Monday, April 07, 2008

Rough and Icy.

April 7 ...

The New York Tribune made mention of granita on this day in 1887, in an article which explained that ‘granites … must be frozen without much beating, or even much stirring, as the design is to have a rough, icy substance.’ Mark Twain knew of granita a couple of decades earlier . In Innocents Abroad (1867) he described the scene in Venice, where people sat at small tables ‘smoking and taking granita (a first cousin to ice-cream)’. Ice-cream’s other cousin is sorbet, or sherbert, and the desirable texture for sorbet is smoother than granita but not as creamy as ice-cream.

The Italians made these frozen delights their own, and then took them with them wherever they went in the world, so the world can be forgiven for thinking them Italian. And maybe they are. But their origin was in the East. The first incarnation was what the West came to call sherbert or charbe or zerbet or several other interpretations of the Turkish/Arabic word for drink. The fruity drink was not originally chilled (ice being hard to come by at that time in that part of the world), but of course this was done when possible. By a happy coincidence the word is similar to the Italian sorbire meaning to drink, so perhaps this facilitated the Italian adoption of the concept. Of course the Italians were way ahead in things culinary during the Renaissance, and wondrous frozen creations were a feature of many of the extravagant banquets held by the obscenely rich and famous of the period.

As for granita, the word comes from the same origin as the word granite (as in the rock type) which refers to its grainy or granular (rough) texture.

We have ice-cream machines and freezers nowadays to make the job virtually fool-proof, but the earliest granita and sorbet makers had to rely on the ice and salt churn to make their sorbets and granitas – or ‘water-ices’ as they were called.

Here is a recipe from 1807, from The Complete Confectioner: Or, The Whole Art of Confectionary Made Easy ... by Frederick Nutt. It sounds wonderful. We don’t use Seville oranges nearly enough.

Seville Orange Water Ice.
Take the rind of two Seville oranges off very fine and thin ; squeeze them into a bason with one lemon; add two gills of syrup* and half a pint of water; pass them through a sieve and freeze them rich.

[* My note: a standard granita syrup is made in the ratio of 1:1 sugar and water: stir over heat until the sugar dissolves, then boil for a few seconds, then take off the heat and cool]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Bon Voyage.

Quotation for the Day …

Given the clientele, the restaurants on Capri might resemble those fancy Northern Italian places on the East Side of Manhattan where the captain has taken bilingual sneering lessons from the maitre d’ at the French joint down the street and the waiter, whose father was born in Palermo, would deny under torture that tomato sauce has ever touched his lips. Calvin Trillin, Third Helping.


Lidian said...

What a delightful-sounding recipe! I love granita and also Italian water ices (finer than granita)- when I was in elementary school in NY we went after school to a little place where you could get tiny paper cups of Italian ice.

Chocolate was my favorite, followed by cherry. Just brilliant stuff. This was in the late 1960s and I am sure that shop is LONG gone.

Barbara said...

In NZ people had no idea what I was talking about when I said granita. A lack of Italian immigration I thought, so I interesting to know it is Eastern in origin.