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The comfort of a Sno-Ball

There's been a lot of talk about preserving the flavor of this great city; its food, culture and music. But this past week, I stumbled upon another New Orleans tradition; the Sno-Ball. Now, I grew up in Western New York and remember plenty of brain-freezes and purple tongues caused by Sno-Cones at the county fair.

But the Sno-Ball is something else. It's a finely shaved ice concoction steeped in exotic syrups like Cream of Nectar. A great one melts in your mouth almost like ice cream. They make them all over New Orleans, but locals say there's only one worth talking about. They're made by Hansen's Sno-Bliz.

The business was started in 1939 by Mary and Ernest Hansen. Ernest shaved the ice with a homemade (and patented) machine. His wife made the syrups. Each one was a work of art. They tended the store dutifully for more than 60 years and even opened the Saturday before Katrina hit. Sadly, Mary died in September at 95 years of age, after being evacuated. Ernest followed his partner in life and business this past March. He was 94. The shop lay shuttered.

Ashley Hansen shows off a Cream of Nectar/Cream of Ice Cream Sno-Ball.

Ashley had been helping her grandparents at the shop for a few years. Now it all fell on her shoulders. On Memorial Day Weekend, she cautiously unlocked the faded, old wooden doors and held her breath. Would they still come? Was New Orleans still alive? She smiles from ear to ear remembering that day. They lined up just like old times. This weekend, as she prepares to fire up the ancient Sno-Bliz machine, she'll be searching the crowds for familiar faces. She knows some of them are gone. But as she looks across the walls filled with faded pictures and clippings of her grandparents and their generations of customers, she takes comfort in knowing Hansen's will be there when, and if, they return.