The History of the Baltimore Snowball

anatomy-of-a-snowball_534186b31017e_w1500    The snowball is one of my favorite summertime snacks of all time. A snowball is a very syrupy,  cup (preferably styrofoam!) of finely shaved ice. One of the distinct features is the marshmallow topping, which is very important to enhance the experience. Snowballs are the quintessential summertime dessert for me and many others. Why then does nobody know what they are?

The story begins in the late 1800’s when ice became widely available to the average citizen. As huge carts of ice travelled through Maryland, the drivers would shave off some of the ice to give to children. The children then took the shavings home and quickly made flavorings for their new treats. During the 1920’s shaved and flavored ice was sold during plays when customers needed to cool off during a long and hot show.

The modern snowball has its roots in the Great Depression, when standardized syrups could be purchased instead of homemade ones. Because of the low cost of ice, snowballs could be purchased for just 2 cents. This was one of the only treats that people could afford, and thus snowballs became very popular. Another facet to the story is that setting up a snowball stand is easy, as is making the treats, and many people turned to snowball making to sustain themselves. After the Depression, snowballs stayed popular throughout the war, when ice cream was nowhere to be found. While US troops ate ice cream, everyday citizens ate snowballs as their main icy treat.

After the war, the snowball remained popular, and is relatively unchanged to this day. Because the snowball is such an amazing little ice clump, it does make you wonder why you can’t have one right now (unless you live in Baltimore)?

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84 Comments

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84 responses to “The History of the Baltimore Snowball

  1. Morgan

    I’ve always wondered why they were so local to Baltimore! Very creative topic to write about.

  2. Squirrel Pit in Easton, MD is bringing the Baltimore Snowball experience to the Eastern Shore! 137 N. Harrison St. Opening Day May 1st!

  3. Although there are other cities, such as New Orleans, where snowballs are ubiquitous, I believe they are so popular in Baltimore because of zoning leniency and flexibility. They are not treated in Baltimore as a potentially hazardous food product like milk or meat products. If snowball syrup goes bad it starts to ferment and tastes funny. It is near impossible that it could hurt someone. As a result, you don’t need stainless steel 3 compartment sinks, on-site bathrooms, or water heaters. This allowed vendors to start their ventures relatively inexpensively and with lots of economic competition the prices stayed low to the benefit of the consumers.

    • Sounds like a good reason to me! I wonder why more places don’t have snowballs since they are such an easy start-up business?

    • Kathleen

      My brother and I had a snowball stand in Pasadena in the ’70’s. We were 15 and 16. A health inspector came by every year when we set up shop. We had to have 3 sinks and running water. Our other expenses included: construction of the stand itself, the ice shaving machine (we had 2), a freezer, and of course, the ice.
      We had to be careful that we always had “warm ice,” because the colder the ice, the finer the shavings.

    • Anonymous

      A man started a little snowball stand here in Salisbury MD a few years back. He was originally from Baltimore and made wonderful snowballs with the marshmallow in the middle and even ice-cream on top. Then the Health Dept came along and told him that he had to put in a public bathroom and three sinks so he closed his wonderful little snowball business.

  4. Very nice and accurate I will be sharing this bit of Baltimore History on my Fb pages Thanks Kavern Syrups Baltimore Md.

    • Thanks for sharing my article! Do you sell your syrups to all of the snowballs stands in Maryland? We like the snowball stand in Ferndale, MD, they have lots of great flavors!

      • Anonymous

        Ferndale, is one of the best snowball stands around. Staff is so friendly.

      • Anonymous

        I live very close to the Ferndale snowball stand. My kids & grandkids LOVE that place. They go there every Sunday in the summer….after we have our cook-out & they get in our pool.

  5. I went to Arizona last summer and was very surprised that they didn’t have them there!!

    • Doesn’t that seem like the perfect place for them? I too think they should be everywhere! My own family where I live in New England doesn’t even know what they taste like!

