Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Before we leave the topic of San Giorgio for another year, I thought you would like to see this clip of him being taken on his "turni" in, out of and around his church. [This is not a clip from this year.] His youthful carriers were, indeed, exhausted by the end of 30 turni and I think there are many worse things they could have been doing on a Sunday night, so I do admire them.

I must say the final fireworks in his honour were magnificent and Simi and I saw them on TV and heard them in reality. Not to be outdone, she shook her toys and adopted her "That'll learn 'em" pose [her English vocabulary is suffering a bit since she has learnt so much Italian!] She wants me to assure you that dogs join in all the festa fun!

Blognote: I have been unwell for the past few days - nothing to worry about - and know I have been a poor blog visitor. I am hoping to put that right tonight and tomorrow. Please bear with me!

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Down to Modica Bassa this evening for the last part of our famous Eurochocolate festival: this celebrates pure, Modican chocolate and now attracts visitors from all over the world. I'm sure that some of my readers would think they were in heaven, as there is just stall after stall selling chocolate or chocolate products!

I must say that this event shows that the Sicilians can get themselves organised when they want to: there were shuttle buses from this district and from nearby towns and a ticket kiosk had been set up right by the stop. [There can be few visitors to Sicily or even Italy in general who have not tried to catch a bus somewhere, then discovered that the tickets have to be purchased at a location many metres away, and by the time you get one, you have , of course, missed your bus!]

The atmosphere was very jovial and it was nice to see the Corso pedestrianised [I think it should be all the time]. But I couldn't find any "chocolate statues" as I did last year, to photograph: maybe I would have had I been able to get down there earlier in the week.

However, I did find a display of sflilato - delicate, Sicilian drawn-thread embroidery- which I love and have mentioned before. I was allowed to take these photographs.

I found food items I hadn't seen before, too, in the form of these delicate "spreads " [one gel-like, one cream-like in texture] that can be used with cheese, meat and even ice cream. I was given a chart showing just which cheeses, etc., each one could be used with, so I am going to enjoy myself experimenting with them!

Things were only really getting going as I left at 7.30pm, so the Modicani will be enjoying themselves late into the night.

And today our San Giorgio has had his official outing, having been carried around the streets since 5 pm. [The second picture is of firecrackers being let off in his honour at that hour.] I felt very emotional to learn, on TV just now, that earlier his procession had stopped at the house of that most beloved of Modican citizens, Nino Baglieri. I think that shows a fine sense of propriety: the saint does homage to one of his most devoted followers. There was no sadness here, just the saint's carriers applauding and shouting "Nino" , and Nino's family seeming so happy to see them all. What a fine way to celebrate a life and a saint.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Saturday night and here's a bit of fun from the gorgeous Patrizio for you:



Forgive me, reader, for this post which has nothing to do with Sicily - or maybe it has, for Humphrey Lyttelton, whose death has been announced tonight, kept me going through good times and bad, in both countries.

Lyttelton was. first and foremost, a jazz musician and it was this very talent which stood him in good stead when R4 needed an "anchorman" for their new quiz, which would lampoon, in a way that only the British can, all who had an over-grown sense of their own importance. Lyttelton was anything but an "anchorman" for he deconstructed the news, just as a jazz musician "deconstructs" music, then rebuilt it.

He chaired the Radio 4 programme, "I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue" and his laconic, self-deprecating style was a lesson to all who take themselves too seriously.

Oh, Humph, I shall miss you!


