The streets come alive as thousands of enthusiastic party-goers gather in New Orleans to participate in the Mardi Gras celebration each year. Flashy and sometimes outlandish costumes, parades filled with fascinating floats and attendees adorned with colorful strands of beads are only a few of the many Mardi Gras traditions on display. Of course a diverse array of delectable cuisines, from gourmet eats to creative concession snacks, are always a big part of the festivities as well.
Ice is Nice, but Snow Steals the Show
Mint Juleps, King Cakes and seafood gumbo are among the famous palate-pleasing traditions of Mardi Gras. But when it comes to cool refreshments, the “snowball” is not only a flavorful icy treat, but is a bona fide New Orleans original, woven into the very fabric of the “Big Easy.”
As opposed to the widely-recognized “snow cone,” which consists of chopped ice of a thicker, chunkier texture, snowballs are made from thinly shaved ice, resulting in a lighter, fluffier texture that closely resembles snow.
Snowballs have actually been a part of New Orleans fare since the 1930s. Big Easy history tells us that when struggling Depression-era grocer George Ortolano noticed that a nearby snow cone vendor never seemed to be lacking for customers, he decided to refine the whole idea behind “crushed ice.” Mr. Ortolano then took it upon himself to create a shaved ice machine that produced a finer, flakier brand of snow cone that held truer to the consistency of actual snow than its coarser counterpart. Thus, the snowball was born.
Word of Mr. Ortolano’s newly-created delicacy began to spread. With the addition of a growing variety of sweet-flavored syrups and toppings, snowballs began to become a highly sought-after treat. Today, shops, stores and stands that serve up snowballs are not only commonplace in the New Orleans area, but they can be found in just about every corner of Louisiana and the surrounding region.
Although crushed-ice snow cones and variations of soft ice machine products are enjoyed by millions on hot summer days throughout the land, there is only one “snowball,” as first-time visitors to the Mardi Gras are often quick to discover.