Skylite Snowballs Night Shot Credit Aya Brackett
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It’s a Baltimore Thing: Snowballs

Issue 06

Prohibitively expensive rents in the San Francisco Bay Area nudged Skylite Snowballs owner, Katie Baum to take her operation on the road.  In her pale blue truck, Katie travels around selling snowballs, a staple frozen treat in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. The name Skylite Snowballs is a reference to the flavour and colour (blue) of her childhood shaved ice order. Today, her business serves shaved ice flavoured with natural homemade syrups topped with marshmallow cream.

So far Katie and pastry chef, Marykate McGoldrick have concocted 40 different syrups with traditional flavours like strawberry, lemon, lime and cherry and more interesting versions such as vanilla cardamom or ginger lime.  “A lot of Skylite Snowballs’ syrups are based on seasonal market ingredients. I would have to say my all-time favorite flavour is our Four Barrel Coffee syrup topped with TCHO chocolate and our homemade marshmallow cream” says Katie.

snowballupclose Credit Michelle Kloehn
Photo Source: Michelle Kloehn

INTERVIEW: Katie Baum, Owner, Skylite Snowballs {East Bay, California}

01 What year did Skylite Snowballs launch?
Skylite Snowballs was launched in September 2010.

02 What got you into the snow cone business?
I grew up in Baltimore, MD where snowballs are a staple summer frozen treats.  When I moved out to California in the late 1990s, I couldn’t seem to find anything that was similar to a snowball.  We have the best food out here in The Bay area but we were lacking in shaved ice treats.  After going to an Eat Real Festival in Oakland in 2009, I got the inspiration to start a snowball truck.  Snowballs are such a simple item, I thought it was the perfect thing to sell from a truck.

Skylite Snowballs Back Van Credit Aya Brackett

03 What is Skylite Snowballs known for?
We are known for selling shaved ice made with natural homemade syrups, from real ingredients.  We are also known for our homemade marshmallow cream topping, which pretty much goes well on all of our syrup flavors.

04 What is the story behind the name Skylite Snowballs ?
The term snowball is pretty much used primarily only in Baltimore and New Orleans.  Every city seems to have their version of a snowball but the term snowball is unique to Baltimore and New Orleans.  In Baltimore, “skylite” is the blue flavor that is very popular with kids.  Im actually not even sure what flavor it is.  It basically is super sweet and tastes like sugar.  When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, I usually ordered a skylite snowball or a chocolate snowball with marshmallow.  I decided to name the business Skylite Snowballs as an ode to Baltimore.  We currently do not have a skylite flavor on the truck because we do not know how to get a natural bright blue flavor.  Even blueberry comes out a beautiful purple color.

05 What are the syrups made from?
We make all of our syrups from real fruit and real ingredients.  We do not use any chemicals or dyes.  We jar our syrups, like jam, as we make them so that they last over time until we need to use them on the truck.

Skylite Snowballs Night Shot Credit Aya Brackett

06 Why are we seeing a resurfacing in artisanal syrups these days?
It seems that ever since specialty cocktails became popular in the last two years, artisanal syrups started popping up everywhere. Restaurants and bars are creating cocktails that are like a work of art.  I think also with the homemade soda makers people have gotten really into making their own flavored sodas with syrups that are not too sweet.

07 Do you entertain at home?
Unfortunately, I do not get to entertain very often.  I have a relatively small apartment but  I feel like I do most of my entertaining from the truck.  We do a lot of private events, which is a lot of fun.  I did have a large snowball party back in 2010 when I was first starting the business.  I had friends and family over to taste the snowballs in the backyard.  We had flavor profile sheets made so that people could give us feedback on the syrups.  It was a super hot day in June, which is rare in the Bay Area.  It was the ideal weather for tasting snowballs.

Skylite Snowballs Side Van Credit Aya Brackett
Photo Source: Aya Brackett

08 What is next for Skylite Snowballs?
At the moment, we are concentrating on getting our bottled syrups  into stores and restaurants.  We currently have our syrups at a couple of local stores in the Bay Area.  We would like to get them into more stores throughout The Bay Area and the rest of the country.  I think they make great holiday gifts.  People are using them in their homes with cocktails and bubbly water, as well as served over shaved ice and ice cream.

09 How do you choose other food businesses to work with?
We like to work with local small businesses like Tcho Chocolate and Four Barrel Coffee.  All of our tea flavors are made from Far Leaves Tea in Berkeley.  They have the best tea!  We get most of our fruit from the local farmers markets.  The Francis Ford Coppola Winery approached us late last year about coming up with syrups for their Diamond Collection Wine.  They had the great idea to do a wine snowball.  We created meyer lemon shiso syrup which pairs with their Diamond Collection Pino Grigio.  We make a pink grapefruit which pairs with their Diamond Collection Chardonnay, and we made raspberry lime which pairs with their Diamond Collection Merlot.  The bottled syrups are available on their website and ours.

10 Hand crafted versus commercial syrup; what is the difference? 
An all natural syrup is made from real fruit and real ingredients, like real coffee or real vanilla beans.  There are no dyes or chemicals added to our syrups.  Our syrups are not as sweet as the syrups that are made from chemicals and tend to be a bit more tart and a little more subtle.

Recipes That Involve Snowballs:

 

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