Friday, April 25, 2008


It is the Liberation Day holiday today and earlier I had an unexpected visitor: it was the neighbour's daughter whom I had helped with some research before Christmas. She came bearing these lovely Sicilian pastries and this beautiful, handmade pencil case from Bardonnecchia in the mountains around Turin, where she is now working. I could gaze at objects like this for hours, imagining the workmanship and love that has gone into their making. The fact that someone whom I had only met once before would go to Bardonecchia, see it and think of me makes it all the more special.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


The Post Office is up to its old trick of having only one counter open for each purpose. Therefore it took me the usual 40 minutes to pay a bill there this morning. When I was attended to, it was without a trace of a smile from the clerk, who uttered no "buongiorno" , "arrivederci" or even a "bugger off" [which would at least have constituted some interaction] . It seems to me that, when you know someone has been waiting a long time [and the clerks do know this] then the least you can do is serve them with a modicum of courtesy. I nearly screamed when I saw the manager walking up and down, at one point, picking up discarded "tickets" which had somehow missed the wastebins but doing nothing about the level of service. One day I swear I am going to lose my pazienza and collar him; I want to know how he can possibly be satisfied with the training his staff have received and the sheer lack of consideration for the clientèle in the place. Someone has also had the bright idea of changing the seating arrangements in there: the chairs are now placed in diagonal rows, the logic, presumably, being that you won't have to crane your neck to see the display board; but, of course, it doesn't work as the rows encroach upon the central space, so people stand almost on top of you and you still can't see the board [which, given the slowness of the appearance of the ticket numbers, might be a blessing in disguise, come to think of it!]

Today I suggested to a class that they all come on time for next week's lesson, so that we can get an exam practice test done: you would have thought I had cracked the funniest joke in Christendom!

But the orange blossom is out and I stop on the way to and from work to breathe in its heady scent. Then nothing else matters quite so much, reader....

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


On a day when patriotism, or the lack of it, has been much discussed in the UK, I have had an interesting talk with students about whether they would wish to travel. Most would, of course, but the thought of a gap year or of spending months rather than weeks away from home horrifies my Sicilian charges: that would be far too long a separation from family and, in particular, from mamma's cooking! The idea of living abroad permanently would never occur to them and I was touched when they said that, whilst they acknowledge that Italy has many problems, they feel it is up to their generation to stay and try to change it.

San Giorgio is, of course, the patron saint of Modica and Ragusa Ibla as well as of England. His cult was probably introduced in the west by returning Crusaders and was brought to Sicily by the Normans. The saint is supposed to have appeared as a vision on horseback to encourage the inhabitants of several coastal cities which had endured raids by eastern armies and this, as well as his legendary heroic deeds, explains his popularity in Sicily.

His statue "lives" in the Duomo named for him and he is depicted in medieval armour, carrying a short sword or spatulidda in dialect, a name by which he is affectionately known. On Sunday the statue gets a day out, as it is borne around the town, but for tonight we have to content ourselves with the sound of firecrackers [which I can hear as I write] in his honour. I do like a good, Sicilian noise to celebrate a saint's day!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The Water Office phone seems to have been reconnected but still, no one is bothering to answer it, so I don’t know if a refill has been ordered or not for this week. And now [I fear you won't believe this, reader] the phoneline at the Law Courts has been cut off for the same reason - non-payment of the bill! This is being reported in a matter-of-fact way and surprise is being expressed only at Telecom Italia’s audacity in taking the decision to disconnect; no one is astonished that the Comune didn’t pay this bill in the first place. You have to laugh, reader, for if you did not you would cry but this failure to attribute blame where it really lies is the root of so many of Italy’s problems.
Note to my FCE students: Note passive forms here: "have been reconnected"; "has been ordered"; "has been cut off"; "is being reported"; "is being expressed". I have not mentioned the "agent" [person or persons doing the action ] in any of these clauses because it is either obvious or not important for the reader to know.

Monday, April 21, 2008


A friend who knows I have been feeling low brought me these wonderful gifts from the Cava today. I felt as if the sun had invaded my kitchen!
UPDATE: Just remembered - my blog is 2 today!!

Saturday, April 19, 2008


A charity half-marathon or marotonina [ if that's not a contradiction in terms] is to be run tomorrow in Modica in memory of Nino Baglieri, about whom I wrote following his death last year.

Paralysed in an accident at work at the age of 17, Baglieri spent 10 years cursing his fate and in self-imposed isolation, before dramatically refinding his faith on Good Friday, 1978. Thereafter, holding a pen in his mouth, he wrote thousands of letters which helped others and was the author of 2 books. He travelled throughout Italy and sometimes abroad, spreading the message of his faith and of the mercy of his God. In Modica people flocked to his bedside, not to comfort him but to be comforted by him.

