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The End Of Summer Means The End Of 'Snowballs' In New Orleans
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The End Of Summer Means The End Of 'Snowballs' In New Orleans

Food

The End Of Summer Means The End Of 'Snowballs' In New Orleans

The End Of Summer Means The End Of 'Snowballs' In New Orleans
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The snowball is just crushed ice and syrup. Legal battles have been waged over snowball patents and recipes, and locals understand why — it's because the snowball is worth fighting for.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In New Orleans, they are called snowballs - not snow cones, not slushies - snowballs. And in New Orleans, they are serious business. Legal battles have even been waged over snowball recipes. No snowball stand is more iconic than the one Ernest and Mary Hansen opened 75 summers ago - Hansen's Sno-Bliz. And when Hansen's closes for the season this week, summer in New Orleans is truly over. Keith O'Brien sent this story.

O'BRIEN: Ashley Hansen begins her days making syrup.

ASHLEY HANSEN: So first we put the water in.

O'BRIEN: Next, she slices opening 25-pound bag of sugar.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNIFE CUTTING BAG)

O'BRIEN: That goes in the water.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER BOILING)

O'BRIEN: Then, she starts it up with the same metal spoon her grandparents, Ernest and Mary, used for so long, the spoon went flat on one side.

HANSEN: That's from 75 years of stirring sugar and water together.

O'BRIEN: The syrup makes the snowball sweet, but it's Ernest's machine, built in 1939, that shaves the ice into powdery white snow. There's no crunch to a New Orleans snowball, especially at Hansen's. The ice is like wisps of cotton candy, only cold and award-winning. This year, the James Beard Foundation dubbed Hansen's an American classic - the food equivalent of an Academy Award. It's no wonder people like Chad Gauthreaux will drive past a dozen other snowball stands just to get to Hansen's.

CHAD GAUTHREAUX: You just can't beat it here. The ice is different. Everything's different. And they put a little bit of loving. Everyone - you can taste it in it.

O'BRIEN: Ernest and Mary died after six months of each other after Hurricane Katrina, nine years ago. But Ashley's been working at Hansen's for 25 years. She's refused to let go of her grandparents' cinderblock stand, with its hand-scrawled menu, wood-paneled walls and devoted customers.

HANSEN: I've seen a lot of people grow up. It's just remarkable because I'm sure this is how my grandparents felt when they would see their customers grow up and go off to college and come back with their own families. I mean, we're multigenerational now, at 75 years.

O'BRIEN: They're also busy. Every day from March to October, Ashley and her staff make 30 gallons of syrup. Every week, they serve nearly a ton of ice. And as another summer ends, there's Ashley, selling the last snowballs of the season.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm going to go with the $4 size. And then I'm going to go with the Bananas Foster.

HANSEN: You want the bananas?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah.

HANSEN: Awesome.

O'BRIEN: Everyone has a personal preference.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Peach, pineapple and strawberry.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Well, the classic is half nectar cream, half ice cream cream. I can never get anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: My favorite flavor is blue bubblegum.

O'BRIEN: What about yours?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Rainbow. It has all the flavors in it, except coffee.

O'BRIEN: Of course, coffee's a flavor, too. And let's be honest. Snowballs can be meals.

MONICA RIGGS: This is my lunch break. (Laughter).

O'BRIEN: Monica Riggs drove an hour recently for her last snowball.

RIGGS: My husband thinks I'm nuts, but he doesn't understand. This is my childhood. This is nostalgia for me. It's more than just a snowball.

O'BRIEN: It's personal. It's history. A gathering spot - every town has one. A place to remember and be remembered, to be with family and also total strangers and be happy, even when waiting in long lines. David Kimberly comes to Hansen's every day.

DAVID KIMBERLY: No matter how long the line or how many people are waiting, they'll take the time to ask how you're doing, how your family is. It's great place. It reflects the whole philosophy of New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: That life is for living, treats are worth having, and they're most delicious when shared with others. It makes the last day of the season bittersweet for Ashley Hansen, the woman serving up those treats.

HANSEN: It's the end of the summer. Everyone's back in school. Fall will be right around the corner - pumpkin pies and Halloween candy. And snowballs become unwanted.

O'BRIEN: But not really. It's just time to say goodbye to her customers for now.

HANSEN: Have a nice winter. See you in the spring.

O'BRIEN: By then, the kids will be a little taller - their parents, a little older. Some people will be gone. But Hansen's will still be here, with Ashley behind the counter. It's about 150 days until the snowball stand opens again. For NPR News, I'm Keith O'Brien in New Orleans.

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