The snow cone is a brilliantly simple pleasure.
Powdery ice and fruit syrup mingle in a paper cone that at some point goes limp and buckles. Slurp what you can as the ice melts, but the sticky juice drips down your arms anyway. Then play connect-the-dots with drops on your shirt. Ah, the telltale signs of summer.
There's not much that will make you feel more like a kid again than a snow cone. And as a treat for your Fourth of July party?
Making snow cones at home is a simple proposition and one that can be tailored for adults by spiking the snow with rum or vodka. A snazzy martini glass can even replace the cone. Think daiquiris, mojitos and pina coladas and tinker accordingly. Frozen concentrates made for blender drinks can do double-duty as snow cone syrup.
Hawaii is famous for its shave ice and New Orleans for its snoballs. The ice used in those frozen treats is more powdery than what you buy at carnivals and from the ice cream truck. It is not crunchy and almost looks liked whipped cream. Also, these regional specialties are often flavored by more than juice. Ice cream and condensed or evaporated milk may be added to the ice.
To make more traditional snow cones, there are several, relatively inexpensive countertop snow cone makers on the market. I have a Hamilton Beach Icy Treats Maker ($29.99 at big-box home stores), and it does the trick fine if you're cranking out snow cones for a small group. It only makes enough for two snow cones at a time. However, I prepare ice-packed cones in advance, store them in the freezer and squirt on the juice just before serving.
For a big crowd, consider renting a snow cone machine. That will set you back about $50 for the day, but you'll be able to crush more ice and avoid making people wait for their treats. That's never fun.
Most places that rent tables, chairs, tableware and glasses also have snow cone and popcorn machines. For instance, Rent-All City in St. Petersburg (7171 22nd Ave. N, (727) 381-3111 or rentallcity.com) offers a day rate of $45. Rental businesses may also sell paper cones and jugs of juice.
Restaurant supply outlets, such as GFS Marketplace in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Brandon, also stock the cones and juice. A pack of 200 paper cones is about $6 and a 2-gallon jug of juice is about the same. (Go to gfs.com for locations.)
You can also crush ice in your food processor, but it probably won't be the consistency you want. Don't pulse it too long or it will melt.
The flavor part
Strawberry, blueberry, tropical punch, lemon, lime, cotton candy, cherry — you name it — can become a snow cone flavor. You can even replicate the coveted rainbow snow cone if you buy squirt bottles for your juice.
The simplest way to make syrup is to heat equal parts of water and sugar, then let the mixture cool. To 2 cups of simple syrup, add a packet of unsweetened powder drink mix, such as Kool-Aid. Each snow cone will slurp about 3 tablespoons of syrup.
Another way is to mix 2 parts thawed frozen concentrate with 1 part water.
I surveyed frozen concentrates for this story and got some great ideas for snow cones. Mojito mix is mostly lime, and with a little rum mixed in became a refreshingly adult snow cone. Same with strawberry daiquiri mix.
A frozen pina colada mix became the dessert pictured on this page. Rum is added to the thawed concentrate before the mixture is ladled over the ice balls. A sprig of mint and chunks of pineapple are the garnish.
As for the inevitable drip from the point of the cone, place a mini marshmallow inside at the tip before adding the ice.
Now we've thought of everything.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586. Follow her on Twitter, too (@keelerstircrazy). Read her daily recipe blog, Stir Crazy, at blogs.tampabay.com/food.