Saturday, February 18, 2012
Left: Mother Nature's Cupboard, $3
Right: Tee-Eva's, $2
Absolutely the only fault I can find with visiting New Orleans in February is the lack of sno-balls. This Louisianan delicacy of finely shaved ice topped with flavored syrup and condensed milk is a summertime staple but in the off-season most sno-ball stands are shut up tight. Most.
After spending much of my 2011 visit on a frustrated hunt for this frozen treat, I decided to dedicate 2012 to tracking down easier prey. And as will happen, the path of least resistance delivered me to not one but two sno-ball shops.
The first was Tee Eva's Famous Old-Fashioned Pralines and Pies, in the Garden District.
Eva Louis Perry grew up in rural Louisiana and learned to cook by hanging around the kitchen watching her mother, aunts, and grandmothers. Family recipes became the basis of her business when Eva moved to LA and made her name as a caterer specializing in Southern food. After a decade on the West Coast, Eva returned to New Orleans in the late 1980s and became well known for pies and pralines, which she sold from a basket, walking down the street or through office buildings (even City Hall!); once some cops pulled her over, lights flashing, just to see if she had any pies left.
Even after opening her own shop in 1989, Eva continued to hit the streets with her basket, seeing herself as part of a "proud tradition" of women entrepreneurs of color, generations of whom walked around New Orleans with their pralines, pies, and calas. Eva even won a few parts in locally-filmed shows and films by setting up shop outside casting calls.
About ten years ago Eva retired; in a video from the Southern Foodways Alliance, she discusses the business and her legacy. She handed the business and the archive of family recipes over to her granddaughter, who still runs Tee-Eva's today. Specialties include pralines, mini pralines, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, sweet potato pecan pie, and cream cheese pecan pie; hand pies are $2 and larger pies made to order.
I wasn't aware of any of this backstory when I walked by. What drew me in was the eye-catching sign announcing "snowballs year-round!!". Perusing the list of flavors, I was attracted to "cake batter"; I asked the woman behind the counter what it tastes like.
"Like cake batter," she replied.
She switched on her ice machine and shaved off a serving of fine, dry snow, then poured on the syrup. As she passed me the cup I was momentarily distressed by memories of "yellow snow" jokes, but then the reassuring perfume washed over me: vanilla, butter, and--power of suggestion?--something creamy and rich and deliciously dangerous, like raw egg yolks.
Tee-Eva's World Famous Pies and Pralines
5201 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA
My second sno-ball came from the same stall where I finally tracked one down last year, Mother Nature's Cupboard in the French Market. In this video, proprietor Gene lets us in on all the secrets of a genuine New Orleans sno-ball, from layering the cup, to testing for quality, to what's really in "Tiger's Blood" syrup:
Mother Nature's Cupboard
1008 N Peters St
French Market Farmer's Market
New Orleans, LA