    • I live in Arizona and I know of ONE snowball stand. It’s in front of a Walmart in Tempe, AZ. They’re nothing like a Baltimore snowball, though. We have Hawaiian Ice here, which is made with finely shaved ice. It’s pretty good, and you can get it with marshmallow topping, but still not the same. Sigh… I miss snowballs so much.

  6. Donna Hannon Crozier

    I know this to be true because my Grandmother Hannon sold snowballs in the summer to help support their family. She made her own flavors & homemade marshmallow topping. Raising 12 children in the 20’s, 30’s & 40’s had it’s financial drawbacks.

  7. gp gp

    GOOD, GOOD, GOOD

  8. My neighbor Mrs. Thompson had a snowball stand all summer. We all walked there. In September, she changed to apples on a stick dipped in caramel. She always had a bit of spending money! I prefer my snowball with vanilla ice cream on the bottom instead of marshmallow topping. -Rosalie Ballou, via email

    • Sheila

      Me, too. Vanilla ice cream on the bottom, no marshmallow. Chocolate. Always chocolate. There were snowball places everywhere in Baltimore city in the 60’s. People ran them out of their kitchens and back yards.

  9. Tammi

    I live in NC. They have no idea what a snowball is and ask for one with chocolate and mash mellow on it. They think your crazy.

  10. Mike Kufel

    Hello. My parents owned M and M variety store in East Baltimore. We sold snowballs every summer. It was like an art to learn how to make the best snowballs. We sold marshmallow as a topping. I bet we had 30-40 flavors. It was my job to mix the sugar water and to fill the snowball machine with ice. Such great memories of the famous Baltimore snowball.

  11. Anonymous

    I grow up in Baltimore and chocolate was and still is my favorite😉. I now live in Colorado and am thinking about buying a machine to sale them here😊. Any good Evites

  12. joe

    You can year round here in San Diego! We feel the same way and we are taking snowballs to the world. Check out some of the cool creations we have at Baltimore Snowball! Great article!

    • I would love to try a snowball from your place!

      • mpasquini

        There is also a Baltimore Snowball store in Sarasota, FL. They even have a stand at Ed Smith Stadium when the Orioles play spring training games. The owner lived in Pikesville and then moved to Sarasota and saw the need for them down there.

  13. Anonymous

    Born and raised in Annapolis and one thing I can never figure out is why there’s always been a minimum of four ice cream stores on Main Street, but nowhere in this entire town to get a good snowball??

  14. Lks

    I miss them so much, that whenever I visit family, I have to get me some. Luckily, there is a Sno to Go store in Williamsburg, VA that the college students love! That’s only an hour drive to get me some snowballs!! And SkyBlue is my favorite with Root Beer coming in close behind.

  15. Anonymous

    Years ago I was vacationing with my family in the Outer Banks. And at the community complex pool for our beach house they had a snowball stand set up. Though I think they referred to theirs as snowcones, even though it was in a cup. I proceeded to get one, my favorite cherry with marshmallow. So when I asked the girl if they had any marshmallow, she laughed and said “You must be from Baltimore.” Only a Baltimorean or Marylander would ask for a snowball with marshmallow. Indeed I am a South Baltimore native. So we had a good laugh as she was from I believe Pasadena, Md. Sadly she said they did not have it. That is how I came to realize how localized our snowball with marshmallow really was. Though my cherry snowball just wasn’t the same without marshmallow. And you have to have the right consistency with the marshmallow.

  16. Dianne Memorie Ward

    Hi I will be 80 next year remember snowball was make in a backyard with large block of ice and a hand shaver it looked like a wood shaver you shaved back and forth till you had enough to fill a paper meat tray it was piled high you got a flat wood spoon I bet you had a qt of snowball for 5 cents I lived in East Baltimore this was in 1940 Thank you for this memorie Dianne Memorie Benton

    • Pat

      I am 77 and am right with you re memory lane. I live in Wake Forest, NC. When a local snow cone stand opened I asked for chocolate with marshmallow on the bottom, the owner replied “you’re from Baltimore, no one from NC has ever asked for that combo”! People just don’t know what they’re missing!😜

  17. One of my fondest memories is from the 60’s where my cousins and I would go up to the snowball stand on Parkwood Avenue at night . . . with us maybe 9 or 10 years old . . . and for 25 cents have the best egg custard snowball there ever was!

