The groundhog’s at his Hamptons timeshare, but he has dispatched the Imperial Woodpecker to report the good news that there will be six more weeks of winter this summer.
This is startling, since the Imperial Woodpecker is supposed to be extinct. Then again, the groundhog is supposed to be 126.
Make no mistake: This is snow, not ice. A snow cone is ice; a sno-ball is snow. It comes from a sno-ball machine, in this case the SnoWizard sno-ball machine, which is made in New Orleans, which is the home of sno-balls. Ask the Bronx Zoo who predicts ice.
The machine is owned by Neesa Peterson, who is as warm as snow is cold, and whose store, correspondingly, feels like a little party. She makes sno-balls in forty-six flavors, and she will make them through the end of summer, which, she recognizes, does not fall on Labor Day weekend.
She makes a sno-ball by switching on the sno-ball machine, which shoots snow into the container that, with luck, she is holding at its spout. She adds flavor from one of the bottles of gaily colored syrup, along with a spoon and a straw, since you start with the spoon and finish with the straw.
Her flavors ($4 to $8) include Granny Smith Apple, Pink Bubblegum, Red Velvet Cake, and her favorite, Tiger Blood, which fortunately is strawberry-coconut. Her cream flavors (“Add $1”) include Almond Cream, Chocolate Cream, and her favorite, Sweet Lou’s Nectar Cream. Her grandfather was Sweet Lou.
There are also three toppings (“Add $1”): condensed milk, vanilla ice cream, and marshmallow cream. In the end, though, the flavors and toppings matter less than the sno. Whatever it happens to taste like, it’s fluffy and refreshing, which is why it’s been around for over seventy years.
The first sno-ball machine was reputedly made by Ernest Hansen in 1939 (though the SnoWizard company claims their guy made one in 1936). Before that, guys sold sno-balls from carts with snow they shaved by hand from ice blocks. Ernest found this unsanitary. Luckily, he was a machinist.
Also luckily, his wife, Mary, was a pretty good cook. So Ernest made his Sno-Bliz machine, and Mary made sno-ball syrups. They sold sno-balls under a tree, then moved into a store. The store, Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, still exists, along with a flurry of other New Orleans sno-ball stores.
Neesa is not the first to bring the sno-ball to New York City. In 1996, Mary Frey opened Guru Sno-Balls in the East Village. It was in an abandoned gas-station office on Lafayette Street. Guru was her Rottweiler. It’s not clear what he could predict.
She came to New York a few years ago and worked at modeling agencies but discovered that her heart was in her New Orleans roots. She opened Imperial Woodpecker last year on Seventh Avenue South, but it was open just through August. This year she plays the full season.
In fact, she wants to open a year-round store, with warm stuff in winter. And she’s already marketing sno-ball stands for weddings and bar-mitzvahs.
She’ll be happy to tell you anything you want to know about sno-balls. But if you want to know why hers are Imperial Woodpecker, you’ll have to ask the bird.
Summer at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls, 124 MacDougal Street, between West Third and Bleecker streets, in New York City.