11 Aug 2017

The origin of the sorbet, the ancestor of ice cream

Very fresh, cool, rich in vitamins and mineral salts: the sorbet is a decidedly pleasant companion to the hottest summer dinners.
Famous throughout the world in its lemon variant, it is, in reality, achievable in all citrusy flavors possible, preserving the properties of a fruit juice and combining them with the corroborating sensation that gives its “granitosa” consistency (even if the granita as we have seen, it is yet another nuance of these fresh fruit-based desserts).

A few weeks ago we saw that the history of ice cream is all Italian, penetrating the world of this now universal food. In fact, some names appeared in his “biography” are also part of the story of the sorbet, which is not, in fact, that his ancestor.

The origins

As for the etymology of the word, scholars are still uncertain about what the official version to consider, because there are various schools of thought.

Some think it derives from the Arabic word “sherbeth” (fresh drink), someone from the Turkish “sharber” (sorbire) and some from the Latin verb “sorbeo-es-sorbui” (sorbire or sucking).

Despite this multiplicity of versions, in any case, it seems that the term “sorbet” was adopted for the first time in the Middle Ages, because the word reminded the sound of those who taste, sucking a little at a time, this type of drink; it would therefore be an onomatopoeic word.

As we saw in the article in which we explored the history of ice cream, the procedure for obtaining this type of fresh dessert was rather laborious: we must think that, at the time, our appliances did not exist and the living conditions were very different and precarious.

In this way the snow was collected in winter, conserving it in caves, in the dark and in the cold, crammed between layers of straw.

In the hottest seasons, then, you would come back to get it to get this natural refrigerant that can turn foods into real summer delicacies. The poet Simonides, in the fifth century a.C., gives us a very sweet testimony of this practice, also known to the Greeks: “the snow buries itself alive, so that it is alive and softens the summer”.
On the other hand, the Romans, through Seneca, in the first century. d.C., have made us know, however, the practice in detail, to get cool drinks: in essence, these were passed several times in a silver colander or a linen cloth filled with snow, getting the desired result; when the snow, instead, as it would have happened later, was directly mixed with the fruit juice, one obtained drinks that were more similar to sorbets and granitas.

In the West, however, this method was forgotten for a long time, regaining it towards the ninth century, when the Arabs, as we have seen when we told the story of Sicilian granita, passing through Sicily, inherited their knowledge, including that relating to sorbets. In fact, compared to the previous practice, there were small evolutions because in the East the phenomenon was exploited for which fruit juices “solidified” if placed in a container with the snow around, having also made the concept for which, with the addition of salt, it was possible to slow down the melting of the ice.
Naturally, not everyone could afford such a special delicacy, so, during the second half of the 16th century, the sorbets began, from Sicily, to become faithful tablemates in many Italian courts. A new evolution came thanks to the participation of the architect and engineer Bernardo Buontalenti who, as the eighteenth-century historian Giuseppe Averani states: “a man of very clear understanding and very well-chosen for ingeniousness and for many wonderful discoveries, he first made ice preserves”.
With the passage of time production became ever simpler and raw materials less expensive, so the court elite passed to the bourgeoisie, thanks to the Sicilian Francesco Procopio Cutò who, in his “Café Procope”, opened in Paris in 1686, he began to spread his special sorbets to his important European clienteles. The success was so great that Louis XIV assigned to this now famous Italian the exclusive for the court supply of “frozen waters” (what we now call “granite”), “anise flowers” and “cinnamon flowers” ( which were a kind of fruit ice cream).

From the bourgeoisie to the less rich social classes, obviously, the pace has been even faster, with the progress of technology, and today it is possible to taste excellent sorbets for aperitifs, dinners and all summer events in general.

Naturally, we at Gambrinus are waiting for you with our fresh desserts!