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Il Sorbettiere Ambulante,
(The Sorbet Seller),
Francesco de Boucard,
Usi e Costumi di Napoli e Contorni, 1857-1866
Eating gelato is an Italian favorite. Italians may not have invented it but without a doubt they perfected it and made it popular around
Should we be surprised that a fisherman from Sicily introduced France and Europe to the pleasures of ice cream?
It is not surprising when we consider that sorbet has a long tradition in Sicily, where ice drinks called “sherbet,” flavored with local fruit, were prepared among the Arab population as early as the seventh century.
Patrick Brydone, a Scottish nobleman, visited Sicily and Malta in 1770 and wrote an interesting book about his travels. In his writings, he noted that “even the peasants regale themselves with ices during the summer heats […] and there is no entertainment given by the nobility of which these do not always make a principal part.” When he visited the underground caves filled with ice, he remarked that the peasants made the finest ice-houses. It was the peasants of Sicily who supplied ice to the confectioners, street sellers, and cafés of the island.
A Gelateria (Ice Cream Shop)
Brydone also remarked that “a famine of snow, they themselves say, would be more grieving than a famine of either corn or wine.” The use of snow for icing water was even intensified by the demand of physicians who recommended the use of ice for fever and other diseases.
Snow was for the Sicilians a commodity of vital importance, and they themselves observed that without the snow from Etna, Sicily “could not be inhabited, so essential has this article of luxury become to them.”
Food Historians can’t agree about the origin of ice cream but if we go back in time we see that the use of ice to prepare frozen desserts in Italy and the Mediterranean goes back thousands of years.
Ice cream started as a sorbet. It is easy to make just by taking white snow from the mountains and flavoring it with fruit juice, honey, or sweet wine. The main problem, in the pre-refrigerator ages, was how to store this natural ice from the winter, so that it could be enjoyed during the summer. The solution was found in underground cellars where the ice could keep, at least for a while.