A paper cup full of velvety smooth lemon flavored Italian water ice is exactly the right antidote for Delaware’s muggy July heat. But this year, the community is in mourning. After four generations, the venerable Fusco’s water ice stand on Union Street in the heart of Little Italy has failed to open. Considering the fleeting water ice season, many questions have been flying about. Founded in 1957 by Francesco Fusco and his son Rosario, theirs was one of many curbside stands located along the streets of Wilmington. Tracked down by a reporter from our local paper, the current manager said that no family members are interested in running the stand and that the owner is retiring to Georgia.
Such a loss. For many years, there was fierce competition among the mom and pop stands offering their family recipes in the Wilmington and Philadelphia area. Now a franchise operation with its cookie-cutter recipes has crowded out these humble offerings. Fusco’s is just the latest victim.
Traditional water ice is best eaten when the mercury soars. My husband and I both lived in the Little Italy neighborhood and couldn’t wait to pull over to the Fusco stand on an intense summer day. While slurping the ice gives a brief respite from the heat, it can definitely generate brain freeze if eaten too fast. Of course, the delicate tart flavor is more than enough reward.
To be clear, these are not snow cones. The origin is as a poor man’s ice cream. Italian immigrants mixed fruit juices, sugar and simple syrup. Absolutely traditional water ice is lemon flavored, laden with flecks of rind. Laboriously prepared through several freezing and stirring cycles, the ice grains are maintained. So it resembles an Italian granita, but with a more delicate structure.
Even with the expansion of the franchise network, when I ask
friends about Italian water ice, they often just look at me blankly. In some respects this is good. We love our local delicacies and guard them
carefully. But I can’t help missing our
neighborhood friends. There really is
nothing that can match the bright flavor and icy deliciousness of a real
Italian lemon water ice. Here is to the best of summer!
1 cup sugar
1 cup hot water
1 cup lemon juice
Grated rinds of two lemons
Combine the sugare and hot water in a large metal bowl. When the sugar is dissolved, stir in the lemon juice and the grated lemon rind. Put the bowl in the freezer for one hour. When the mixture has frozen into a soft mush, beat it for 2 minutes with a hand mixer and then return to the freezer. Repeat two more times, allowing one hour between beating. Pack into quart containers and finish freezing. Serve in 1 cup paper cups garnished with fresh mint.