11 icy delights to satisfy your sweet tooth on hot days
Iced sweets such as ice cream, sherbets, granitas, snow cones, frozen drinks and the like have been around a long time, since at least 4000 B.C.
Nobles along the Euphrates River in western Asia built icehouses to make them. These were usually pits or caves where, during the winter, ice and snow would be taken and insulated with straw or sawdust so it could stay frozen for many months, even until the following winter.
Evidence indicates that snow, in addition to cooling wine, likely was sold in the streets of Athens in the fifth century B.C. to make something akin to our snow cones today. Archaeologists have found remains of ice pits in China from the seventh century B.C., but there is also written evidence that the Chinese used them before 1100 B.C. We owe much to the Chinese!
As early as the 13th century, the Arabs discovered that ice mixed with salt or saltpeter set in motion what is called an exothermic reaction. This created a heat-sucking slurry with a far lower freezing point than typical water. Immersed in a bath of this exothermic brine, ice crystals easily formed in various liquid concoctions. Stirred regularly to prevent large ice crystals from forming, a scoopable frozen foam resulted. Water ices, sherbets and granitas were born. The first European water ices and dairy-based ice creams were likely made in Italy during the early 1600s.
By the late 19th century, America was a hotbed of ice cream innovation. A Philadelphia pharmacist mixed the first ice cream soda in 1874. The ice cream sundae dates to 1881 (several Midwestern towns claim to be the site of its invention). Its name likely comes from “blue laws” that banned the sale of soda drinks on Sundays.
The first edible ice cream cups were patented in the 1880s, around the time milkshakes — originally promoted as a health drink — became popular. The waffle cone rocketed to fame when introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and the Popsicle was patented in 1923. Both Dairy Queen and the Carvel company claim to have developed the first soft-serve ice cream in the mid-1930s, while frozen yogurt was a latecomer, introduced in the 1970s.
A granita primer
Anyone who has traveled in Italy, especially in summer, will remember all the terrific frozen confections that are available there. Creamy gooey gelatos, rich semifreddos and slushy granitas!
The word granita comes from the Italian “grano,” meaning kernel or grain. Granitas were first sold from vending carts in village squares in the early to mid-1800s in Italy. Initially, the coffee or fruit juice mixtures were partially frozen in a copper cylinder similar to a modern ice cream maker. Each mixture was then transferred to a container in the cart, and it’s thought that the pebble-like texture was created by the jolting motion of the carts moving over cobblestone roads.
Whatever the source, they are easy to make and wonderfully refreshing on a hot day. Here are some of my favorites. Traditionally, granitas are made by repeatedly stirring and scraping the mixture as it freezes and hardens. It’s easy to do but does require some attention. I find that using the food processor method described below is perfectly acceptable. You can also make granita-like concoctions in your ice cream freezer.
Makes about 1 quart, serving 6 - 8
¾ cup water
⅔ cup sugar
2 ¾ cups strongly brewed espresso coffee
2 tablespoons dark rum or orange liqueur
Lightly whipped, barely sweetened heavy cream and dark chocolate shavings, if desired, for garnish
Place water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil to dissolve sugar. Add coffee and rum and remove from heat. Transfer mixture to a nonreactive bowl or pan and place in freezer. After 30 minutes or so as mixture begins to freeze, stir ice from around edges of container into syrup. Every 30 minutes or so, continue to stir to incorporate frozen portion back into syrup. As mixture freezes, it will have a slushy appearance. As it becomes more solid, scrape a fork across the granita to break it up. Repeat scraping every 30 minutes until the mixture is solid, about 4 hours.
Alternately, you can stir every 30 minutes until granita reaches slushy stage. Let it freeze solid at this point and then remove, chop into small pieces and pulse in a food processor until granita texture is achieved. Return to freezer for 30 minutes or so before serving.
To serve: Scoop granita into chilled glasses and top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, if desired. Serve immediately.
Any favorite real or herb tea will work here. For something unusual, try a smoky tea such as Lapsang souchong.
Lemon Tea Granita