Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rankin’s Grocery: Home of Green Sno Balls & Ham

By Taylor Wilson

“I am a fan of Dr. Seuss and all, but are those supposed to be green…?”

It seemed a sensible question to ask as I stood at the counter waiting to pay Mr. And Mrs. Rankin proprietors of Rankin’s
Grocery and daily purveyors of fine lunchmeats in Brownsville, Tennessee.

I mean it is not like there is a lot of green stuff sold at Rankin’s (amongst the ham, turkey, roast beef, hoop cheese, crackers, bread, chicken salad, chips, pork rinds, pickled baloney, etc.). So, when you see something green, well, it kind of stands out.

And what were the items in question. They were Hostess Sno Balls®, which are supposed to be pink — a long way from green.

Unless a food is Jell-O, a sherbet, a fruit or a veggie, shades of green aren’t often a good thing.

But no worries, Mrs. Rankin assured me all was well.

“Ah, they do that every year for St. Patrick’s Day. Yes, they are supposed to be green.”

“Thank goodness. I was a bit worried the snack cakes might have gone out of date, even though I don’t particularly care for Sno Balls, green other otherwise,” I said.

And what the heck? I bought ’em, anyway. I also told Mr. Rankin I was going to put ’em on eBay and sell ’em as a collector’s item.
He wished me good luck with the venture and then came back with a pretty good one-liner, before I exited, stage left.

As a side note, the elder sandwich seller once told me back in his high school days, he witnessed my grandfather break up a crap game.

My grandfather (Lloyd Wilson) was principal and Mr. Rankin, a student, swears he was not a participant, but rather a bystander of an entertaining game of chance.

“We were down on the floor and suddenly, these black leather shoes appeared in the game,” said Rankin who admits to saying something colorful, and it wasn’t green, either, by the way.
“I was just watching, understand? But Mr. Wilson took up the money and made us buy a new book for the library with it,” Rankin remembered.

But back to Sno-Balls. At the time of the crap game, which again, Rankin claims not to have participated in, if they had wanted to the gamblers (and bystanders) could have enjoyed a Sno Ball.

Yep, they were around way back then.

In fact, Sno Balls have been around since 1947.

According to the Hostess website, the cakes became and instant hit for Americans looking to indulge in a sweet treat during WWII, when there was a rationing of flour and sugar.
And back then, Sno Balls weren’t the pink crème-filled treats we know today (much less green).

The original Sno Balls were white marshmallow and shredded coconut covered chocolate cakes. In 1950, the crème filling was added, and not long after, in an effort to add a little pizzazz to the humble white Sno Ball, Hostess decided to tint the shredded coconut pink. And for added effect, each Sno Ball package included one white and one pink Sno Ball. Later, for efficiency’s sake, two of the same color were coupled.

Today, over 25 million are sold each year.

Hostess mostly produces the original white-colored Sno Balls around the winter holidays, with other colors appearing for different seasons.

You’ll find “Scary Cakes” and “Glo Balls” (orange and glow-in-the-dark Sno Balls) during Halloween, “Lucky Puffs” (the aforementioned green Sno Balls) for St. Patrick’s Day and Hoppers (lavender colored Sno Balls) in the spring for Easter.

Also, according to the Hostess website, you might be surprised to know that Sno Balls have also made celebrity appearances, with “supporting roles” in episodes of The X-Files and Gilmore Girls as well as in the film The Mirror Has Two Faces.
All that, of course, enough to make all the other snack cakes green too, but only with envy.

Taylor Wilson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and websites for more than 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at

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