Granita and sorbet are two type of food linked to Sicilian tradition. The inventor of both is the same chef who, between‘600 and ‘700, worked hard to create artisanal ice-cream: he was Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli. However, few are aware of the true origin of granita and sorbet. In fact, although the city of birth is the Sicilian Aci Trezza, it was during the Arab domination that spread the particular method of snow conservation. This is confirmed, for example, by the same etymology of the word“sorbet”: from the Arabic“sherbet”, which means “”fresh drink”. So this is a thousand-year-old tradition.
In particular, it is said that the Arabs had spread the habit of collecting the snow that in winter painted the mountains of the Madonie, which followed a peculiar type of conservation that allowed the snow to turn into ice. Later, during summer, the ice was cut into blocks, sprinkled with salt and stored in straw baskets. Later, it was transported from the mountain to the city, where it was stored for many months in deep pits built inside the cellars.
Granita and sorbet: from neviere to pozzetti
This habit has never been lost. Instead, during the Middle Ages it became more and more established. In fact, precisely in this period was born the profession of nivaroli. During winter, nivaroli took care of the collection of the snow on the Etna, on the mountains Iblei, Nebrodi and Peloritani. Then, they dedicated all the year to its conservation in the neviere, or the containers of collected snow. Finally, during the months of the greatest summer heat, they transported it to the seashore, so that everyone could take advantage of it.
Moreover, thanks to the fertility of the land that in the 16th century allowed the cultivation of sugar cane and lemons, the Sicilian craftsmen worked extremely creatively on these blocks of ice, creating the famous sorbets that are the basis of today’s granita. In particular, noble families used to buy the snow of Etna and keep it in private snowfields, located in particularly cool places, stored for summer. And just to cope with the summer heat, the ice that formed was grated and processed with lemon and fruit. The juice obtained was poured over the snow turned into ice, thus giving rise to the famous sorbet.
Later, during the sixteenth century, the recipe experienced some improvements. The snow began to be used, mixed with sea salt, as a coolant and no longer as an ingredient. The processing was carried out using a wooden vessel called pozzetto, with a zinc bucket inside that was turned with a crank. It was filled with salt and snow, this latter preserved in a jute bag rolled up, and the mixture was allowed to freeze in a place called the pozzetto. This was done by subtracting heat and rotating some internal blades, which prevented the formation of large ice blocks.
Even today granita is considered one of the best Sicilian specialties, a delicacy to be enjoyed in all its essence. It is just a tradition of taste that brings with it a very ancient history, which constitutes the deep roots of an island with a folklore and an extremely intriguing and enthralling past.
In short, granita and sorbet are, in all respects, refined and inimitable confectionery products, jewels to be enjoyed and preserved: a piece of history of Sicily.