Italian ice (also known as “water ice") is similar to a snow cone or a piragua (Puerto Rico). Each summer, many street vendors and Italian restaurants offer the flavored ice treat. Marino’s Italian Ices, in Queens, is the nation’s leading seller of Italian ices, selling both to street vendors and to supermarkets.
While Italian ice is similar to the Sicilian granita, the New York City product is unknown in Italy. Italian ice flavors often include lemon, cherry, coconut and blueberry, and the product is served in a pleated paper cup. While water ices were served at drug stores in the early 1900s, the familiar New York Italian ice became popular from the 1940s and reached California by the 1960s.
Wikipedia: Italian ice
Italian ice, also known as water ice, is a frozen dessert made from either concentrated syrup flavoring or fruit purees. It is not shaved ice that is flavored, rather, it is made by the same process by which ice cream is made: mixing ingredients and pouring them into a batch freezer. The quality of Italian ice varies widely by whether it is made with high fructose corn syrup or natural ingredients like sugar. Sometimes the term “Gourmet Italian Ice” is used to refer to Italian ice that is made from real fruit. Common flavors include cherry, coconut, piña colada, blueberry, and lemon. Some specialty shops also sell a wider array of flavors, such as cantaloupe, orange and chocolate.
In October 2007, Dennis Moore of “Little Jimmy’s Italian Ice” in Elizabeth, New Jersey, submitted the term “Italian ice” as a possible addition to the Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. On November 8, 2007, this term was added, in International Class 030: Italian Ice. The most common flavors are lemon, cherry, and blueberry.
Dictionary of American Regional English
Italian ice n esp NYC area
A confection of crushed ice infused with fruit-flavored syrup.
1968 Burlington Co. Herald (Mount Holly, NJ) 8 Aug sec B 18/2, [Advt:] Italian ice..1/2 gal. 39c
1980 DARE File neNJ (as of 1960s), Italian ices were something between sherbet and snowcones. We bought them from a vendor who sold nothing else. They came in small paper cups, and in lemon, orange, or cherry flavor. And they were much more refreshing than a popsicle or an ice-cream cone on a hot summer day.
1980 NADS Letters NYC (as of 1950s), We used ice, but in most cases ices were Italian ices, i.e., soft and served in a cup. Ibid NYC, We used to eat “Italian ices” (frozen fruit-flavored water) in accordian-pleated wax cups.
1981 DARE File Buffalo NY, They’ve got the best beef on weck and Italian ices available around here.
1991 Ibid sePA, In the fifties in Philadelphia, my childhood friends and I enjoyed Italian ice daily in the summer. This treat, which peaked about three inches out of a paper cone, consisted of ice crushed to the size of raw sugar, over which was poured a fake fruit syrup. Ibid NYC (as of 1950s), Italian ices were very finely ground, flavored ice. The consistency of the ices was very smooth. I remember it being sold out of a pushcart-like affair. You’d ask the man for the flavor you wanted and he’d open the hatch on top of the cart, scoop out what you wanted from a cardboard tub, and serve it in a small paper cup.
14 August 1925, Bedford (PA) Gazette, pg. 6, col. 3:
Then they had supper, a generous, conglomerate supper, erratic in its variety, sandwiches, Russian soups, strange things en casserole, quaint foreign pastries, Italian ices, and cheeses from every land. Duane and Jerry sat together, very close, very quiet, in the wide window-seat, looking out over the East river to the misty midnight towers of New York on the other side.
9 October 1928, Barnard Bulletin (New York, NY), pg. 3, col. 3:
After the closing supper all the members of the school gathered in the social room, where some of the students had prepared as a surprise Italian ices and pastry.
26 April 1950, Tucson (AZ) Daily Citizen, pg. 20, col. 3:
Q. I claim the Italians invented ice cream. Right?
A. An Italian originated what we now call “ices,” as for example, orange ice. The English originated ice cream. However, their inspiration came from the Italian “ices.”
2 November 1961, Monessen (PA) Valley Independent, “Homemade Italian Ices Have Appetite Appeal” by Edith M. Barber, pg. 16, cols. 2-3:
The automatic refrigerator is almost commonplace equipment for a kitchen of today. Gone is the ice wagon and the jolly ice-man who was already ready to slice off a few chips for the gang of children that surrounded the wagon wherever it stopped.
CHildren did not always welcome—as did their mothers—the automatic refrigerator, which became her pride and joy as soon as it was installed. She would demonstrate to the neighbors how easily she could make ice cream. It might be slightly grainy, but this fact was ignored.
Once drugstores started to distribute ice cream, however, the trend for the refrigerator-froen blend was lessened. It was replaced by an ice of the Italian type, that was most satisfactory when part of the sweetening was corn syrup. Canned peaches, apricots or plums are used to vary the flavor.
1 can (1 pound, 14-ounce) peaches
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2-3 cup sugar
1-2 cup lemon juice
2 egg whites
Empty fruit and syrup into strainer placed over a bowl. Press fruit and syrup through strainer and reserve. Combine water, corn syrup and sugar in saucepan, and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil 5 minutes. Cool. Add lemon juice and reserved fruit puree. Turn into freeing tray or trays and freeze until mixture is almost firm. before removing from freeer, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Turn almost frozen mixture into a chilled bowl, cut apart and beat until smooth. Fold in beaten egg whites. Return to tray or trays and continue freezing until firm. Yield: About 1 quart.