As many of you know, I am not religious, but I can only admire such a wonderful man and the faith that inspired him.

His last wish was to be "dressed in a track suit and trainers so that in the last part of my journey to God, I can run to Him."

I think the Modicani have found a very appropriate way to remember this most beloved of their citizens.


As a follow-up to last night's post, here is one for all my lovely students. We have been working very hard since I met you all in December, but I hope we have also been doing exactly this - getting to know each other.

I think Abbey will like this, too!

[The voice of Julie Andrews is dubbed over the soundtrack, in which our dear Deborah Kerr was dubbed anyway, here. This is the clearer of the two clips that I could find. It is old, so may stop and start a little - pazienza!]


Friday, April 18, 2008


After a very rainy Thursday – quite possibly the last rain we shall see until about October – today has been beautiful and my glum mood has cleared along with the weather.

Lunch at the Altro Posto today was excellent, consisting of roast chicken thigh with grilled vegetables. I was amused to overhear a customer asking the owner whether he was serving granite [water ices] yet and the proud response, which was , “Ah, when I begin to serve granite, I begin!” – indicating that he does nothing by halves. The granite, like everything else in Sicily, will have to await their true “season”.

At work my boss popped into a class to ask my opinion of a draft she had written. Amazingly, the sentence she had doubts about included the very grammar point I was working on with an advanced level student at the time! We drew the student into the discussion and he was relieved to know that even mother-tongue English speakers have to think about that particular structure! [I don’t know why this sort of thing is a surprise to anyone; if it were not so, crosswords and other language games would hardly exist, would they?]

And finally, I just have to share this example of impeccable Italian logic with you all: explaining and setting a homework task in which the aim was for students to write in an enthusiastic and encouraging tone [“You are organising a charity run for your sports club. Write to the members giving details and emphasise the fun aspects of the event”] I couldn’t work out why they all looked perplexed. Then a student enlightened me: “That is difficult, teacher. We never write about a future event in an enthusiastic tone. This way, if it goes badly, no one is disappointed.” The mind boggles not only at the pessimism but at the thought that my charges would be perfectly happy to continue organising an event which they privately thought would be a shambles. Oh, well: “Cu’ ad àutru ‘nzigna, acquista più sapere.” [Sicilian proverb: “S/he who teaches, learns.”]

Thursday, April 17, 2008


My lovely Dad died 35 years ago today and sometimes it seems like yesterday, reader. Here is a song he loved, sung by an artiste for whom he felt compassion.

I forget where I read that it is often the peripheral detail of the traumatic events of our lives that remains with us, but I remember that, just prior to that terrible week of 1973, I had been reading a biography of George Sand. And I have never been able to read anything by or about her since. What a coincidence, then, that this melody is, of course, the Fantaisie Impromptu in C -sharp minor by Chopin, that lady's lover for many years.

This post is also dedicated to rainbow-chasers everywhere.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008


What a mixture of the exotic and the familiar greeted me on the via Sacro Cuore today, where I found that the cyclamens had vanished, to be replaced by these petunias in the containers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


You'll all have read or heard about Italy's General Election results, so I won't bore you with statistics other than to mention that in Sicily projected figures are that 62% of deputies from the centre right, as opposed to 28% from the centre left, will gain representation in the Regional Assembly. Even I have to hand it to Berlusconi, for his come-back ability, sheer nerve and showmanship [though his running mates in the Northern League are another matter] . Italians are incredibly pragmatic, you see, and when times are hard, they will vote for whoever they think will get them back to work, clear the streets of Naples of rubbish and generally make them look like a world player again. [Sometimes I think this often chaotic nation just craves order.] And if this new government doesn't work, so what? - We just chuck it out, sooner rather than later!

