The custom of eating sweetened snow supposedly began with the Roman Empire, but in New Orleans, the practice took off in 1934, when Ernest Hansen invented a device called “Hansen’s Sno-Bliz.” Sno-Bliz, a motorized ice shaver, took the labor out of sno-ball preparation, which, in the pre-Hansen era, required a lot of hard work with a hand plane.
The uninitiated often confuse the sno-ball with the snow cone, which is common throughout the country but in sneered at in NOLA. The chief difference between the two ids the quality of a sno-ball’s ice. It is shaved to a deliciously fine consistency and is far creamier than the crushed ice used in the sno-balls granular cousin.
The ice is shaved from a hefty block, scooped into a paper cone and sweetened with the syrup of the customer’s choosing. Most sno-ball shops keep fifty or more kinds of syrup on hand, ranging from fruit flavors to piquant innovations such as orchid cream vanilla.
Sno-balls are sold at humble neighborhood stands and serving windows all across the city, though sno-ball aficionados generally swear allegiance to one of the titans of the local scene: Plum Street Sno-Balls at 1300 Burdette Street in the Riverbend area, or Hansen’s Sno-Bliz Sweet Shop, which is still owned and operated by Ernest Hansen’s family, at 4801 Tchoupitoulas Street. Despite their popularity, both shops heed seasonal tradition and close their doors from September to Easter.