One sunny, sweltering afternoon, Katie Baum decided to bring snowballs to California. Not the kind you fight with — the kind Baltimore natives snack on. She serves them under the name Skylite Snowballs (a hat tip to the classic “Skylite” snowball flavor — an artificial blue-razz concoction that turns tongues blue for hours).
The truck sports the motto “It’s a Baltimore thing,” but has a decidedly Bay Area spin. Katie and her partners make their own syrups out of all-natural ingredients, cooked down the old-fashioned way. Then they roll around town, serving snacks to some folks who have never even seen snow. She talked to us about syrup recipes, Utz Chips, and the intricacies of the Snowy 3000.
Most people in California have never seen a regular snowball, let alone the sweet kind. How did you get the idea of bringing a snowball truck out West?
I went to the Eat Real Festival two years ago, and it was just a sweltering summer day. And I was like “Why are there no snowballs here?” When I was growing up, they were the perfect thing to eat on a hot summer night. If I were in Baltimore, I’d do a shack like the ones they have there — I love those! But the simplicity of a snowball is also perfect for a truck.
|Katie rocks a 410 shirt next to her refreshing ride.|
You’ve got a pretty sweet ride. How did you find the truck, and how did you make it snowball-ready?
It’s a 1975 ice cream truck, and it used to be bright yellow. We got the truck outfitted at a place near LA called Rancho Cucamonga &dmash; we just found them on Craigslist. We had them paint it and build the window for the syrup bottles, so the light would come through. We also have a big insulated freezer bin for the ice — we shave everything right before serving it.
We use a machine called a Snowie 3000. It makes something in between crushed and shaved ice — so it really feels like snow.
What other Baltimore treats you do love and miss?
Well, of course, steamed crabs with pitchers of beer. Crab cakes. I very much miss Utz sour cream and onion chips, in the green bag. I really miss those hot summer nights outside.
Now that we have the truck, I feel like I’ve never met so many people from Baltimore. Of course, they always ask for the egg custard flavor. But we can’t figure out a natural way to make it.
Are there any flavors that you just can’t get to come out right, no matter how hard you try?
We’ve had trouble with blueberry, and lots of tropical fruits. Some of them have too much pectin, so they’re really thick when you cook them down. It’s hard to get the syrups thin enough, even when you strain them.
You’ve got a rotating case of syrups based on the seaons. What flavors have been a hit so far?
Four Barrell coffee — people love that with the chocolate and marshmallow topping. Coconut is also super popular. Plus, of course, the fruit flavors like raspberry. It basically takes an insane amount of fruit to make the syrup. We go to the farmer’s market and load up. Then we’ve got a kitchen space that we rent in Emeryville. We just take the fruit or tea, then a bunch of sugar, and cook it all down.