What is Water-Ice?

Water-Ice a.k.a. Italian Water-Ice or Italian Ice is a legendary summertime treat in Philadelphia. It is a water-based product made with real fruit blended in fine ice to form a soft, velvety smooth texture. It contains no fat, no cholesterol and is the ideal ice cream alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.

Preparation of water-ice begins with real fruit or fruit puree mixed with water, sugar and other ingredients which undergoes a “quick-freezing” process that generations of Philadelphians have come to expect.

History of Water-Ice

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the origin of water-ice. Eastern historians believe that the Chinese first developed some form of water-ice. They claim that Marco Polo enjoyed this treat so much, he introduced it to his friends when he returned to Europe. When his fellow countrymen tried to credit Marco, he told them that the Chinese have been making it for thousands of years.

Western historians believe that some form of water-ice was discovered albeit accidentally during the rule of Roman emperor Nero Claudius Caesar. Caesar often sent his servants up into the mountains to chill his various wines. One day a servant accidentally mixed the chemical saltpeter in with the mountain snow thus causing the quick freezing effect necessary in the preparation of water-ice.

How Jim-Jim's began?

On June 12th , 1993, Jim Moy, owner of Jim-Jim’s was then a resident of Philadelphia, PA. On that hot and humid summer day, Jim was entertaining a friend who was a student at UT Austin. After lunch, Jim told his friend, “Let’s get a water-ice”. A blank look came across his friend’s face as he replied, “Sure, that sounds good”. As they strolled down the street eating their lemon water-ices the friend mumbled something. Jim asked his friend to repeat what he just said and the friend replied, “I wish we had this in Texas”. Jim thought his friend was joking and replied, “Stop kidding around, water-ice is nationwide”. His friend’s face took on a serious look and said, “I’m not kidding. I grew up in Houston and now reside in Austin, I have never seen, heard of or had a water-ice in my life”.

In Philadelphia, the water-ice business is fiercely competitive. Recipes are closely guarded secrets and every company claims to have the best tasting flavors. Jim didn’t think his chances were too good of finding someone to show him the ropes. But luck would soon shine down on Jim. That following week while attending an interdepartmental meeting at work, Jim came across his friend and former coworker, Rick, who had since moved to another department. While they were catching up on the news and gossip, Jim brought up the story of his friend from Texas. Rick told Jim that he wasn’t going to believe this, but his brother-in-law owns a water-ice company but his brother-in-law has never told anyone the recipes. Rick offered to call his brother-in-law. Jim took Rick up on his offer and said that he would be happy to work on weekends for free in exchange for the recipes. A few days later, Rick got back to Jim and said that his brother-in-law wanted to speak with him directly. So Jim called up the brother-in-law and the only question that the brother-in-law asked was, “Where do you plan to open up”. “Somewhere in Texas” Jim replied. The brother-in-law said, “That’s far enough away, I’ll be glad to teach you. I’ll see you Saturday”…..and the rest is history!

Photo Credit to: Austin American Statesman (UpFront June 1997)

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