A History of Italian Ice

And how one New Jersey family has preserved this sweet Sicilian tradition state-side.

This article, written by David Bienenstock, appears on Munchies.

The Best Italian Ice Is Frozen in Time

On a long, hot summer day precisely one hundred years ago, Caterina Di Cosmo grew nostalgic for her hometown in Italy. She decided to try beating the heat by recreating the granitas (granular blends of sugar, ice, and flavoring) she so fondly remembered from her childhood back in the old country. Made not by adding flavor to ice, but by freezing a liquid concoction while mixing it, granitaslike many popular frozen desserts—originated in Sicily, and have since spread around the world.

Caterina’s first batch came out smooth (far less granular than a typical granita) and creamy (despite containing no dairy), with the sweet/tart taste of sugared, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and a crisp, cooling mouthfeel. Shared among family, friends, and the regular customers at her small grocery in an Italian-American enclave in Elizabeth, New Jersey, called Peterstown, it was an immediate hit. In time, Caterina’s “Italian Ice” would become locally famous. Her husband Giovanni eventually decided to build a small shack next to their house—made from salvaged wood crates and pallets—wholly dedicated to producing and selling the product.

A century later, the house and the shop remain in the family. While the ice needed to make each day’s supply no longer arrives via horse and carriage in a 300-pound block, and hand-cranking has long since been replaced by a small electric machine, the modern-day Di Cosmo family otherwise follows Caterina’s original recipe—right down to serving and storing their ices in the same 100-year-old barrels.

And on a hot day, eager customers still start lining up for a taste long before they open for business.

“It’s truly a labor of love,” said Nancy Di Cosmo, who married into the family in 1969… Read more at Munchies.

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