Ice has been used to put the chill on food and drinks, and ease bruises, shiners and pulled muscles for thousands of years. Today it’s a bed for fishmonger’s best choices, a soda fountain’s common denominator, coffee’s new summer accessory, and a key ingredient in low-fat, lactose-free dessert options. Now, thanks to the modern cocktail culture, creative mixologists, talented ice sculptors and shaved ice vendors, frozen H2O has shaken up the culinary world.
The Ice Ages
People of ancient Egypt and India harvested ice by storing water in large porous vessels left outside to freeze on chilly nights. In the 19th century ice was still being naturally formed by cold temperatures, chopped up and stored in insulated icehouses to be used throughout the year.
This cool concept caught on and Americans began furnishing their homes with insulated cabinets called iceboxes. They were filled with solid blocks of ice to keep perishables from spoiling and other food items nice and chilled.
In 1932,Guy Tinkham patented the model for the first ice cube tray.
As a general principle, the larger the surface area of the ice, the slower it melts, and in turn, the less it dilutes the beverage or libation. So cubes are best for lemonades, ice teas, juices, sodas, punches and libations “on the rocks” (like Scotch or whiskey) and cracked ice is more desirable for drinks, like margaritas and daiquiris. Cracked ice can be easily formed by placing cubes in a canvas bag and smashing it with a mallet, baseball bat or rolling pin — also therapeutic for alleviating frustrations and stress!
Chip off the old block
Large blocks, moulds or rings of ice that melt at a glacial pace are ideal for punch bowls and other communal help-yourself party drinks.
A Close Shave
Shaved or crushed ice, which can be easily formed by using the ice-crushing mode of a blender, is the ice of choice for smoothies, mint juleps, pina coladas and that ilk of cocktail. You can concoct kid-friendly or adult snow cones by packing the shaved ice into a paper cone or cocktail glass and drizzling with fruity syrup or your favorite liqueur from almond-flavored Amaretto or hazelnut nuanced Frangelico to tutti-frutti’s like cherry brandy or Crème de banane.
A tropical riff on snow cones is Hawaiian shave ice, an import from the Heian Period of Japan. This frozen delight made from finely grated blocks of ice resembles fluffy snow crystals tightly packed and drizzled with tropical syrup favors including guava, coconut, pineapple, passion fruit and mango. Italian ice is a non-dairy treat blending fruits, juices, purees and other flavorings after they are frozen, much like the recipe for making ice cream.
Freeze a Ziploc bag full of green, purple or black grapes and use as a colorful, edible, iron-rich and heart-healthy substitute for ice cubes. Silicone balls stuffed with shaved or cracked ice or reusable, fast-freezing plastic cubes or slices keep drinks cold, and add a touch of color without diluting the drinks.