Wednesday, 03 July 2024 14:52

ICE, ICE, BABY? A SARATOGA FAMILY TRADITION

Grasso’s Italian Ice, photo capture via Grasso’s Italian Ice Facebook. Grasso’s Italian Ice, photo capture via Grasso’s Italian Ice Facebook.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The truck is currently in storage in an undisclosed location, the near century-old recipe a secret, known only to a select few. 

To this day, generations of Saratogians react with a hint of a smile or an expression of emotional delight in their memories of glimpsing that white 1954 International Harvester truck rolling down their street. 

In a place where nostalgia melts inside recollections of the warm summer days of childhood, descendants of the family who created a local 20th century tradition have undertaken an effort to preserve a tradition and potentially create new memories in the future by placing that 1954 truck back on the road.

To that point, the Grasso Family has initiated a crowdfunding effort on the Gofundme platform titled: “Help Revive Saratoga’s Iconic Grasso’s Italian Ice Truck.”

The story’s origins trace back to the 1920’s when Ralph Grasso emigrated from his native Tufino, Italy and settled in Brooklyn with his brother, landing in Saratoga Springs a few years later. Grasso worked in the construction and masonry trades and began making lemon ice which he sold on his off-days and weekends as a side business. 

“My great-grandfather, Ralph Sr., got the original recipe from a friend in Brooklyn when he came over from Italy,” says Sophia Grasso. “He would hand-crank the ice. Obviously, there weren't premade flavors back then, so he squeezed fresh lemons and oranges.”

After an accident at work left Grasso seeking other areas of employment, the side-business became a full-time venture. By the late 1930’s, he dispatched with the pull wagon from which he operated his ice business and purchased his first truck. 

The white 1954 Metro International truck would later follow.

“Their lemon ice was always part of our time at St. Michael’s back in the 1950’s. It was always part of our play time at St. Peter’s Academy,” says Mary Ann Fitzgerald, who grew up on the city’s west side and today serves as Saratoga Springs City Historian. “He used to pull up at the corner by Williams and Hamilton and park right there. We would be playing in the playground and always make sure we had five cents with us to go get lemon ice.”   

For several decades, the ice cream truck was an iconic fixture in the city, and while the frame of the truck is intact, years of wear and tear have left it in desperate need of restoration. Enter The Grasso Family and the gofundme effort. 

The Plan: Things like the brake system will be completely overhauled, with a 6V system changed to a 12V system, making possible better lighting options. The same motor will be rebuilt. The body will have all the dents removed and painted the colors that it has had for 50 years - red, white and blue. As far as the freezers, compressor, storage areas - things needed to make it fully operational - they will be incorporated into the project.

The cost of the project is $28,300. Just over $2,000 has been raised toward that goal.  Renovation is anticipated to start in the fall with the truck ready to roll in time for the 2025 season.

The Grassos used to make spumoni and ice cream sandwiches mostly from scratch in earlier days. The plan moving forward does not currently include serving ice cream, although the ice will return as per Ralph Grasso’s secret recipe.   

“He perfected the recipe and it's the same one we've been using in our family ever since,” says Sophia Grasso. “Only a few of us even know the recipe and those people are my father, Ralph the 3rd, my grandfather, Ralph Jr., and myself. It will be the only recipe we use.” 

Ralphy Grasso Sr. passed away on Christmas Eve in 1985 at the age of 86, and was still making and vending the 'lemon ice' the previous summer. Today, it is his grandchildren and great-grandchildren continuing to carry on the family tradition.

“When we went to the football game, we could count on it being there. When we went to the baseball game, we could count on it. Lemon ice,” recalls Fitzgerald, whose 1999 interview with Ralph Grasso, Jr. is preserved as valued source material as part of the West Side Oral Narrative Project, and housed at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. 

 Fitzgerald recounted a more recent event that occurred while the truck was still on the road. 

“I was going up Lake Avenue and saw the truck for the first time after many years. It was parked outside the East Side Rec and I just pulled right over. I got two lemon ices to go, for my husband and I. I could not just go by the truck,” she says. “If you see lemon ice you pull over! That’s just what you do.” 

For more information about the gofundme project to revive Saratoga’s Iconic Grasso’s Italian Ice Truck, GO HERE. .    

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