Replace 1 can of peaches with 1 can of apricots or plums.
10 September 1965, Valley News (Van Nuys, CA), “Serve Kingly Italian Ices,” pg. 13A, cols. 6-7:
Chalk up another lure to embellish the people-to-people furnishings which are found every day and night at any of the seven Mike’s Pizza spots in the Valley.
Now Paul Green, colorful owner of Mike’s, has added italian ices to his dessert list.
Italian ice, in lemon, orange, banana, cherry and lime, are a new low calorie taste sensation, said Green.
In 1897, King Emmanuel of Italy was honored by the people of the Valley of Bari who prepared for him a delectable dessert made from the clear cold water of mountain springs and pure fresh fruit.
Italian ices soon became a favorite at the royal court and their popularity then spread throughout Europe and Asia.
Now, for the first time in California, said Green, patrons of Mike’s Pizza can enjoy this 100 percent fat-free taste treat.
25 June 1966, Zanesville (OH) Times Recorder, pg.9A, col. 5 ad:
O. K. Sophia! now you can tell about the ITALIAN ICES we will feature. Yes, folks! Orange & lime ice will be the flavors this week. They are very low in calories and you will enjoy both immensely.
Remember, ITALIAN ICES only at Hooper’s Dairy Isle. Please Sophia not so close, you’ll melt the ice.
The Girls in the Office
By Jack Olsen
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
...and he took me to see his old house in the barrio, and we went for a long walk on the lower East Side and shared Italian ices at a place in the Village.
9 October 1972, New York magazine, “Confessions of a Pushcart Peddler” by Marie Brenner, pg. 38:
As we rolled up Eighth Avenue, I was enthusiastic. “Italian ices, Italian ices...” I would yell. No one bought. “Too early,” Mike would grunt. “No beezniz till 12 or 1.”
11 May 1975, New York (NY) Times, “The Freezin’ Season,” pg. F15:
Spring is the time for baseball, flowers, lovers and...italian ices, the dixie-cups full of the sweet, sticky, colorful concoction of sugar, water and artificial flavoring that New Yorkers slurp by the millions.
Volume runs to 2 million gallons a year for the nation’s largest producer—Marino’s Real Italian Ices in Queens. Vendors and manufacturers alike report that lemon is New York’s favorite flavor, with chocolate a close second.
2 June 1984, New York (NY) Times, “When Ice Cream Wasn’t Haute” by Marian Burros, pg. 30:
The Rise of the Italian Ice
A few years later the ice cream of choice wasn’t ice cream at all, it was an Italian ice, though friends who remember the neighborhood better than I say the ices weren’t Italian because the store was named Goldman’s. The lemon ice I remember—it was the only flavor sold—was just like the Italian lemon ice I have tasted since. In those days it came in pleated paper cups, a penny for a small one, three for a large. My cousin and I were each given a penny and we fought regularly over who was given the larger scoop. WHen the ice got down below the lip of the cup you pushed the contents up from the bottom, and if you played with it too long the cup would spring a leak or two.
25 July 1993, New York (NY) Times, “Answers to Summer’s Idle Mysteries” by Eric Messinger, pg. ST23:
10. REALLY? NOT LEMON?:
Gino’s Italian Ices in Brooklyn and Marino’s Italian Ices in Queens—the two largest local makers of flavored ices—said their best sellers were, respectively, rainbow and cherry.
New York (NY) Times
Italian Ice, Athenian Ice Man
By CHARLES PASSY
Published: August 3, 1997
For generations of New Yorkers, it has been the poor man’s taste of summer. It is a frozen concoction that comes in a crayon-box assortment of flavors served in a pleated paper cup, and it costs about $1. It is Italian ice, of course. The kind made for three decades by Marino’s Real Italian Ices, the largest purveyor of the ices in the metropolitan region.
(Boxed text follows—ed.)
The Modern Ice Age
Water ices along with ice cream and sorbets were introduced to Americans in the 1700’s. Here are dates in their history.
1700’s-mid 19th century Frozen desserts were enjoyed mainly by the rich who flocked to fancy ice-cream parlors for the treats.
1840’s Water ices and ice cream made their way to the streets of New York. Vendors, known as “ice screamers.” first sold froen desserts from buckets before pushcarts were employed.
1900’s The New York-style confection known as Italian ice is developed. Unlike the original sorbetto recipe from Italy, which calls for real fruit, it is often made with artificial flavorings. “It’s a great American product,” said Mario Batali, the chef at Po in Greenwich Village and host of an Italian cooking program on cable television, “like chicken tetrazzini, a dish that never existed in Italy.”
October 02, 2007
Gino’s Italian Ices
I order a lemon ice for me and a coconut ice for Corey. The man extracts them from a machine. How, I cannot see. They come out with rounded tops in little paper cups. I pay the man. A dollar fifty.
I take my little cup outside on the sidewalk, escaping the deep-fried air. It’s not ice cream. It’s not gelato. It’s not sorbet. It’s very probably not Italian. It tastes like mushed-up ice mixed with a sweet lemon cordial. It is mushed-up ice mixed with a sweet lemon cordial. My feet don’t hurt anymore. It’s the best seventy-five cents I can remember spending.
(Somewhere on Grand Street, near the corner of East Broadway.)