  18. Anonymous

    I was born and raised in Baltimore, snowballs were indeed a part of my childhood and my adult years. We moved to a northern county and no one local sells them, need to drive 10 mis. I bought myself a Margaritaville machine and a gallon of egg custard syrup from my local party rental store. I am thinking that you out of towners could order some syrup on line!

  19. Mary Chaikin

    I live in Sarasota Florida and we now have a “Baltimore Snowball Store”. A young fellow from Randalstown, MD came here last year and opened up his store. It is just like we had back home in Baltimore! YEA!!!!

  20. Anonymous

    Although from Baltimore, I live in Austin and have seen ONE snowball stand – “New Orleans” style snowballs … although close to my house, I’ve never had one because the line is ALWAYS too long. They’re obviously popular.

  21. karen

    Born and raised in Baltimore, snowballs were the best part of summer. Mr. John’s snowball stand, located on Harford rd at Kildaire Dr, where $.25 got you a huge snowball with the best marshmallow cream in town! I sure do miss them.

    • MJB

      I used to walk a block to Mr. John’s. Sky Blue was my favorite “flavor.” I have often tried to learn more about Mr. John. Why was he in a wheelchair? Was he born in England (I seem to recall that). What was his real name?

  22. Shirley

    I used to make and sell snowballs at Miss Edna’s store in SoBo. I think Miss Edna and Mr. Joe made their own flavors. If I remember correctly, spearmint used to be the favorite flavor. I can see why, it was refreshing on a hot summer day. My favorite is chocolate w/ice cream on the bottom. Sometimes if I get cherry/strawberry I like it w/marshmallow. Sometimes the marshmallow is too heavy and gooey. I’ve gotten “snowballs” other places but there’s nothing like getting one from the Baltimore area.

  23. Anonymous

    “… while U.S. troops ate ice cream…” Really? Just sitting around on the front lines, getting shot and bombed while having an ice cream?

  24. Nicole

    I’m from Vermont and have never heard of these. I am very intrigued though and hope to someday make it to Baltimore and try one. They sound very interesting.

    • Anonymous

      All you need to do is get a little snow ball machine from Walmart, get some Hershey ‘ s chocolate syrup and a container of marshmallow fluff and make it yourself. I live in Baltimore and make my own.

  25. Millie

    Growing up in Baltimore I loved snowballs in the summer. When I moved to Anne Arundel County a stand put vanilla ice cream in the bottom. Loved that even more!

  26. Anonymous

    I lived in Waverly and neighbors would sell them out of their basement. Two cents for snowball and 5 cents with marshmellow This was in the 40s. Goodold days

    • DOLORES FARLEY

      I lived in Waverly also, we got our snowballs from a lady on Loch Raven near Homestead St. In the 40’s. Ahhh memories.

  27. Anonymous

    Anyone that ever lived in the Moral Park are of the city has to remember Miss Helen’s snowballs. Washington Blvd and Desoto Rd.

  28. Stephen

    While we don’t put marshmallow on them, snowballs are all over Louisiana, you can get hundreds of flavor combinations, including ice cream in the middle, sweet cream on top, etc. There is even a company that distributes pint-sized frozen ones at the grocery stores.

