What’s with Obama and Shaved Ice?

Obama and fam with shaved ice

Obama and fam with shaved ice

New Orleans I know you probably had the same reaction as I did about the article on Obama’s vacation and his frustration with communications from Hawaii and terrorism, and blah, blah, blah, when the real issue was seeing the picture of  Obama and his daughter eating – what to a New Orleans eye we call a snoball but they called  “shaved ice.”  What’s that all about?  Could it be that beneath the surface of Mr. Too Cool lies a hard core New Orleanian spirit possessed by a heavy jones for snoballs anytime the temperature is over 80 degrees?  Or is this “shaved ice” fetish he’s admitted he has before really the core source of his very coolness?  Hey, this is important!  So what’s up with this snoball versus shaved ice thing?

I’m not a snoball guy truthfully, but I know many people who are and some are among my closest living relatives.  For me snoballs are simply a way that people transport syrupy sugar stuff to their bodies, sometimes at a lightning speed and scale that gives them a “brain freeze” headache weirdly accompanied by a smile rather than permanent damage.  It’s one of the few things in the world that is frankly too sweet for me.  I would really have a better understanding of the President if I knew he was a “snoball” man.

Here’s what I’ve learned in trying to get to the heart of this.

From Snoballology…New Orleans Snoball Shack

In New Orleans the snoball tradition was popularized around the 1920’s. Most of the retail shaved ice outlets in New Orleans spell the name of their product snoballs without the w. This spelling further separates the snowball from the chipped ice of a sno cone, and identifies the product to all New Orleans natives.  Shaved or Shave ice  however comes in a variety of forms from soft to coarse ice, and is a product of the Hawaiian culture and has been marketed frequently as “New Orleans Style.”

The Original New Orleans Snoball however is a light and fluffy ice confection that melts in your mouth, and comes with a variety of flavors unique to New Orleans. They inclued such flavors as Nectar and Orchid Cream Vanilla and they have been the treat of choice, and a staple of New Orleans culture for over 70 years. Ernest and George Ortolanos motorized ice block shaver revolutionized the industry. Thier high volume snoball machine was welcomed by corner ice shaving vendors citywide. Numerous other New Orleans Snoball machines followed.  “Snoballs” spelled without the w is the traditional name used by New Orleans natives.

Ok, you can tell that in typical New Orleanian fashion, we have a bit of an attitude about our snoballs compared even to “a product of the Hawaiian culture.”  The use of the pejorative “coarse” is a huge clue that the Orleanian nose is heading for the higher air.  There’s also an argument about whether or not Hanson (a still operating outfit uptown) invented the first machine or not, but that’s not the purpose of our mission today.

A fairer set of comparisons might come from the foodies at the Times who have a broader survey of the world of the snoball vs. shaved ice vs. snow cone controversy.  Here’s Julia Moskin from her June 15, 2010 story in the New York Times. It’s important for me to give you the date so that you don’t think these are snoballs that they are making up there from what they are collecting in the streets since Mayor Bloomberg is having trouble getting the plows moving in the current blizzard.

A snoball is to a snow cone as Warren Beatty is to Shirley MacLaine: closely related, but prettier, smoother and infinitely cooler. “In New Orleans, you can get killed if you call it a snow cone,” Mr. Williams said.

And no wonder — a snow cone is usually a mound of crunchy hailstones sitting in a pool of synthetic sugar syrup. The ice is crushed into pellets that send shivers up into the brain, and the flavoring has no chance of being absorbed into the ice.

But there is another way. A way of scraping ice so that it falls softly into cups like a January snowfall, and soaks up flavor the way dry ground soaks up rain in July. This is shaved ice, and it is a game-changer.

The new snow moguls draw inspiration from a whirling blizzard of these treats around the world: Hawaiian shave ice, Mexican raspados, Korean bingsu, Baltimore sky-blue “snowballs” topped with marshmallow, and Taiwanese bao bing flavored with palm sugar syrup. Indian golas and chuskis, sold by street vendors or gola wallahs, are flavored with rose, cardamom, orange and saffron. (A popular source is Saffron Spot, an Indian ice cream parlor in Artesia, Calif., south of Los Angeles.)

Most of them hail from places where summers are hot, and fruit plentiful: Latin America is packed with shaved ice treats, like Puerto Rican piraguas — named for their pyramid shape — Cuban granizados, and frío-frío (cold-cold) from the Dominican Republic.

It all seems like a snoball upgrade not a local “yat” thing here in New Orleans from that piece.  You swell up with pride and, yes, internationalism, which might be part of the cross-cultural and global message the President is sending with this shaved ice addiction of his.  Please note that no Muslim countries were mentioned, so we’re still good there.

Let me sum up this issue which should be a controversy with this piece from “shaved-ice.com” and their helpful chart.  I should disclose that they sell machines, and clearly believe that snow cones suck, but whatever:

From http://www.1-800-shaved-ice.com/machinehelp.html

What is the difference? People ask us all the time, “What is the difference between shaved ice, sno balls, and snow cones?” We tell them it depends on the texture of the ice and on where you live.

The most common name for a cup of finely shaved ice is called, just that, shaved ice. Throughout the United States, you may also see shaved ice sold as “Hawaiian Shaved Ice”, the most popular name used. In New Orleans, a cup of shaved ice is called a snoball (sometimes spelled snowball). In eastern North Carolina, some people call a cup of shaved ice, a shaver. Again, what you will call shaved ice will depend on where you live.

No matter what you call a cup of shaved ice, people will usually agree on two things. First of all, shaved ice consists of smooth, fine ice that holds syrup. Second, snow cones are not the same as shaved ice. Usually, snow cones are made from hard crunchy ice that when snow cone syrup is added to the ice, the syrup goes straight to the bottom.

Please review the following page for more information that will help you distinguish the differences between shaved ice and snow cones.

Shaved Ice

Snow Cone

  • Shaved ice is made with fine fresh snow that is shaved from either a cubed shaved ice shaver or a block shaved ice shaver.  Ice is never crunchy.
  • Often served in various sizes of foam, paper or squat cups.  The shaved ice often rounded on top of the cup. Often served with a spoonstraw and a spoon.
  • Often called Hawaiian Shaved Ice throughout the United States
  • Also called Sno-Balls (New Orleans), Shave Ice (Hawaii), Shaver (North Carolina) or Hawaiian Shaved Ice (most common)
  • Usually offered with a variety of flavors numbering from 20 to more than 70
  • Usually sold at roadside shaved ice stands, mobile carts, carnivals, county fairs, or other festivals.
  • The smooth product great for repeat business.
  • Easy and quick to make but takes a bit more time than snow cones.
  • Often topped with a variety of shaved ice toppings or cream flavors.
  • Prices vary depending on the size of the cup and can range from $0.75 to $5.00 depending on the size.
  • Snow Cones are made from snow cone machines that crushes ice cubes (bag ice) into small pellets.  Snow cones are never made with block ice machines.
  • Ice is crunchy.
  • When flavor is added to ice, the flavor often runs to the bottom of the cup.
  • Often served in one or two sizes.  The most common is a 6 ounce cone type cup.  The ice is often rounded on top of the cone.  Usually served without a spoon.
  • Ice is crushed ahead of time and dipped with a specially made nylon snow cone dipper.
  • Usually sold at carnivals, county fairs or other festivals.
  • Easy and quick to make.
  • Usually offered with a limited number of  flavors, between 2 to 5.
  • Often used when repeat business is not the main goal.
  • Prices range from $1.00 to $3.00, depending on the container used.
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