29 July 2015

Crushing ice on Mount Etna to make
ice cream for Arabs and bishops

Ice cream in Sicily is like ice cream nowhere else (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

In this hot summer weather in Sicily, it is good to stop for real Sicilian gelato or ice cream.

The Rough Guide to Sicily, which I am using on this holiday, says “eating a genuine Sicilian ice cream is one of the world’s most voluptuous gastronomic experiences.”

But where does Sicilian ice cream come from, and what are its origins? These have been among the most hotly debated topics in Sicily for generations.

Some say gelato was created by the Greeks or the Romans. It is said that in classical time, Greek or Roman foot runners brought snow from Mount Etna to Taormina or Catania to be flavoured with nuts or berries and honey. It was a treat reserved for the ruling classes.

Later, local honey was used to sweeten Sicilian ices.

Others say the invading Arabs were the first to invent it, having brought to Sicily their skills in making sherbet.

In the ninth century, they Arabs introduced sugar cane, revolutionising Sicilian cooking.

By the 18th century, Sicilian gelato were so popular that a high proportion of the revenue of the Bishop of Catania is said to have come from selling the snow of Mount Etna.

Whatever its origins, true Sicilian ice cream tastes so different so much better than all other ice creams.

Sicilian gelato usually contains less cream and less emulsifier than other ice creams, it is not mixed at high speeds, and it is cooled differently. All this helps to create it softer texture.

Alongside gelato on the street stalls is Granita/ This is made from fruit and sugar mixed with water and slowly mixed as it is frozen, giving the texture of flaked or finely crushed ice.

And, as they say, it’s all finger-licken’ good.

Sicilian ice cream ... not to be dismissed as a mere summer treat (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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