Nostalgia tastes like a pink sno-bliz

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Is nostalgia nostalgia if you yearn for a past that isn’t your past?

From the moment you pull up to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz on Tchoupitoulas Street, you can tell that this famous sno-ball stand prides itself on its history. From the outside, it’s a whitewashed shack of a building. There’s a long bench along the wall and above that bench, two-foot high numbers indicating how long it’s been open, repainted every year in a bright pink-red.

It takes a while to see what’s inside because the line moves very slowly, but it’s worth the wait. Inside, the space is hot and fairly small, but everyone is unfailingly cheerful. The walls are plastered with photos and yellowing newspaper articles about Mary and Ernest Hansen, the original owners, and photos of happy customers through the years. Where there are no photos or articles, there are signs proclaiming, “There are no short cuts to quality,” as well a couple devout expressions of faith. In front, by the counter, is the famous ice-shaving machine, invented and patented by Ernest Hansen, to create a more sanitary sno-ball than others were selling in the 1930s.

One person mans the ice machine, another takes your money, and the last person carefully drizzles on the homemade syrup. It’s a slow, congenial operation. The man working the ice machine hands over the cup when it’s half full. Then the person in charge of the flavors pours on the syrup, making sure every last particle of ice soaks up some ungodly color, and then hands it back to the ice man, who tops it off so that the ice is twice as high as the cup. It then goes back to the syrup person who again is intent on making sure that syrup soaks through all the ice, oblivious to the syrup dripping all over her hand and the counter, though she will stop and wipe the counter clean after each order. Some of the flavors need to be refrigerated, which necessitates a step back to an ancient refrigerator. If there is a special request, like ice cream in the middle for a hot rod, or condensed milk and/or marshmallow fluff on top, that’s yet another step.

This is the opposite of fast food.

The flavors are made fresh everyday by Ashley Hansen, the current owner, just the way her grandmother did. There are the kind of flavors you’d expect, like blueberry and strawberry, but there’s a whole category of flavors prefixed with “cream of” that have gorgeous pastel hues. There’s cream of chocolate, cream of strawberry, even cream of ice cream, but the most popular is cream of nectar, which is a bright pink, a tinge more orange than Pepto-Bismol. And then there are “fancy flavors” like anise, ginger, and Satsuma, but these flavors are scrawled on a piece of white paper in different marker colors, and there are no promises that they are organic or all-natural. These are the kind of flavors that saturate your tongue until it turns a deep and satisfyingly orange, green or blue color.

You end up with something that looks craggy and uneven, as fantastic as the surface of a far-flung, sugar-spun outerspace world. But the sno-ball, the stand, the happy people waiting patiently in line, and the happy people slowly serving them evoke a deeply familiar feeling. You don’t have to grow up in New Orleans to remember what it feels like to have something sticky and sweet melting in your hand, to be hot but not care, and to look at something extremely fake in color and be entranced.

The best part? The sugary-sweet, ice-cold treat tastes as good as you remember. The ice is so cold, it tempers the sweetness of the flavors and transforms any cream you add, like condensed milk or marshmallow fluff, into something firmer, gooier, and more delicious. It’s more refreshing than ice cream would be in that heat. As their sign proclaims, you really can air-condition your tummy.

If you want to hear more about its history, pre and post-Katrina, you should hear it from the horse’s mouth. A summary of the Southern Foodways Alliance interview of Ashley Hansen and her father Gerard is here, with a full transcript that’s well worth reading.

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One Response to “Nostalgia tastes like a pink sno-bliz”

  1. Diane C. Says:

    Sounds delicious, welcoming and satisfying. I would like one of each flavor, please! 🙂

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