It may all seem very strange from outside the country, but I can understand exactly why Italians have voted as they have [though I am not condoning their decision]. The rest of the world may laugh at Italy all it likes, reader: the country still eats arguably better than any other, its design and workmanship still inspire admiration everywhere and young people do not feel that the be all and end all of life is to get as far away as possible from their families. So surely we have to concede that the Italians are doing quite a lot of things right?

Monday, April 14, 2008


A week or so ago, James challenged all his readers to display, on their sites, a personal collage. It has taken me a while but here is my effort. The photo is not as “zoomed in” as I would like it to be, as I so wanted to include Jindra the clown from Prague [in the background] . I also had to photograph the objects near some books, as, apart from my jewellery [which , I have learnt, is hellishly difficult to snap so I have passed on that] and my make-up, would tell anybody the most about me: I cannot survive in an environment without books!

Well, I’ll just tell you a little about a few of the objects: Far left you see my Dad’s old camera, which recorded so many happy moments of my childhood. The bright orange piece of pottery is Poole, which I used to collect and still love. The tiny blue and white container on the left contains Welsh seasalt [ a reminder of home], there is a Sicilian shepherd’s whistle and the dark blue mug front left is my “birthday mug”. This one has what I think is an interesting history so I’ll linger on it if I may: my “Auntie Lala” [in reality my great-aunt by marriage, Sarah, only I couldn’t pronounce “Sarah” as a child so she was always “Lala” to me] had it made for me and, looking back, I think that was just wonderful of her because it showed her approval of my adoption at a time when there was still a stigma about these matters, especially for a very strait-laced and very wronged woman like her. Poor Auntie Lala [I say “poor “ but she was actually very well-off] was profoundly deaf and the only word I ever remember her saying is “What?” She always dressed severely in greys and black silk and wore numerous furs to go out, even in summer. My Dad used to say that she was a “hard” woman, but maybe she needed to be, for her husband had run out on her and lived, more or less openly, with his mistress. That just did not usually happen in those days! Was she “hard” before all this or did events make her so? I would so love to talk to “Auntie Lala” now! The other interesting aspect of this story is that my great- aunt Mabel and her two sisters, Lala’s sisters-in-law, all accepted their brother’s de facto wife, yet remained on good and even intimate terms with Lala, so they must have been women ahead of their time.

In the centre of my collage are Mary doll and Fluffy the teddy. I can still see Fluffy teddy as he appeared one Christmas morning, peeking out of the top of my Christmas stocking, just as I can still visualise the delight on my Dad’s face as he purchased Mary doll for me in a toyshop in a Cardiff arcade, so many years ago. Both have seen me through many a crisis!

To the right are a Vespa ornament, some miniature pestle & mortars and a set of Limoncello glasses in the background. And I just had to add a Sicilian cart to the scene!

Now, would you like to guess what the little pewter object on the left was used for, in times gone by?

James has asked us to include our favourite music track and I must admit I have found it difficult to find one I haven’t posted before, but Kathleen Ferrier was probably the first classical singer I ever heard and certainly I have always loved this:


Sunday, April 13, 2008


From the Lombardia cookbook I received for Christmas, last night I cooked these veal chops slowly with cubed pancetta, rosemary and white wine. It was my idea to add the capers.

Then, from the same book - and you can tell we are moving northwards in our cookery because of the use of butter in both recipes - I tried these stuffed courgettes. "How can you mix sweet and savoury ingredients?" cried a student the other day whilst we were discussing British breakfasts; yet Italian cookery contains many recipes in which this happens, such as the "sweet" ravioli of Sicily, Sicilian sweet & sour rabbit [though admittedly, this denotes only a little honey added to a sauce primarily consisting of vinegar] and even the addition of chocolate to some Sicilian meat dishes. In this recipe de-pulped courgettes are cut in half lengthwise and blanched, then stuffed with a mixture of the pulp, more chopped courgettes, crushed amaretti biscuits, pinenuts, raisins [which I can't get, so I used sultanas] brown sugar and breadcrumbs. Butter is dotted over before placing the courgettes in the oven. The recipe states that any "roast leftovers" [by which they mean any cooked meat that has not been fried] can be minced and added to the mixture, so I minced up the meat from another of the cooked chops.

