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Three Ways to Eat Ice

For those of you who want to explore chilly desserts beyond ice cream, try these frozen treats

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Granita. Image courtesy of Flickr user hugovk.

When temperatures start climbing, ice cream trucks and frozen treat stands start popping up on the streets. And although available year-round, popsicles, Italian Ice and Icees have greater appeal as a sweet way to cool off. These desserts are also delightful in their simplicity. Who knew that flavored frozen water could be such a marketable concept? For people who have to get their fix as fast as they can, specialty rapid-freezing appliances have hit the market that can produce frozen treats in as little as seven minutes. Frivolous? Perhaps. But I say this before 100-plus-degree weather has hit my neck of the woods. For those of you who want to explore chilly desserts outside of ice cream, try these treats.

Granita: According to the Food Timeline, this Sicilian semi-frozen dessert became popular in the late 17th century, about the same time that ice cream came into vogue. (Some trace its history even farther back, pointing to the Romans, who used lumps of snow to chill their wine.) The texture is slushy and granular, and the consistency is somewhere between a drink and a frozen treat. Flavored with fruit or coffee, granita is eaten at breakfast during the summer months, accompanied by a brioche, which the diner can use to sop up the slowly melting dessert.

Shave Ice: The delineation between this dessert and a snow cone is that the ice is shaved, not crushed, making for a fine powdery snow that absorbs flavors from fruit juices or syrups. Offhand, this might not make one seek this treat out. But what makes this an interesting dessert is the other components you can pair with the flavored ice, which are typically a scoop of ice cream and/or a dollop of sweet azuki beans. Yup, beans. Popular in Hawaii, some food historians think that shave ice has its roots in Malaysian cuisine, which has a dish called ais kacang (“bean ice”), which can include corn and jellied toppings.

Snowball: Another shaved iced treat and regional favorite, the snowball was the forerunner of the modern snow cone—but while you’ll likely be able to find the latter at almost any swimming pool, you may be hard pressed to find snowballs outside of Maryland. When mass-produced ice became widely available in the late 19th century, someone had the idea to fill a cup with ice shavings and add flavoring, which was originally egg custard. The whole concoction was sometimes topped with a dollop of marshmallow. They took off in popularity during the Great Depression of the 1930s as a frugal—but nonetheless tasty—alternative to ice cream. But once economic conditions improved, the treat fell out of favor and now you have to actively seek them out. For those who won’t be passing through Baltimore this summer, New Orleans has also laid a claim to the snowball, although that city’s version is topped with condensed milk.

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