The apricot tree, pruned for the first time in years last fall by the Scallion and a pal sometime last year, now produces fruit (he vows that this autumn he will fiercely prune it).
Despite the prune, it’s still not producing as much as we think it ought. The tree's just outside our kitchen door, and this would be thrilling news if the Three Stooges didn’t delight in eating them. When they fall to the ground on their part of the terrace, they are there in a flash, sucking them down. (Note photo of Harry, who stands on the walkway, at which end is the apricot tree. Very convenient for them.) It must be hoped and expected that they know that eating the pits is not a good thing (they contain a modicum of cyanide), and usually there’s a pile of pits on their little walkway. Yesterday, however, Lulu had to be instructed to “drop” the pit, which she did for about two seconds, before breaking it up and swallowing most of it (she is fine and exhibited zero signs of poisoning one minute later and many, many hours later). (She is also a golden retriever; what she lacks in brains, she more than makes up for in beauty.)
(It has just been observed that one enterprising canine deposited a semi-rotting apricot on the rug in the sitting room – saving for later, perhaps.)
Decided to make granita, and scoured the ground for freshly-fallen apricots, and reached as high as possible to grab those on branches. (Difficult, the tree is tall.)
It’s the original Italian ice, granita, and the original Italian sno-[sic] cone. Granita is a perfectly made Slurpee. Or, a Slurpee is the end result of taking a beautiful idea, cheapening the ingredients, and serving it out of a machine.
However, “snow cone” in fact isn’t far from the historical truth. Ancient Romans used to take snow, brought to them from mountains north, and pour their wine over it (unclear if they had cones to go with them; doubtful). Elizabeth David (1913-1992), in her beyond marvelous Harvest of the Cold Months (New York, 1994) writes that Florentines had a yen for iced things as early as 1345. Donato Velluti reports this in his chronicle (he was on an ambassadorial mission to Verona, and enjoyed ample ice with his wine; it was August).
In the 16th century, two schools of thought existed regarding the use of snow: either it was good for you, or it wasn’t. We know that the Medici liked ice, as they built two ice houses in Boboli Garden, at their villa in Pratolino, and perhaps in the Cascine (their big private park in Florence). David thinks it highly likely that Cardinal Ferdinando de’Medici, later to become Grandduke of Tuscany, aped the ice house that Vignola built for Pope Julius III at the Villa Julia.
The switch from pouring wine over snow to incorporating ice into the bargain probably began sometime in the second half of the 17th century, according to Alan Davidson. He allows for the possibility that the Chinese were making water ices much earlier, but dismisses the idea that Marco Polo brought the recipe back with him as sheer Culinary Mythology.
Fortunately, love of iced things trickled down to the less high and mighty, but it probably took the birth of refrigeration to give rise to the ice cream truck.
You eat granita in little cups with a little spoon (you do not slurp them through a straw). If you find yourself on the Amalfi Coast, avail yourself of a lemon granita. If you’re anywhere in Sicily, where the granite might be the best in the world, go with the almond (a certain sister-in-law of mine has been known to order more than one of these when the occasion presents itself). If you have an apricot tree outside your back door, run with that.
(The inclusion of crystallized ginger is not Italian at all.)
1 c. white sugar
2/3 c. water (preferably mineral, bottled, flat)
1 lb. apricots, washed cleanly, cut in half, chopped, pits thrown far away from Lulu
2 heaping T. crystallized ginger
Juice of half a lemon
Make the sugar syrup first: put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a high flame. Stir ‘til the sugar melts, then remove the pan from the stove. Let cool.
Chop the apricots coarsely, and throw them, the sugar syrup, crystallized ginger, and the lemon juice into a blender. Purée until smooth.
Pour the mixture into a metal receptacle, and put in the freezer. A half an hour before serving, remove from the freezer. Take a fork and attempt to mash it up (it won’t, as it’s solidly frozen). Try again in about 10 minutes’ time, when it will be more pliable. The desired effect is that of apricot mush, which you will serve in parfait glasses to many.
Unknown if the Stooges would like this version, but they’re not about to get any of it.
If you’re in Florence, two great places to try granita are:
Grom, via Campanile, 055/2161578, quite near the Duomo, does a beauteous coffee granita topped with cream.
Gelaterie Carabe, via Ricasoli 60/r, 055/289476, is just down the street from the Accademia. Their granite are as close as you can get to Sicily in Florence.
 Although, if you are of a certain age, you might have found no greater summer thirst quencher than the mixed cola and cherry Slurpee.
 Elizabeth David, Harvest of the Cold Months, New York, 1994.
 The Oxford Companion to Food, New York, 1999.
 A fascinating entry in the Companion. He writes that Culinary Mythologies could be a book on their own, but lists a couple of the big ones, including Marco Polo and Pasta, Catherine de’Medici bringing her cooks with her to France thereby changing the face of French cuisine (many Italians I know would heartily dispute this), and the Origin of Chop Suey.