Prior to the 1850s, there were no snowcones. Imagine that! But, it is believed that they had their birth around this time in Baltimore, Maryland. Thanks to the industrial revolution, ice had become commercially available. (Prior to this if you wanted ice it had to be cut off of a frozen river or lake – not great for eating – yuck). Ice houses in New York sold man-made ice to the southern states. To get it there they would send a big horse-drawn wagon with a huge block of ice south.
The route to Florida would pass right through Baltimore where kids would run up to the wagon and ask for a small scraping of ice. Before long, mothers started to make flavoring in anticipation of their children receiving some ice. The first flavor the women made is still a Baltimore favorite: egg custard. Egg custard was an easy flavor to make as the only ingredients were eggs, vanilla, and sugar. In Baltimore today, a favorite is some ice with a dollop of marshmallow syrup on top. Sounds good doesn’t it?
By the 1870s, snowcones had evolved to where they were being sold on street corners. At this time they were known as snowballs.
The snowball’s popularity had risen to the degree that in the warm summer months, theaters would sell snowballs to keep their patrons cool. Because of this association with the theater, snowballs were soon thought of as an upper-class commodity. Signs in theaters instructing patrons to finish their snowballs before coming in for the second act are the earliest tangible evidence of these cool treats. In the theaters in Baltimore during this time hand shavers were used to shave the ice.
Over the years we have found many ways to make crushed or shaved ice with many different tools. Shavers, crushers, etc!
In Hawaii they have big vintage shaved ice machines made out of cast iron. Their shaved ices tend to be flavored with local fruits like pineapple, coconut, and guava.
Most of the smaller tools are collectible today and they can, of course, still be used to make a snowcone. Fire up the vintage ice crusher and pull out the marshmallow syrup! Who’s ready for a snowcone!
In the Midtown mall we’ve been known to serve snowcones. We hope to have them again in the near future. Now you can not only enjoy this cool treat, but you know it’s history as well!
Carol Fenn 6-2017