It all turned out much better than I expected!


Yes, jmb was right: Simi has insisted on being "Warholized", too! She'd love to know which of these you all like best:
Image hosted @ bighugelabs.com

[Click to enlarge.]

Saturday, April 12, 2008


According to a report in Il Giornale di Sicilia today [article unavailable online] 43.22% of Sicilian terrain is at high risk of desertification. This is mainly due, of course, to climate change, with extremes of drought on the one hand and floods on the other having been witnessed in recent years. But human activity, as usual, has not exactly helped the situation, with deforestation, fire, a concentration of crop cultivation in coastal areas only , salinisation and ill-advised use of water all contributing to the potential environmental disaster.

A letter from a reader published in the same paper laments the fact that we have a daytime temperature of 32 C whilst still in April and that "there are no seasons any more". People have started to bathe in the sea already, whilst this never used to be the case until the beginning of May.

For Sicilians, there is a "time for everything" and I believe they are right, reader.

FASHION NOTE: 32 C it may be but the women have not yet donned summer attire. The men, interestingly, have.


Well, everyone's at it, so you didn't think I'd let myself be left out, did you? The town of Modica behind me does not escape, either. Do check out the Warholization of my friends Leslie and jmb, too.
Note to my students: Note American spelling with "Z" of "Warholization".

Image hosted @ bighugelabs.com
[Click to enlarge.]

Friday, April 11, 2008


There is no surer sign of spring in Sicily than beautiful bougainvillea tumbling over a white wall. Last week there was none to be seen; then suddenly this week here it is in all its precocious glory. I think this delicate pink-mauve colour is my favourite kind.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


The weather in this part of Sicily is strange at the moment, reader, and even the locals say so. On Monday and Tuesday we had a warm temperature [24 C or so] but oddly darkened skies and a wind. The latter was the Scirocco, which blew the sand from Tunisia across and, being asthmatic, I found this air not particularly good for me. However, today the sky has been beautifully blue and the lunchtime temperature in the via Sacro Cuore was 32 C - a sure sign of summer. There has been high humidity to accompany this, though, so everyone has been complaining and saying that they don't feel like doing anything, which is just what they say at the height of summer; I am convinced, as I've said before, that the Sicilians talk about the weather almost as much as the British!

I always feel nostalgic towards the middle of April so here is Gianni for you:

Gianni Morandi - C'era un ragazzo

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Just a quick post , yet again concerning the water situation , tonight:
1. I found out this evening that the next water request for our condominio has not only been made, but signed - in my name! Now, who do you suppose would do that and why, reader?
2. Three people have told me today that the Water Office phone is permanently out of service because their phone bill has not been paid. Can you believe that a public office would get itself into such a mess? The only person showing any surprise regarding this is me. [I should add that I have no evidence whatsoever that this is the case - just hearsay.]
Living here is never boring!

Monday, April 07, 2008


Along this street people discuss the water situation in the way that the British talk about the weather and I was having a good chat about it with one of my neighbours during our walk this morning when she suddenly changed the subject and asked [I post this a little coyly]: "Why aren't you married, signora? You're nice, you're cultured and you're pretty - it's a pity!" I replied that I didn't know either and then the lady said she'd find a nice, cultured Sicilian gentleman to share my life [she is welcome to try!] At that point, Simi, who had been listening to the conversation quietly, proved both how determined she can be and how much her Italian has improved, for she barked and then let out a long howl of disapproval. She likes men and keeps waggling her bum at them in glee, but she says she draws the line at the idea of one moving in!
Note to my students: A phrasal verb and idiom: to put your foot down = to insist.


Much to my surprise, the water lorry arrived at 07.30. I wasn't dressed so didn't go out onto the balcony to ask the driver what had prompted his arrival; besides, it is best to just let miracles take their course. Later the capocondominio rang me; she had returned late last night and gone to talk to the driver she knows before she went to work. It seems we did not have a refill on Friday, despite the fact that I had found a document in my post cupboard stating that we had.

