If you wanna hear me ham it up, click play above to listen!
Green cobs, fresh from the field and still warm to the touch, fill the wooden bin at Herrles on Erb Street in Waterloo. Masses of people crowd around, grabbing at the corn, and we muscle our way in. The cobs are too fat to fit a dozen in a single bag unless we husk them first, so we fill two bags, six in each.
In the parking lot, I stow the Herles corn in my little red car’s trunk, and then I stroke another task off the list of hometown to-dos. It’s been a jam-packed, record 2-day blitz.
The corn is headed to Toronto for the next crazy leg of this visit, though not for a boiling water ending. No. These cobs await a different fate.
* * *
“Granita is meant to be eaten in the moment,” Lois says to me. “It’s made with classic fruit from the native terrain where it’s made, when the fruit is in season.”
Thus begins my education on granita, a less often eaten-by-me and, I now realize, clearly misunderstood Italian treat.
Lois Kim is both gelato and granita maker, along with her husband and partner, Carlo Diano. This summer, my son Graham is working at their store, Futura Granita + Gelato, where the duo make and serve granita, gelato and sometimes sorbet.
Native Torontonians might already be familiar with the couple. They’ve been running a thriving, albeit accidental, cookie business for years. It’s called CookieFriday. But that’s another story for another day. The two opened their latest venture beneath Graham’s St. Clair West flat on September 19, 2017. And this summer, my son is blessed with the shortest work commute in the family to date. He walks down a staircase from his flat, through a door to the outside, takes a quick left and walks through Futura’s front door.
The interior is a pastiche of exposed brick walls, blank slates of white, a retro looking coffee machine, black chalkboard with flavours etched in coloured script, and a bar with stools for sitting. It’s a comfy blend of city chic and Italian warmth, and it makes me want to hang out far longer than the time it takes to eat granita.
But at the same time, I do see something clearly amiss in the shop’s clean, uncluttered design. Behind a glass display counter, there are no mounds of frozen pastel marshmallow pillows on display to tempt my tongue for a taste of Futura’s offerings. Instead, the treats are all sequestered in silver containers that are dropped into a temperature-controlled fridge. All that meets my eye are twenty tidy-looking, waist-level shiny silver dollar lids.
This storage system is not a fashion statement. It’s about Lois and Carlo’s commitment to stay true to and honour tradition, and that’s how they store gelato and granita in Italy.
These icy treats are persnickety, finicky stuff. When granita sits to long it separates, leaving pools that must get mixed back into a slush state before serving, and when it’s too cold, it freezes into a big chunk, impossible to dip into with a wee spoon. With gelato, oxidization is the enemy, air and light taking their toll on the sugars and many other ingredients. Just like baby bear in the Goldilocks story, both demand conditions are ‘just right,’ and proper storage is the key to maintaining the exact temperature and conditions necessary to preserve, but never freeze, this delicate duo.
“Granita isn’t all that attractive,” admits Carlo with a smile. “Its in a constant state of frozen mush.”
I lean over the countertop to have a peek as he lifts a silver lid. Sure enough, the container holds a pool of transparent, faintly coloured fluid, with a hefty side order of slush. Carlo reaches in with a paddle, shifting and mixing what turns out to be canteloupe granita, made from fruit grown and harvested in Ontario, just as it should be.
“Seasonal, local and fresh are what granita’s all about,” Lois explains. “Though ever since Chef’s Table’s latest season, we’ve had people asking for almond granita. That’s wrong from the Italian perspective. Almonds don’t grow here. If you’re in Sicily, where almonds are native, sure, have almond granita. Here in Ontario, our fresh seasonal fruits are peaches, plums, cantaloupes, berries… and that’s what you should be having.”
Lois’s knowledge is homespun, direct from Italy. Carlo’s father is from Calabria, and through the years, the couple have regularly visited his hometown. Over time, Lois got to know and understand granita’s full story.
“It’s also not meant to be taken home to eat,” she continues. “In Italy, we’d eat granita at breakfast and lunch, and in the evenings after dinner, we’d gather with family and friends at the local shop to talk over the day. Carlo and I wanted to make that kind of experience here, in Toronto.”
As she talks, I think about last night, when I’d popped down from Graham’s flat to visit him at work. The shop was crammed with families, kids, babies, friends—a mess of locals dropping in and out for an after dinner stop by and happenstance evening chat. I’d been introduced round repeatedly as ‘Graham’s mom’ to great fanfare, handshakes and even hugs.
I’d learned these strangers-to-me knew my son, knew the shop, knew Lois and Carlo, and they’d grown into a circle, knitted together through the regular sharing of icy, cold granita. It’s impossible not to eat and enjoy in the moment, so why not chat as you eat?
And although technically, I’d learned Lois and Carlo’s granita was made from only three ingredients… pure fruit, water and organic cane sugar, last night was evidence of a fourth ingredient. I’ll call it the magical experience in sharing the now.
Granita 2.0, Toronto style.
Carlo loads a clear glass with lemon granita, and I balk immediately, believing this a clear violation of point two in the Lois code. Local.
But then I learn they sometimes break the rules and push the boundaries. They do make an almold granita to satisfy the Chef’s Table crowd, tea and coffee for the caffeine addicted, flowers even, and sometimes lemon, which I believe must be in direct homage to Carlo’s Italian roots.
I dig in my spoon and slurp the tart, lemony yellow taste of summer in the city. And then I remember something.
“The corn!” I suddenly yelp at Lois, thinking about yet another yellowy granita treat. “How are you going to use with the corn?”
And that, of course, is when Lois sends me spinning in an entirely new direction.
“Hmmmmm…” she says. “The corn… now that’s going to be Gelato.”
Stayed tuned for Part II: Gelato. It’s coming the minute I finish it, which will be soon! Promise!!!