by David Cecelski
My mother and I were driving home from the farm this past Sunday. It was really hot, almost 90 degrees, and we were tired from the highway driving and all the beach traffic. We needed a break and something cold. As we drove through US 70 in Smithfield, the seat of Johnston County, we turned onto South Brightleaf Boulevard and there was an oasis in the desert: Hills of Snow, a snow cone shop in a giant blue, snow-cone shaped building in the corner of a fried chicken joint’s parking lot.
The line was long. Young and old, black and white and brown were all there, and you could immediately tell that Hills of Snow’s brand of snow cone resonates with traditional Latin Americanpaletas and other fruit ices. The shop’s sign prominently advertised bola de nieve(literally “snow ball” in Spanish) and crema de nieve (“snow cream”), and a lot of the customers we met were Mexican immigrants. The whole town seemed to be there though, and everybody was enjoying a snow cone.
Hills of Snow’s menu lists 99 flavors and 10 sizes. The shop has everyday flavors like vanilla and strawberry, but also boasts exotic tropical fruit flavors, including guava, mango, papaya, passion fruit, guanabana and tamarind. There was something for every palate—spearmint, pear, blackberry, watermelon, butterscotch, peanut butter, and on and on. And a lot for the youngest set, too: tutti frutti, maraschino cherry, green bubble gum, cherry lime-aid and a whole lot more. I am still wondering what flavors called “Tiger’s Blood” and “Fuzzy Navel” taste like.
My mother and I got three #6s. They’re not the cheapest—that would be the 75-cent #4s. (They go up to #32 sizes for $5.00.) Our #6s—$1.25 each, the second smallest size—were just right for us. We shared a vanilla snow cream, a cantaloupe and a mango.
Our snow cones were spectacular: the ice was delicately shaved, not crushed, like most snow cones, and the flavors were exquisite: the essences of mango and cantaloupe. The best one, my mother’s vanilla snow cream, really did remind me of homemade snow cream. They were so good that they made us forget the heat, the long drive, and our weariness. We sat in front of the shop and watched little children splashing water in a fountain and we slowly savored our snow cones, an unexpected mercy on such a hot day.
In addition to Hills of Snow’s regular flavors, there are 5 sugar-free flavors (cherry, grape, peach, pina colada and strawberry) and 9 snow cream flavors, including Dreamsicle Snow Cream and Wedding Cake-N-Cream. The snow creams are 50 or 75 cents extra, depending on the size. For 75 cents extra, you can also get a choice of 3 snowball toppings—Eagle Brand condensed milk, marshmallow crème and whipped crème.
PLACES TO VISIT NEARBY: Millie’s Hot Dogs, directly across the street. Take-out hot dogs, hamburgers and country cooking plates. Also, the Ava Gardner Museum, just around the corner at 323 E. Market St. Dedicated to the Hollywood starlet who grew up on a tobacco farm in Brogden, 8 or 9 miles southeast of Smithfield.
photos by David Cecelski