I want to know why the Water Office have disconnected their phone. It is not open to the public at times when I can go there to order refills and and I can't be the only one. And what about people who are physically unable to get there or who cannot manage the steep stairs? What are they supposed to do? This seems like discrimination against the disabled to me. Let's have some answers, Comune di Modica!

Sunday, April 06, 2008


This is an adaptation of a recipe from May's Good Housekeeping [to which I have a subscription] and my excuse for including it here is that I used the beautiful, tiny, Sicilian datterini tomatoes in place of cherry ones. With a recipe like this, in which courgettes, aubergine, peppers and the tomatoes are all roasted with the chicken is that, unless you are very precise in your vegetable cutting, the vegetables don't all cook at the same rate. Therefore I decided to processor-slice the courgettes and that took ages as , not having used my processor for slicing since I got here, I couldn't find the "carrier" thing for the slicing blade! [Do things like that happen to you in the kitchen?] An hour later I was equipped, then enjoyed myself making a paste of garlic, loads of basil, thyme, olive oil and seasoning to rub nice and messily over the chicken. [There was supposed to be mint but I couldn't get any, so added my favourite herb, rosemary.] Interestingly, you squeeze the juice of a lemon over this dish after it is cooked. I shall certainly be making this again!


I need Patrizio to cheer me up and I am sure he will do the same for you with this version of Come Prima. Isn't every love like the first time, however old you are?


Yes, unbelieveably, the water has run out again tonight - and we only had a cistern refill on Friday! There just has to be a BIG leak somewhere, probably in the cistern as there was two years ago. The lady upstairs has just been down to express and share her frustration with me [not nastily at all] , the capocondominio isn't here, no one else is here at the moment and I don't know what I am supposed to do about it. Even if I can get through on the phone to the Water Office tomorrow, they are not going to bring another load so soon and what is the point if it is all draining out again? I am driven to drink, reader!

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I found this caciotta cheese flavoured with red pepper in the supermarket today. I do love foods such as this, where the after-taste gives you a surprise as the flavour kicks in! Next to it are what I call "real" red peppers - large, bursting with colour, beautifully and irregularly shaped and just shouting at you to buy and try them! I needed thyme for a recipe tonight and I could only find the dried variety. I admit I do get frustrated that, in a land where so much cookery depends on herbs, you sometimes just can't find them. However, when I asked for the thyme, I was immediately cheered when the young assistant in the greengrocer's sniffed at each bunch in the box [ 30 or so] to find the one which, to him , had the freshest aroma. I made my way home happily, reader.

Friday, April 04, 2008


10 days later and 140 € the poorer, I have lighting in my hallway again and the leaky tap in the bathroom has been fixed. [I have just been playing with the lights, turning them on and off for the sheer hell of it.] The plumber-electrician man turned up, out of the blue, this morning and had everything working in a jiffy.

I'd been really worried about the leaky tap, imagining that my neighbours would hear it and blame me every time we run out of water and it was my lovely hairdresser Raffaele who set my mind at rest on Wednesday, soothingly persuading me as the lacquer went on [with an Italian artistic flourish] that: "Cara Patrizia, your leaky tap cannot possibly empty an entire cistern." [I never was very practically-minded.]

The Water Office phone has been permanently engaged all week so I started to panic about that, too. Then last night the capocondominio rang me to say she had gone over there in person to order a refill as she had checked the cistern and we were about to run out. I just do not understand how the supply can dry up after 4 - 5 days [whereas it used to last 10] in an apartment block where no one has a large family.

But let's stop talking water and think about men! Mr Elegantissimo turned up at the Altro Posto at lunchtime and this time my attention was focussed higher than his socks! [No, naughty, not there!] I spent at least half an hour silently admiring his beautiful and very expensive tiepin, reader.

Finally, this week's prize for Italian logic goes to the student who, having been told that he cannot, in an oral exam, answer in Italian questions which are posed in English, cried, "But I born in Italy, teacher!!" As I keep saying, I do love Italians!

