Written for The Lyon's Tales, the newsletter for the Lyon(s) Family Association
In Greek mythology, nectar is the food of the gods. But in New Orleans, nectar is one of just about everyone’s favorite flavor of snowballs (that’s a snow cone to you folks up north).
Hot pink and super sweet, it is on the menu of every corner snowball stand in southeast Louisiana – and there are many of those. But back in my mama’s day, back when every drug store had a soda counter inside, nectar also used to be a flavor you could order in your soda or milkshake. A Nectar Soda used to be one of my favorites when I was little as well. But now that drug store soda counters have gone the way of full-service gas stations, the nectar soda has all but disappeared and is pretty much just a snowball flavor. ‘Tis a pity, too.
So imagine my joy and surprise to learn that the famous (to us) New Orleans nectar was, in fact, created by a man named Lyons!
Isaac L. Lyons was born in Columbia, South Carolina, but moved to New Orleans just before the start of the Civil War. He enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private but eventually achieved the rank of captain. After the war, he opened a wholesale pharmaceutical supply company under the name Tucker & Lyons. That eventually changed to Ball & Lyons and, finally, to I.L. Lyons, Ltd.
Of course, Lyons’ drugstore storefront had a soda fountain inside and one day he mixed up a delicious pink concoction he called “nectar,” and which soon became ubiquitous at New Orleans soda fountains.
You still can buy nectar if you know where to look and don’t confuse it for hummingbird nectar. All the snowball stands have it, of course, so any snowball supply company has nectar. There are some specialty shops in New Orleans that sell it, along with pure cane syrup (that’s another story for another day). Even Walmart has a version of it.
If you get your hands on some, here is the recipe for an old-fashioned New Orleans nectar soda: Put about an inch of nectar syrup in the bottom of your fancy ice cream soda glass, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, then pour soda water/seltzer over the ice cream. The nectar will fizz to the top. Add whipped cream and a cherry. Nectar is also good in vanilla milkshakes or just poured over vanilla ice cream, but take heed – it’s very, very sweet.
I have no idea if Isaac was a relative or not. He does not show up in my particular family tree and I can’t connect him to the first of my lot to come to Louisiana, but that is not to say that he was not a cousin of ours. In fact, it was one of my own cousins who led me to this discovery during a recent visit to the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge. There, she discovered a couple of bottles stamped with “I.L. Lyons & Co.” She texted me to ask if he was a relative. I had to look him up and found this amazing story.
Even if he’s not a direct relative, we both will claim him.