The origins of the granita are usually traced back to the Arab domination in Sicily. The Arabs brought with them the recipe for sherbet, an iced drink flavored with fruit juice or rose water. In Catania and the rest of Sicily, they used the snow that in winter was collected on Etna, on the Peloritani, Iblei or Nebrodi mountains and stowed during the year in the snow, special stone buildings erected above natural or artificial caves. In summer the ice formed was taken to be then grated and covered with fruit or flower syrups. This preparation, which also survives in the Roman grattachecca, was still widespread until the early twentieth century with the name of rattata (grated).
During the 16th century a notable improvement was made to the sherbet recipe, discovering that it could use snow, mixed with sea salt, as a eutectic to freeze preparations – the collected snow thus passed from ingredient to coolant. The cockpit was born, a wooden vat with a zinc bucket inside, which could be turned with a crank. The interspace was filled with the eutectic mixture and then placed in an insulated straw bed. The mixture froze the contents of the well by subtraction of heat, while the rotary movement prevented the formation of too large ice crystals. The granita prepared in this way has replaced the rattata over the centuries. During the 20th century, the manual well cooled by ice (or snow) and salt was replaced everywhere by the ice cream maker. An “original formulation” of the granita cannot easily be determined. According to authoritative sources, the most traditional granitas were those with lemon flavors, almond with chocolate and coffee, and in eastern Sicily with cinnamon, jasmine and “scursunera” (beak beard).
While the beak beard is no longer used today, the dialectal term scursunera is now used, especially in the Palermo area, to designate jasmine granita with cinnamon.
The almonds used for the preparation of the granita sometimes contain a minimal percentage of bitter almond, decisive for the intense aroma.
Granita in the described semi-liquid consistency is widespread especially in the eastern part of the island. In the western part the term “granita is regularly applied to the kneading (in Sicily called cremolata), with a finer and more homogeneous consistency, and the two recipes overlap and are often confused.
Certainly, the city of coffee granita (with or without cream) par excellence is Catania where there are many producers of artisan granita of the highest quality and where granita is a real ritual for the people of Catania. Curiosity: the term “half with cream” which if you do not specify the taste refers exclusively to coffee granita, is given by the fact that until the 50s and 60s, when the granita was accompanied with long and thin crispy bread , the glass of the granita was of greater capacity than the current one (moreover the shape of the glass itself, developed very high, was ideal for the bread described above); then people who preferred a smaller quantity of granita asked for “half” of it. So the granita began to be served in the common glass of water. Today the “standard” granita has become the latter. Asking today for “a coffee granita with cream” or “a half with cream” is practically the same thing.
Pistachio (originating from Bronte), almond (the minnulata from Catania, or almond, on which a drop of hot coffee is poured) and fruit flavors: black mulberries, peach, strawberry, mandarin pineapple. A peculiarity from Catania is the so-called “chocolate granita”, which is actually prepared with low-fat cocoa.
In Messina and the Aeolian Islands, the choice of flavors is similar to the original one from Catania (mainly Lemon, Strawberry, Coffee and Peach), but the composition is different: the Messina granita is slightly sweeter, vice versa, more tending towards sour than the Catania-Syracuse one. .
In Syracuse the granitas universally spread in all bars have traditionally been: lemon, coffee and almond (the latter sometimes in the version with raw or minced almonds without removing the brown skin after shelling). It is now common, especially in the trendiest bars, to find countless flavors.
In the province of Ragusa, particularly in the Modica area, the toasted almond granita is particular. Typical of Trapani cuisine are jasmine and black mulberry granita. In the small coastal village of Favazzina, in the Reggio area, the fig and prickly pear granita is a summer custom.