Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sicilians Scream for Ice Cream

Aha! Just as I had heard, ice cream was invented in Sicily. I came across this article today in, of all places, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, newspaper, The Argus.

Trained chef and baker Sanaa Abourezk writes: "The most likely reason was the existence of the volcano Mount Etna, which is high enough to maintain snow in its higher elevations year-round. That was where the Sicilians harvested snow to cool their drinks and freeze their desserts. Mount Etna was special because it spewed out volcanic ash, preserving the snow with an insulating blanket.

"Later, Roman emperors sent their wine to be cooled in the caves of Mount Etna. Eventually, Sicilians began preserving the snow underground, allowing it to convert to ice, which they sold as far away as Rome. In the 10th century, Arabs came to Sicily, bringing with them cane sugars and citrus fruit and mixing them with ice, resulting in a sort of snow cone or sorbet. That was the beginning of the world's romance with ice cream.

"Ultimately, the Roman Catholic Church took control of the ice, selling it throughout Italy and experimenting with the sweetened snow by using different flavors. Almond water, pistachios and fruits were added until, finally, milk was added, creating the final product we know today. By the 1600s, Sicilian ice cream makers became famous throughout Italy.

"In 1774, the supply of snow in Mount Etna gave out, and the Sicilian parliament in Palermo dispatched dragoons to Mount Etna to confirm there was no snow.

"I've eaten ice cream in various parts of Europe and the Middle East - I've heard the Russians make an exquisite ice cream - but in my opinion, Italy makes the best in the world. Gelaterias, Italian ice cream shops, are handed down from generation to generation, with the secrets of the family retained within the family."

Ha! It is true that most of the gelaterie here make their own ice cream and granite (gra-NEE-tay), which really is more like a fresh sorbet. Almond is my favorite, but I also like the mulberry. You have to ask what they have that day. The Italians eat it for breakfast in the summer, with a warm, sweet brioche on the side. I have adopted this habit myself on Sundays at my favorite cafe. Other popular flavors here are pistachio, peach, lemon, strawberry, coffee, and mint, all of which are grown or brewed here in summer.

One question, why do you think the snow disappeared in 1774? A volcanic eruption is my first guess. An earthquake? An unusually hot winter? There is plenty of snow on it these winters, I can testify. I will have to do some research. In the meantime, if you like Italian ice cream, you should come to Sicily for the original stuff.


At August 26, 2005 2:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought Marco Polo brought back the idea of ice cream when he returned from China.

At August 26, 2005 7:07 AM, Blogger Maryellen said...

Uh, that was spaghetti, wasn't it?

At September 08, 2005 2:56 AM, Blogger conjured_up said...

How wonderful that I stumbled upon your blog! I lived in Sicily (Motta to be exact) from 1988 – 1991. I was in the Navy (of course) and too young to even THINK about taking pictures to preserve the now fading memories. Not a single one of the locals...…not even my landlady who would come to me and ask me to buy her ice cream from the Commissary (Bryers vanilla! With all the good stuff they have she wanted plain old vanilla!). A flip through your photo albums and it all came rushing back.

Etna was active then… ash on the car allll the time. My soul aches for the beaches of Taoromina. Thanks for sharing.

Ciao bella!


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