We’re standing outside, the swampy “climate” is registering the dreaded double hundreds — degrees and percent humidity– and I can see the annual argument looming on the horizon.
“It’s good, hunh?”
“Pretty good, I guess.”
Annie and I have been friends for what officially qualifies as “an uncomfortably long time.” So long that we can vividly remember details from each other’s checkered high school career. So long that we can visualize unfortunate hairdo choices from said pre-college era. And every summer, at the beginning of snowball season, we have the same running argument.
“C’mon,” she says, ” Admit it. This is the best.”
“Hmmm,” I reply with an icy slurp of unnaturally bright sugar water, “It’s okay.” Then the crucial pause, followed by the well-timed follow up.
“Good enough for The Ville.”
Every year, Annie and I lock into a quietly pitched argument over where to get best snowball in south Louisiana. It’s been a long time since we grew up in New Iberia, a smallish sugar cane town on the Bayou Teche. After high school, we each moved away from our hometown, went to school, wandered around. And still we return to this quiescently frozen rivalry whenever external temperatures soar.
Annie’s frozen confection of choice comes from a little cinderblock building on Main Street in the tiny town of Saint Martinville (population 7,200). Known locally as “The Ville,” it’s the town where her maternal family (“her mama’s people”) came from, and her current home. She’s been eating these seasonal treats — the summertime miracle that is the combination of crushed ice, sugar-syrup with various flavorings and WAY too much food coloring — since she was considerably shorter than her nine year old daughter. And in true small-town tradition, the establishment doesn’t have a formal name beyond “the snowball stand on Main Street.”
Natives (and near natives) of The Ville are justifiably proud of the little stand. So proud are they of the stand that they consistently proclaim it as the “the BEST snowball in the world” to anyone who will listen. And the Main Street zealots have done SUCH a good job at word-of-mouth publicity that the little stand gets mentioned in discussions of “the best snowball” elsewhere in the state.
Now I’ve been eating, telling stories, and telling stories about eating long enough to know one thing about “The Best”: it invariably means “My Favorite.” Whether you’re talking about chicken livers in Lubbock or midsized import sedans under $20,000, there’s no such thing as an objective “best.”
When proponents of the Main Street stand launch into their schtick, I politely disagree, usually with a polite smile combined with a dismissive (some say “horselike”) snort. And it’s that delicate combination that usually triggers the fight.
After so many versions of the same discussion, Annie knows that my favorite snowball comes from a neighborhood grocery in nearby Lafayette. It’s a little 10×10 foot red-and-white shack behind the venerable Old Tyme Grocery — also known as Murph’s for its pudgy Cajun owner. When Annie was frequenting her stand in The Ville, I would walk around the corner from my brother Joe’s house and get a wax cup full of frozen perfection from the girls at Murph’s.
Where the Ville’s stand serves up a crunchy cup of chipped ice, a snowball from Murph’s is a sugar-sweetened cup of ski-quality powder — creamier than East Coast italian ices or nuevo-flavored super sorbets. Murph keeps his blades consistently sharp, and they slice cleanly through huge blocks of ice without the slightest bit of chipping. The snow that shoots from the snowball machine’s opening is barely solid at all. If the newly-shaved flakes have a second to think about the weather, they’d turn back to water.
Once this snow is plowed into cups, the show jockeys pour on the flavor — literally. “Flavor” in this case meaning great glugs of hyper-sweet sugar syrup done in true old school style — bright AND nasty. Stalwarts choose from one of the three most othergodly flavor/colors — spearmint green (also called “Popeye”), cherry red, or bubble gum blue. Flavor/colors are pretty universal from stand to stand — probably synthesized by the same division of Dow Chemical — but Murph’s goes the extra mile by offering nonstandard combinations like orange-cream (Dreamsicle), bright yellow “wedding cake,” and spooky blood-purplish black cherry.
Smoother texture. Better flavors. And GREAT poboys next door at the Old Tyme. These are my criteria, and the little stand in The Ville just can’t compete.
So since Annie knows that I value these things, we don’t argue these points any more. And since I know that she likes the Main Street stand for convenience, lower price (about 50 cents compared to Murph’s $1) and familial nostalgia, we don’t argue those either.
And every year, our “discussions” get a little shorter. Wherever we happen to be eating that summer’s ingaugural cup o’ snow, the person with home stand advantage starts the ball rolling on what may be the shortest long-running debate in the history of the snowcone.
“It’s good, hunh?”
“Pretty good, I guess.”
And with that, we curse the heat and take another tongue-staining swig of somebody’s super-cooling summertime “best.”