  29. Will K

    Thank you for reminding me of everything great about my childhood. Snowballs made the world go round and old fashioned egg custard was worth gold in the summer. Mrs Reenie on Church St in Brooklyn Park was an amazing woman who always was I interested in my life, even as a young buck. Don’t forget the marshmallow!!! Ahhhh life was good in Baltimore

    • My aunt used to live on Walton Ave. and my sister and I knew we’d get a snowball from the Church St. stand in Brooklyn when we visited. Back then, my favorite flavors were egg custard, spearmint and a blue one called Batman, I think. We had to have marshmallow on top! Living in Ferndale, we went to Holy Trinity in Glen Burnie to get them and it was always a big treat. The first time I had ice cream in mine was somewhere over in Curtis Bay. Now, since my mom still lives in Ferndale, we love going to the Ferndale stand when we visit…my favorite is chocolate with vanilla ice cream on the bottom…delicious! Also, I am the grandmother of the author of this post and even though he lives in New England, I’m so glad he’s been introduced to snowballs and loves them like I did and still do! Now, if we could find a cheap place to get crabs, hon…

      • Dawn

        Holy Trinity had the best snowballs! It was such a treat to go there after a backyard crabfeast!!!

  30. Pingback: The Snowball: A Baltimore Classic

  31. Kelly

    I grew up on the outskirts of Baltimore Co. We had a man who came around in a Snowball truck. Kinda like the ice cream man. Looked forward to the music that truck played everyday of the summer.
    Miss that Snowball truck.

  32. Sarah

    After moving away from Baltimore I have mentioned snowballs a time or 2. the first thing people think is me wishing for snow in the middle of summer. When I describe what I mean they are like “oh you mean like a snow cone?” I have to tell them know and then try to explain the difference and it seems if you haven’t eaten vone you just don’t understand. I miss snowballs.

  33. Gwen McElroy

    I was amazed that when I moved to Fl, they had no idea what a snowball was. Of all places, you just assume, would have snowball, it’s Florida. They had their 7-11 slurpees, but no snowballs. So disappointed. We hit Opees , in Catonsville, every chance we get!

  34. Ann Jones

    My hubby grew up in Baltimore County, and I grew up in what was the boonies of Howard County (now Columbia area) in the 1960’s. My hubby doesn’t seem to remember the snowballs like I do. We had one neighbor that sold them from time to time, and one stand on Hunt Club Rd in Elkridge. I remember loving the spearmint, chocolate, blood orange, skylight, cherry… I think I loved them all. Hubby doesn’t remember marshmallow, but I sure do! We have a stand not too far from us in the Woodstock, GA, area, but it is not as good as the home made stands of the past. Sadly, these old teeth don’t like the ice very much, but sometimes I do have to have one, anyway

  35. Donna

    My grandmother Dora Calvert, had a snowball stand at 3801 S. Hanover Street in Brooklyn back in the 50’s. There was a “summer porch” on the back of the row house that she conducted business from. The ice man would drop off blocks of ice in the ice chest on that porch. She made her own flavoring and would send one of us over to the A&P to by the sugar. She raised 11 children and this was her source of income. Every evening after we had our baths, we would take our own cup over to get our snowball.They were great times and wonderful memories. Brooklyn was a great city neighborhood back then.

  36. Tegan

    I worked at a snowball stand on German Hill Road in Dundalk. We didn’t do the ice cream – found out about that when I moved to South Baltimore. Marshmallow on top has always been my favorite. The mother of the owner of the stand would mix the marshmallow by hand (simple syrup and marshmallow creme) to a perfect consistency. We would randomly put stars on the bottom of the stack of cups and if you got a star- your snowball was free.

  37. Anonymous

    Grew up in Fernadale and loved that stand! Now I live in PA, and local folks think a snowball=snow cone. Which is this multicolored shaved ice thing in a paper cone shaped cup that they sell at carnivals. I have always sworn I was going to open a Md style snowball stand so they can get to taste Egg custard with Marshmallow! My kids love getting snowballs every time we go home to my mothers!

