When the snowflakes fall slowly and silently, as well as enhancing the landscape and surrounding nature, they evoke ancient customs and traditions, some of which are still in use in some mountainous areas of Calabria. Such is the case with the ‘Scirubetta’*.
It is a simple and genuine cold dessert, considered the ancestor of ice cream, and according to some even the first cold dessert ever made.
The main ingredient of this delicacy is pure snow (collected in unspoilt places), which is then turned into grains of ice.
“The main ingredient of Scirubetta is snow, and you should know that you use, or should use, transformed snow and not freshly fallen snow. That is, snow that is more compact as a result of successive passes of snow above and below zero.”
Presumably, the word ‘scirubetta’ comes from the Arabic ‘Sherbet’, literally ‘fresh drink’. It is in fact a typical Middle Eastern and South Asian drink made from fruit or flower petals.
It is probably where the Italian words ‘sciroppo’ (syrup) and ‘sorbetto’ (sorbet) originated.
“In China, for example, people were already enjoying snow mixed with honey 6000 years ago, as well as in Persia, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Even in ancient Greece, around 500 B.C., a poet of the time tells us that snow was used to create drinks’.
The traditional preparation of Scirubetta is to collect the snow and then portion it directly into glasses or trays where it is usually flavoured with fig honey or cooked must.
The recipe with cooked must is explicitly mentioned in “Journals of a landscape painter in Southern Calabria” by the English painter Edward Lear who wrote in the mid-19th century:
Peppino Pannuti (a very friendly fellow, head of the district) and his pretty little wife, received us in the friendliest manner imaginable, immediately regaling us with a hearty lunch of macaroni, etc., good wine and glittering snow…’.
Actually, it is also possible to use other citrus fruit flavours that grow in Calabria, such as orange, lemon, bergamot or citron juice. There is also a coffee variant that some Calabrians particularly like.
It is a truly genuine dessert to be enjoyed at least once, also to rediscover a little of our roots, preserving this ancient custom.
*In Calabrian dialect, the most common term is Scirubetta, but there are different nomenclatures used in different parts of Calabria: e.g. ‘scilubetta’, ‘sciurbetta’ etc.
Francesco Tirinato – Jump Team
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