Calabrese “Scirubbetta”, the oldest ice cream in the World

25.1.2023

The main ingredient is snow… the purest one, but not the one that has just fallen, but the one called “ciciarusa” in jargon , which is snow that has turned into grains of ice due to the alternation of daytime heat with night frosts, collected in pristine spaces of our beloved Calabria.

The Calabrian scirubbetta , or snow mixed with fig honey or cooked must, is a beautiful custom that is still very much alive in Calabria when the white winter flakes arrive. A preparation as simple as it is ancient, whose origin is lost in the mists of time and is to be considered as the first ice cream in history.

Snow Flakes, the ingredient

AN ANCIENT TRADITION

The name scirubetta comes from the Turkish “sharbat” which means “beverage”, a term in turn derived from the Arabic “sharbat”, from which the Italian words “syrup” and “ sorbet” also originate. Sharbat in the Middle East is a sweet drink served very cold, of various textures to be savored by the spoonful.

A profound tradition that opens on the primordial form of ice cream and traces of which can be found in any population that has had access to snowy mountain areas. A sort of ice cream for the poor.

The mother-recipe: Sharbat

The traditional preparation of the scirubetta involved the collection of snow in a large pot from which it was then redistributed directly into glasses or cups or into a centerpiece tray in which the magical and generous encounter with the sweet fig honey took place, elsewhere popularly called vincotto di fichi or simply cooked with figs, prepared by housewives in the last part of summer.

In some areas of Calabria cooked must was also used. In more recent times, but still daughters of the ancient oriental tradition, the variants of scirubetta di neve with orange juice (winter fruit by definition) or lemon and sugar, or again with coffee and sugar, or finally with chocolate.

Cooked must for scirubetta

THE ICE CREAM ARCHETYPE

The definition of granita is inadequate, since it was made through the processing of long slabs of ice, using a special machine. It is not even a sherbet, as it is made with the addition of milk and other ingredients. Scirubetta is, in truth , the oldest form of ice cream and, probably, Calabria was one of the first regions of southern Italy (thanks to its mountain ranges) where this preparation was experimented and conceived for the first time.

Suffice it to say that about a century ago, in the historic center of Cosenza there was a street called the “vineddra da nivi” (today Via Spirito Santo) where the snow collected in the Sila was sold to allow citizens to savor the scirubetta, rigorously prepared with cooked fig honey (better known as fig honey) or, alternatively, cold coffee or orange juice.

Cosenza by night

A KEY INGREDIENT: FIG HONEY

The fig honey is a 100% natural condiment, obtained by boiling figs, and still made today, following the ancient Cosenza recipe, through a long manual process that involves the use only of Cosenza DOP figs and water, without addition of preservatives, dyes or thickeners. The yield is very low considering that around 25kg of figs are needed to obtain 7 litres.

Specifically, the figs are boiled in water for more than 12 hours after which they are pressed, process which takes place in the press, the extract obtained is then brought to the boil again for about 8 hours or in any case until it takes on a dark color and the characteristic smell. “The secret for a top quality honey is to use raw materials coming only from the best local crops and work them, strictly by hand, according to the ancient recipes jealously guarded only by the best producers.

Scirubetta figs honey

In addition to the preparation of the scirubetta and the typical Calabrian sweets ( turdilli , scalille , etc.), its use in the kitchen is vast. It is delicious on ice cream, cheese or fruit salad. But its flavor makes it a perfect condiment also to accompany meat and fish dishes.

It is also important to underline the therapeutic properties of this precious and sweet liquid, used since ancient times as an expectorant, to cure coughs and colds.

Scirubetta, in its enviroment

Calabria, Land of Seafarers, Poets and Travelers

22.06.2022

MUSIC, ART, NOVELS

How can we forget Nicola Antonio Manfroce, who wrote music for Napoleon, or the legendary Rino Gaetano, from Crotone; or writers ranging from Leontius Pilatus in the 14th century to award-winning novelist Arbëreshë Carmine Abate.

OTHER VOCATIONS

Calabria had even popes, not just pop singers, and even philosophers … The list is too long to draw up.

For example, the journalist Walter Pedullà, president of RAI in Rome in the 90s, was born in Siderno.

Today Grand-Tour (?)

Calabria was also crossed by the Grand-Tour of eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century (of the noble scions of Europe, in search of experience and culture). Many illustrious foreign travelers have explored Calabria over the centuries: the Edward Lear museum in Gerace exhibits some of the drawings that the English artist and writer made during his visit in 1847.

Even in the 1900s, there were important travelers. In his book Old Calabria, Norman Douglas described how the scourge of malaria shaped the region socially and geographically in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Alexandre Dumas

Other well-known travelers are George Gissing, Alexandre Dumas, Stendhal and the Swiss journalist Joseph Viktor Widmann. Many others have told of their adventures – despite the judgment of a French writer in 1806 that “Europe ends in Naples … all the rest is Africa”.

VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE BORN IN CALABRIA

They were born in Calabria

– the virologist Renato Dulbecco (born in Catanzaro, February 22, 1914 and died in La Jolla, February 19, 2012) who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1975.

Land full of History

– the designer Gianni Versace, born in Reggio Calabria on 2 December 1946 and murdered in Miami on 15 July 1997.

– the singers Rino Gaetano (Crotone 1950 – Rome 1981, already mentioned), Mia Martini (1947-1995) and her younger sister Loredana Berté born in Bagnara Calabra.

Tommaso Campanella

Tommaso Campanella was very important in the history of philosophy and thought, born on 5 September 1568 in Stilo (in the province of Reggio Calabria). Dominican friar, philosopher and theologian, underwent five trials and tortures by the Inquisition for his ideas. He spent 27 years in prison, managed to escape to Paris in 1634 and died here 5 years later, in 1639. His most famous work is “the City of the Sun” of 1602. In 1612, at the time of the first trial against Galileo, he had wrote an “Apologia pro Galileo” courageously taking the parts of the great genius, considered since that time the true father of science.

Beauty, Sea, Travel and Culture in Calabria