He was a short, frizzy-haired man with a hooked nose and a stoop. He drove a makeshift old red station wagon around the neighborhood when I was growing up. You only saw him in the summertime when the weather was hot. You could hear him coming several blocks away by the sound of the bell that was attached to the car right outside of the driver’s side window. He rang it slowly: ding, pause, ding, pause. The back of the station wagon was open and just inside sat the machine that crushed the ice. It sort of looked like an aquarium. There was a glass tank on the bottom and a grinder on top. There was also an old red cooler and a rack filled with bottles of syrup that had those pourers on top of them like they use to pour whiskey at a bar. The station wagon slowly inched its way down the street, usually followed by a gaggle of youngsters running after it. He was Benny the snow cone man and the only visitor that was more anticipated was the ice cream truck.
The snow cones were a lot cheaper than ice cream and they were better when it was really hot and you were really thirsty after running around or playing ball all day. The ice cream was better in the evening when you were ready to settle down. The snow cones cooled you off and then the sweet syrupy juice at the bottom of the cone quenched your thirst like a super sugar-charged shot of Cool Aid.
One of the first snow cone vendors was a guy named Samuel Bert. He sold snow cones at the Texas state Fair in 1919. He is also credited with making the first snow-cone making machine in 1920. Ernest Hansen patented the first known “ice shaver” in 1934 in New Orleans. His family sold the cones there until 2006.
There is a difference between a New Orleans “Snow Ball” and a “Snow Cone.” A Snow Cone consists of hard, crunchy, shaved ice and limited amounts of syrup, while Snow Balls are made of very fine, powdered ice and have a large amount of syrup.
Here are some of the best spots in St. Louis to cool off with a snow cone on a hot summer day:
One of the most popular snow cone spots is located in the Kirkwood Farmer’s Market. This place is like the Ted Drewes of snow cone stands with lines 20 or more deep at times. Tropical Moose is a hip destination point for both families and the 16 year-old high school crowd. An amazing variety of flavors, cheap prices, and the likelihood of running into your friends are the main reasons given.
Glaciers is located in the General Grant Shopping Center on Watson Road. They have more than 75 flavors, including New Orleans style creams and toppings.
Sno-Cone Village is right next to Concord Bowl at the corner of Tesson Ferry and Baptist Church Road in South County. They have about 18 basic flavors.
Benny the cone man had a basic selection of strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, cherry, watermelon, and orange syrups. Today you can get flavors like Blue Hawaii (blueberry and coconut) Caffe Latte (coffee and sweet cream) and Tiger’s Blood (cherry, raspberry, and coconut). But the ice is still the same.