  38. Grew up in Baltimore (now Charles Village area) and got our snowballs at the Peabody Pharmacy on the corner of E 30th and N Calvert Streets.
    Root Beer with Marshmallow was my favorite! Live in CO now but on a recent Baltimore area visit discovered a terrific seasonal snowball shack in a strip mall on Riverside Pkwy in Belcamp, MD. (Exit 80 off I-95 N to MD 543) Two Baltimore specialties at this location: a fabulous selection of snowball flavors at the snowball shack just east of the Riverside Pizzeria that has one of the best ever huge crab cakes. (Yes, in a pizza shop! Great Italian food, too.)
    We make a stop at both places every time we visit in the Harford Co/I-95 area!

  39. Anonymous

    I’m going around the corner when I leave the library and get me a cherry snowball with marshmallow. I’m in HIghlandtown and we still have at least one good place.

  40. Donna

    There’s a pretty goog stand here in Glen Burnie on Crain Hwy. Hawaian Shaved Ice. The price for a medium size snowball with marshmallow now days is $3.00!! Compared to $0.30 back in the day!!
    Raspberry+root beer mixed together with marshmallow on top=my favorite.

  41. Dundalk… late 60’s early 70’s the stand on the corner of Merritt Blvd and Searles Rd The Cradock’s lived there and Bonnie made the snowballs, Chocolate w MM or Vanilla w MM, maybe Sky Blue or Egg Custard sometimes Cherry was the ticket… Depended on what lip color I was going for !

    • Susan Shiflett McKinsey

      I was going to mention this one. It was my favorite place for a snowball. I had an aunt that lived on School Ave & Searles Rd. Always had to stop in the summer & get one. I live in Windsor, PA York area & there is a store in East York that comes as close to a Balto snowball. Chocolate w/marshmallow – get the same thing every time I go. love reading all the comments.

  42. Brenda

    The older couple that opened in ocean city, Maryland purchased my friends place and told her what they ere going to do. Until then, we hadn’t realized there were missing from Ocean city !

  43. Kathleen Gorman

    Well thank God I live in Baltimore Egg custard here I come with marshmallow topping

  44. I have heard about snowballs my entire life because my parents were born and raised in Baltimore. However somehow I have never had one.

  45. Kelly

    Back in the day. My-t-fine snowballs! Parkville…now Snoasis in Timonium-orange with Marshmallow!!!

  46. Dave

    Wonderful topic that brings back such fond memories of my Grand Moms snowball stand that my Pop built her on the side patio of their Cresswell Road home in Brooklyn Park. Pop’s favorite was a chocolate snowball with milk in it. That was over forty years ago and yet my Grand Mom is still known as the snowball lady.

  47. Anonymous

    Please credit this illustration to Lauren Giordano and link to its source: http://www.baltimoremagazine.net/2013/8/5/a-guide-to-baltimores-favorite-summer-treat-the-snowball

  48. M S

    Since moving to Pasadena, I’ve been satisfying my snowball cravings at the Sun Valley Snowball stand across Jumpers Hole from the new Walmart. Sadly, the lady who ran it passed away so it wasn’t open as often in 2016 as it was in previous years.

  49. Mary Gaertner

    I like this post and appreciate that you took the time to write it! I never knew the history before. However, styrofoam is extremely bad for the environment and we should be making a major shift away from it. So I would prefer if we never saw one in a styrofoam cup again =)

  50. Brenda

    I was raised in Hamilton and there were 2 older ladies that had a snowball stand in their basement where they shaved the ice themselves… They were only open in the evenings, but I remember walking to their house with my friend Doug to get the best snowballs with lots of marshmallows and “jimmies” (chocolate shavings) on them… YUMMMMM!

  51. Johnathan

    I’m born & raised in Baltimore and I’m now in Myrtle Beach and I’m now opening a “BALTIMORE SNO-BALL STAND” here because it is true that nobody knows what they are…… My 1st SNO-BALL was on Hudson street and the stand was ran out of a basement window on HUDSON & HOLLEN AVE……. Let’s put the SNO-BALL on the map.

  52. Jennifer

    Where did the marshmallow come into play?

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