Thursday, April 03, 2008


My blogging friend Anne wanted to know what I was going to do with the lamb I bought on Saturday but I was going to inflict this upon you all anyway. I finally decided to make this slow-cooked dish of lamb with garlic in a mushroom and white wine sauce. Yes, it's another one from the Cucina del Sole book! As with all casseroley-type dishes, I would recommend making this the day before you want to serve it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Mobile phones are to be banned from voting booths in the upcoming General Election but the reason is not, as you might imagine, to stop people calling their acquaintances from the booths for advice on how to vote; rather, it is feared that voters might use their phones to take a picture of the ballot paper so that they could later prove they had voted in the "right" way and then claim a reward in the form of money, a favour or even a job offer!

Voters will have to leave their camera-phones in a special "basket" outside the booths and the mind boggles as to how they are each going to retrieve their own phone. How the situation is going to be monitored has not yet been revealed but those who ignore this new ruling could face up to three months' imprisonment and / or a fine of up to €1,000.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


It was clear from the comments on Friday’s “lemon made from almond paste” post that many of you were interested in the frutta di Martorana so I thought I’d talk some more about them and take the opportunity to tell you about two books on the sweet produce of Sicily as well.

Before I visited my lovely island for the first time, I had read about Martorana fruit but nothing prepared me for the shiny beauty of these replicas of fruit, nor for their delicate taste: they are made from pasta reale [almond paste] but “marzipan” is a very inadequate translation which does not do justice to the work involved in its making. Legend has it that the first ever batch of Martorana fruit was made on the orders of a certain mother superior, who wanted to impress her Bishop during his visit. So the nuns prepared the “fruit” and hung it from the cloister trees; so “real” did it look that the Bishop declared that a miracle had happened, as all the fruits had appeared in the same season! Oh, I hope with all my heart that this story is true!

True or not, it is recounted in both the books that I am going to tell you about tonight and the first is Sweet Sicily by Victoria Granof. In this beautifully illustrated tome Granof, inspired by the idea that in Palermo granita [ flavoured, crushed ice] is presented inside a brioche for breakfast [and indeed it is, in summer] tours the island and interviews many pastry chefs. Unusually in an English-language book about Sicilian cookery, my adopted town of Modica gets a chapter all to itself, so of course the volume has pride of place on my kitchen bookshelves! Recipes are given, their origins are discussed and there is a helpful historical timeline of Sicily which helps the reader place the recipes in their historical context. I dip into this book whenever I feel low and it reminds me how lucky I am to be here.

Some of you may recall that my favourite non-fiction author on Sicily is Mary Taylor Simeti and I have said before that no volume on culinary Sicily in general compares in scholarship with her Sicilian Food. In Bitter Almonds Simeti interviews the famous Ericean pastry chef Maria Grammatico and watches her at work. The book tells the fascinating tale of Maria’s early life and I reread it in one sitting last night, as preparation for this post. I appreciated the book very much when I first read it in 2003 but I am glad that I have read it again here, for I can relate to so much more of its detail now. Poverty forced Maria’s mother to send her and her sister to the San Carlo convent in Erice in the 1950s. There the girls lived under a severe and harsh regime but they learnt a skill which has remained with Maria all her life – that of making frutta di Martorana and other Sicilian pastries. Maria now runs a famous pastry shop in her beloved Erice and the tourists flock there.

The book contains some of Maria’s recipes, Simeti’s observations, an insight into Sicilian frugality [for nothing was wasted in the convent kitchen, and this is a trend I have observed myself here]. We also learn a little of Maria’s philosophy and I leave you with this, for I cannot paraphrase this wonderful lady:

What we value has to be inside of us. This sort of work, making the Christmas hearts, embroidering them with marzipan, it’s an art that’s disappearing….. Young people today don’t want to learn these things. For me, sitting here and and making these things is really relaxing. They’re so beautiful! And I like it because I’m creating something with my own hands, it’s not like machine work…… You can’t think about the money… [because] then you can’t put in all the love that it takes.” [My bolds.]

That is very Sicilian – so wonderfully Sicilian that it moves me to tears, reader – and very wise indeed.


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