With temperatures stuck in the 90s, the urge to douse one’s head under the garden hose may stick around, too.

While we ride out this heat wave, we may need to take a page out of the Philadelphia Cooling-Off Playbook and have ourselves a “wooder ice.” That, of course, is how native Pennsylvanians pronounce the word for the world’s greatest frozen treat invented in Philly more than 100 years ago. To the outside world, it’s water ice or Italian ice, but to youse guys in PA, you know exactly what I mean.

Around Lancaster, Rita’s is where folks get their fix — a name that did not cross my path in the summers of my youth just outside Philly. On those steamy nights, when the air never seemed to turn off the laundromat dryer setting, we’d pile into the car and drive down the hill to Manayunk.

There on Main Street was an itty-bitty stand with a walk-up window and a wooden menu of flavors that changed frequently. I had a thing for tangerine mixed with chocolate. I remember the intense anticipation of retrieving my paper-cup-molded mound from the window, glistening like fairy dust and beckoning me to dive in head first. What sets wooder ice apart from other frozen treats is that it waits for no one; it can completely melt within five minutes, so immediate action is required.

A Google search informs me that the scrappy stand of my past is long gone. While this water ice hankering lasts, I’m doing the next best thing: making some at home. In the absence of commercial-grade freezing canisters, which are best left to the wooder ice experts, granita is the closest thing to water ice, and it is ridiculously easy to make.

Granita is a simple mixture of sugar, water, a small amount of citrus juice and fruit. The fruit is blended to make a puree and lightly sweetened. Typically, the mixture goes into a shallow dish and into the freezer. But instead of letting it freeze as one solid block, you scrape the edges with a fork to disrupt that process, resulting in wisps of frozen goodness.

Cookbook author Fran Costigan, who moved to Philly a few years ago, offers up a Plan B to the fork method. She likes to pour the fruit puree into ice cube trays until completely solid, then blitzes the cubes in a food processor. I tested her recipe, below, using both methods, and the results are equally effective at taking the edge off. The one caveat to the ice cube method: Delayed gratification; you need to wait until the ice cubes are solid. No matter what you decide, stay cool.

Watermelon Granita with Chocolate Seeds

Adapted from “Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts” by Fran Costigan.

Makes about 1 1/2 pints.


  • 3 cups cubed watermelon, seeded (from about 1 1/2 pounds watermelon)
  • 1/4 cup organic granulated sugar (Plan B: 1/4 cup simple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 to 2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks for the “seeds”
  • Flaked sea salt (optional)


Place the watermelon in a food processor or blender and blend into a puree. Add the sugar and the lime juice and blend until the sugar is dissolved. You should have about 2 cups.

Pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze until hard. This can take at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.

Plan B: Pour the watermelon puree into a shallow metal dish (like a brownie pan). Cover and place in the freezer. After one hour, use a fork to scrape along the edges of the pan and dismantle any larger chunks forming in the center. Repeat in 30-minute increments until you end up with small, wispy crystals.

Place a 2-quart container with a lid into the freezer. Transfer the frozen cubes to a food processor. Limit the number of cubes to no more than a double layer at a time so that the granita does not get slushy. Pulse a dozen or so times in 2- to 3-second bursts until the cubes are finely chopped. The number of pulses will depend on your machine.

Scrape the granita into the chilled container, cover the container, and return it to the freezer; repeat with the remaining cubes if necessary.

The granita is ready to eat right out of the food processor. Serve in chilled bowls and garnish with as many chocolate “seeds” as you like. I believe watermelon benefits from a sprinkling of flaked sea salt, and if you agree, sprinkle a bit over each bowl.

Freeze the granita in a covered container. For the best flavor and texture, eat the granita within a week. Fluff with a fork before serving.