SELZ, GRATTACHECCA and GRANITA (Icy drinks) )

This photo is of the drink kiosk in Sicily directly opposite The Duomo  (cathedral) in Palermo

The cathedral was founded by the Normans (1184) on the site of a Muslim mosque. There had been a Christian basilica on the site before that. If visiting Palermo it certainly is worth seeing to appreciate the various architectural styles of the Duomo. The cathedral is steeped with history: the decorative Islamic parts completed during the Norman times, added to which are  Gothic, Catalan, Aragonese embellishments – various rulers of Sicily who built on rather than destroying and beginning to build again. I really love this aspect of Sicilian architecture.

This photo is of a kiosk in Catania.

There are drink kiosks all over Sicily and many are much older than the one above and they sell drinks such as coffee, drinks and Selsa (selz) – freshly squeezed lemon juice, seltzer water (sparkling) and a pinch of salt – great for hot weather and drunk since ancient times. Helping replenish the salt you lose when you sweat.

Some readers may be reminded of sorbetto = Italian for sherbet  a beverage from the Ottoman Turks (serbet, sorbet, charbe zerbet ) that was made from fruit juices or extracts of flowers or herbs, exotic ones such as violets roses,musk and ambergris, combined with sugar, water and snow or ice. Italians developed frozen confections  even further during the Renaissance and the term sorbetto  probably came about because of a combination Of the  terms above and sorbire (old Italian expression, to drink’). Salt-and-ice churns later replaced the snow and probably led to the making of granita.

This photo was taken in Naples and this Napoletana (woman from Naples) is shaving a block of ice., which she then pours into a glass. She then asks you to select a syrup of your choice, pours it over the ice, and hands you the drink. This too is from ancient times. Once, of course, it used to be done with snow or ice from mountains and stored in deep caves for these types of drinks.

You may have seen people shaving ice in Rome – it is called a grattachecca (from word gratta – to scratch) and it is prepared with grated ice and topped with syrup or juice. it is different to granita – this is syrup and water which is then frozen and broken up (or churned) when it is frozen. Granita should have enough sugar in it to keep it crystalline. Alcohol also does the same trick and at the moment there is one in my freezer made of good quality, sweet (but gone flat) sparkling wine (Zibibbo), a good glug of St Germain (elderberry liqueur) and very little fresh thyme (from my balcony). I was not going to waste the wine. I present this granita as a palate cleanser – a between courses treat.

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