Monday, September 10, 2007


The more etymologically minded among you will be aware that carob seeds were once used for weighing gold and from this practice we derive the word carat, from Greek keration.

The Ragusa area is famed for its numerous carob trees, which are evergreen, provide excellent shade and of course, their fruit in the form of pods and seeds. The tree is a protected species. This is the time of year when the carob pods fall from the trees, though I am told that it is quite difficult to get the last few off as they like to hook themselves around the branches. They have to be knocked and shaken down. Those lucky enough to have carob trees on their land take the pods to warehouses – where they are piled literally as high as houses – to be weighed. The buying rate is 40 centesimi per kilo and you need very few to make a kilo.

Carob is also known as il pane di San Giovanni [St John’s bread] because the seeds are said to have nourished St John in the desert:
"And John was clothed with camel’s hair and , with a girdle of skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey. " - Mark 1: 6.
"And his meat was locusts and wild honey." - Matthew 3: 4.
There is some confusion here, though it is generally accepted that the “wild honey” was carob. The carob tree is sometimes known as the “locust tree” because the insects are attracted to it, so this could also be a reference to the tree and to other vegetation beloved of locusts.
Another probable Biblical reference occurs in the Parable of the Prodigal Son:
"And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. " - Luke 16: 15.
The husks were almost certainly carob pods.

Today, here in Sicily, carob is used to make a flour, from which biscuits are produced, it is used in some types of Modican chocolate, the manufacture of a liqueur and it is the main ingredient in some local cough sweets. [I hated the taste of the latter but they cured my cough!] A pasta called lolli is also made from carob flour and I am told it is very heavy in texture. Carob is also used in cattle feed.

My friend Gino makes a pudding, a type of blancmange, from carob and he was good enough to give me his recipe over the phone today:
Budino di carrubo
2 kg carob pods, washed and bashed into small pieces with a stone
a little cornflour
a little honey

Put the carob pieces in a bowl of water and let them soak for a few hours. Drain them. Boil the liquid and reduce it to about 0.5 litre. Mix a little cornflour with some of the liquid, then stir this into the remaining liquid. Put a little honey into the base and onto the sides of some moulds and pour in the thickened gel mixture. Chill.


Liz Hinds said...

That's interesting. I didn't know about the origins of carats.

I have to say that the blancmange recipe doesn't sound awfully enticing: does it taste good?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Liz. I don't know as I haven't tasted it. I just put it here for interest. I'm not a lover of carob myself.

jmb said...

Interesting post WCLC, I didn't know anything about them, certainly didn't know they were the derivation of carat.
I think I would give the pudding a miss even if I had a carob tree. Bashing soaking and boiling is a bit off putting. (? two t's)

Lee said...

I can see myself sitting under those trees with a loaf of bread, cheese, salami and a bottle of red wine. Oh! Yes! Perhaps Patrizio is there with me! ;)

Lee said...

For our information:

"The centre of origin of C. siliqua is not clear. It was placed in the eastern Mediterranean region (Turkey and Syria). However, carob considered also as native to the highlands of southern Arabia. The original distribution of C. siliqua is not clear as it has undergone extensive cultivation since ancient times. Carob is believed to have been spread by the Greeks to Greece and Italy and then by the Arabs along the coast of northern Africa into the south and east of Spain, from where it migrated to the south of Portugal and the southeast of France. Spontaneous carobs occur in many places around the western Mediterranean basin but they are regarded as feral derivatives of the fruit crop which probably evolved under domestication."

The word "carob" originates from Arabic and Hebrew.

Just a piece of interesting trivia! ;)

ThunderDragon said...

Aww, you've destroyed my illusion that it was somehow related to carrots! :(

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, jmb: yes, it is the bashing that would deter me - unless someone had upset me and then I would let out my frustration on the poor pods! Lee - ha! - you'd have to race me to him! Thanks for the extra info. Oh, sorry, TD!!

James Higham said...

My goodness you're waxing lyrical lately. This was fascinating.

lady macleod said...

I didn't know that and I studied ancient Greek. I love the photographs, looks a bit like the scenes from a movie.

Wonderful history lesson! Thank you. I'm going to have to work this into conversation you know...

Crushed said...

I will like a bit of history trivia. I had never heard of them either, but certainly I shan't forget them now.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Very kind of you to say so, Sir James. Thanks, Lady M and Crushed. Glad you both enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in Cyprus [strange, I've just mentioned that in relation to another matter, in an email to you!], I used to hate the smell of the wild crab trees - maybe it was the smell of the rough land they stood on but my parents told me it was the carabs.

Anonymous said...

carab trees - not crab trees - they would be most amazing!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Shirl. I'd like to see some crab trees!


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