Snowballs reign in the summer heat

JACQUES KELLY

June 28, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Nobody batted an eyelash when the tall Englishman walked up to the Sno-Asis snowball stand in South Baltimore and ordered a large "raaahs-burry."

The pronunciation wasn't exactly Fort Avenue and Lawrence Street, but snowball mixologist Tom Haynes knew what the customer wanted. He crushed a cup of ice and doused it liberally with raspberry red flavor.

"It's delicious," said David Bryan, the Herefordshire-born Baltimore snowball addict. He then ordered a few more snow cups for his friends at the General Ship Repair yard around the corner in Locust Point.

Snowball weather has descended over Baltimore. Lines form in city and suburban neighborhoods at stands that look as if they were designed by Charles Street architects and at stands that look as if they might fall down in a three-mile-an-hour breeze. Far more snowballs, it seems, are sold in Baltimore on any day than hard crabs or crab cakes.

And is there any color more electric and garish than the palette offered in a dozen bottles of snowball flavor?.

"The only other town that rivals Baltimore as the snowball capital is New Orleans and I think we win," said Brian Gapsis, the owner of the Koldkiss Corp. in East Baltimore, which produces the ice crushers and syrups for the cold confection.

His empire includes a plant at Watson Street and Central Avenue and a large self-service sales warehouse at Central Avenue and Fleet Street. But his influence extends anywhere someone drives a plastic spoon into a cup of shaved ice.

The Koldkiss flavor/color chart is worthy of a paint store or perfume counter: almond, amaretto, apple, apricot, banana, Barney (purple, of course), Batman, birch beer, blackberry, blood orange, blueberry, blueboy, brown sugar, bubblegum, butterscotch, candy apple, champagne, cher-black, cherry-burg, cher-cola, cher-wild, cherimoya, chocolate, cinnamon, cocoanut, cola, cold duck, cotton candy, cranapple and cranberry.

There's also creme de mint, cream soda, dreamsicle, egg custard, egg nog, fireball, fruit punch, grape, guava, honeydew, ice cream, lemon, lemon-lime, lime, kiwi, macadamia, mandarin, mango, Miami ice, nectarine, Ninja Turtle, orange, papaya, passion fruit, peach, peppermint, pina colada, pineapple, pink champagne, pomegranate, raspberry red, raspberry blue, root beer, simple syrup, Simpsons (related to egg custard), skylight, Smurf, spearmint, vanilla, watermelon, whiskey sour and wine cooler.

"All of Lombard Street smells like strawberries when we make the concentrate. The spearmint really travels, too," said Rita Pisanitch, who works at Koldkiss. All the flavor elixirs are locally confected.

"When the weather gets hot -- above 80 degrees -- fewer people go to bottled sodas in Baltimore. They turn to snowballs because they know the ice is refreshing," Gapsis said.

Business has been brisk this summer, he said, because a snowball business requires not much capital and can produce a jolt of seasonal money. He makes and sells two styles of upright snowball ice-crushing machines. Each holds 12 pounds of ice and is capable of shaving up to 2,000 pounds an hour.

Baltimoreans love to argue about the relative merits of snowball recipes, flavor formulas, toppings and ice consistency. Some ice crushers issue a fine, powdery white product. Others make a clear, granular ice.

"People are very loyal to one snowball stand. They truly believe theirs is the best," said Gapsis, who grew up in Arbutus and whose mother had a snowball stand on Sulphur Spring Road.

Gapsis hands out basic recipe instructions to his wholesale customers and also a bar chart telling them which flavors are the best sellers. Chocolate, cherry, and egg custard (that sweet vanilla taste so beloved by Baltimoreans) are the three most requested flavors, but grape, skylight (blueberry) and strawberry are up there, too. Spearmint and root beer are good sellers. Exotics like champagne and cold duck don't place in the money.

There are neighborhood preferences. Northeast Baltimore adores its egg custard and chocolate. West Baltimore consumes heavy doses of pineapple. Many customers order a snowball with marshmallow.

Come nightfall, when the snowball urge hits, no neighborhood is safe. The line forms to the left.

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