Baltimore-area tradition that melts in your mouth

Snowballs signify summer, constancy

June 04, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Summertime in the suburbs brings certain rituals.

Family vacations, trips to the pool, Little League games. And then there are the snowballs.

Crushed or shaved pieces of ice flavored with squirts of syrup seem to rank high on the list of seasonal pleasures. And like the ice cream man, the snowball stand has become a fixture in the community.

"I have customers who come every day," said Kyle Marriott, owner of Ky Ky's Hawaiian Ice in Dorsey's Search. "You get to know who likes what flavor."

Around Howard County, the air vibrates with the sounds of ice being crushed. Stands must be licensed, and Theresa Holland, director of the food protection program for Howard's Bureau of Environmental Health, said operators must pass a strict inspection and maintain sanitary stands.

"We require that they have some kind of hand-washing system set up," Holland said. "The ice grinders and shavers must be rust-free, and they must thoroughly wipe down counters with a mixture of bleach and water."

Holland said officials also verify that the ice came from an approved water source and that the flavors have been purchased from a licensed vendor.

Kathy McLane, an Anne Arundel County-based flavored-syrup vendor, said Howard County is one of the best in terms of regulation.

McLane, who is called the "guru of snowballs" by her customers, sells syrup all across the state and credits the use of sugar instead of the typical corn syrup as one of the reasons her syrups are popular.

Snowballs are popular because of their tie to the past, she said.

"It's a nostalgia that the parents have, which they pass down to their kids," said McLane, whose company uses 10,000 pounds of sugar a week and expects to produce 40,000 to 60,000 gallons of syrup this season. "They remember the stands they went to, and so they bring their children out to the stands."

There is also the issue of regionalism, McLane said.

"Snowballs are as Baltimore as crabs," McLane said. "Other than New Orleans, you are not going to go anywhere outside of the Baltimore region and find more snowball stands."

`Need more hot, hot days'

One recent muggy day, Pete Barlas relaxed inside his stand as he awaited customers. Barlas runs a produce stand near Oakland Mills Road and opened his snowball business next to it last summer.

"This summer it's too much rain every day," said the native of Greece, who also runs George's Deli and Carry Out in Columbia. "We need more hot, hot days."

Business is steady on sunny days, Barlas said, and he often treats some of his regulars to a free snowball.

"You no feeling good today," Barlas said to a customer as he reached out the window to hand her a banana-and-cherry snowball. "I can tell."

Kathy Miller said caring for customers comes with the territory. Kathy and her husband, Harry, have run The Snowball Stand on Route 99 the past 10 years.

"Sometimes, when you open up in the spring, if you haven't seen someone by the time summer rolls around you begin to worry," said Miller, whose stand has been around for 25 years and is an institution in the county.

"Especially if they are elderly. We look back over the years at some of the people we have known and loved and lost, or those we have known and loved and they have moved," she said.

Donald Anderson, owner of the Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shoppeat St. John Plaza on U.S. 40, said his shaved-ice snowballs have had customers flocking to his store.

"We put banners out on the street, and it really draws a lot of people in for snowballs," said Anderson, who also serves ice cream and ice cream cakes.

"The shaved ice has a finer texture and is the old-fashioned way of making snowballs, and people seem to like that," he said.

At Ky Ky's, employees Adam Foote and Troy Richardson, both 15, said they look forward to the crowds swarming the stand, especially now that the pools are open.

"It's fun," Foote said. "Absolutely the best summer job you can have."

Brad Layman, 14, and his friend Michael Marlow, 11, rested on a plot of grass near the stand, crunching their snowballs after a day of bike riding. The pair said they come to Ky Ky's almost every day.

"It's really good," Layman said as he enjoyed his cherry-and-grape combination snowball. "We live around here and we come 'cause it's close by."

Mike and Kim Carey brought their sons Nicholas, 4, and Thomas, 1, for their first snowballs of the season.

"I'm a dessert person," Kim Carey said as she and her family spread out on the grass.

"It's a good, low-fat alternative and plus it's such a nice night out," she said.

`Really disappointing'

At the Crazy Ape snowball stand on Oakland Mills Road, customers often bring chairs to relax with their cool treats. Owner Charles Ecker said the stand will be closing within the month after seven years in business, because the 31-acre family farm where it is located has been sold to developers.

"It was a family business that complemented the produce we sold," Ecker said. "We sometimes worked with the Columbia Association, and we would set up stands for different sporting events."

Now the family is waiting out the waning days, as customers stop to say goodbye. Justyn Conto, Ecker's 15-year-old son, said the family will miss the stand almost as much as the community.

"You get to meet so many people," Conto said. "It's going to be really disappointing when we close."

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