selling his snow cones there, plus selling his machines worldwide, until his death in 1984.

The first known, patented motorized ice block shaver to produce New Orleans-style shaved ice, was, in 1934, created by inventor Ernest Hansen of New Orleans, Louisiana. This machine motivated him to invent a more refined and hygienic version of the already popular Italian ice sold by pushcart vendors in New Orleans. Wife Mary concocted several flavors of fresh syrups to be used in flavoring Hansen’s finely shaved artificial "snow." Snow balls have been a popular dessert in New Orleans ever since.

Snow balls have gained popularity worldwide, but outside of New Orleans they are sometimes known as snow cones.

Names and Variations:

Snow cones produced in the United States are generally produced in the shape of a ball. However, in Puerto Rico, they are called piraqua, as they were formed in the shape of a pyramid. The majority of Puerto Rican snow cone peddlers sell their wares out of their cars.

Mexicans and those living in the adjoining Texas border area eat raspados (raspas for short). The word raspar means "scrape;" the name raspado can be translated into English as "scraped ice."

A favorite Hawaiian treat is called shaved ice and i sold in cone-shaped paper cups. The "Rainbow," a favorite flavor, is made with three flavors that are usually chosen for their color and aesthetics rather than for the flavor compatibility. (Beauty vs. taste? Is something backwards here?) Hawaiian ice is ordinarily shaved to a finer texture than is found with other snow cones so that the syrup colors are retained longer and more intensely, again striving for an improved presentation. As mentioned at the top of this article, it is not uncommon to find a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the bottom of the paper cup.

On occasion, a snow cone fan can find a small gum ball at the bottom of the paper cone.

Sometimes, snow cones are confused with Italian ices or water ices. However, water ice purists insist that snow cones must be flavored after production, at the point of sale, while flavor is added to water ices as the ice itself is being made. Italian ice is a favorite in New York City. Although it is generally sold in Pizzerias or Italian Ice Shops, street vendors throughout the city peddle this sweet treat all over the city.

Nonetheless, southwest of New York City sits Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with its specialty, water ice, which is made of combining flavorings (usually fruit juices or coffee and chocolate). A variation on this frozen dessert is gelato, popular across the United States. Gelato layers water ice and frozen yogurt, frozen custard, or soft-serve ice cream, into a parfait.

Snow cones and water ices should not be confused with one another; snow cones have a harder consistency and are sometimes crunchy, while water ices have a more pronounced smoothness and a wetter consistency.

There is a vast number of syrup flavorings, which can be combined for some exceptionally unusual mixtures. There are many standard flavors for the timid while, on the other hand, there are flavors that, when put together in one treat, may grow hair on your fingernails.

Here is a sampling of the myriad flavorings available.

For the faint of heart:
Banana Bubble Gum
Blueberry
Blue Raspberry
Butterscotch
Cherry Cola
Coconut
Grape
Guava
Lemonade
Peanut Butter
Peppermint
Root Beer
Spearmint
Strawberry
Watermelon

For those who dare to be different:
Amaretto
Anisette
Cranberry
Cream Cheese
Crème de Menthe
Dill Pickle
Egg Custard
Leche
Mai Tai
Maple
Orchid
Pineapple
Pink Champagne
Tamarind
Vanilla Malt

Caution! Watch out for the dreaded Brain Freeze.

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About The Author, Terry Kaufman
Terry Kaufman is Chief Editorial Writer for several websites. See more on food and cooking at Niftykitchen.com, entertaining at your home bar, at Niftyhomebar.com, and building your dream garden, at Niftygarden.com.©2007 Terry Kaufman. No reprints without permission.