Leafing through the photographic archive of Splendid Sicily. The Splendid Sicily celebration of Sicilia nostalgia in all its form
The neviere (ice houses) and the sorbetto (sherbet)
by Lugi Lombardo
Prof. Luigi Lombardo:
We are in Buccheri, the highest town in the Iblei Mountains, in the province of Syracuse, located at an altitude of 1,000 meters.
Snow used to fall abundantly here every year, and when it fell from the late 500s until World War II it was collected and stored in the so-called neviere which is an Ice House.
The snow stored for six months, around April was pulled out in blocks and transported first in the traps of Syracuse that needed snow.
Snow was used, at first, both to refresh drinks and to treat the sick.
The snow from Buccheri and Mount Etna left for Malta where there were the large hospitals of the Knights of Malta.
Mountain towns like Buccheri, derived great income from this trade.
In winter the workers did not remain incative. Teams, of workers, were busy for at least a week. Then there were the workers in charge of taking care of the snow inside the neviera.
Then there were those who pounded and compacted it, those who in the spring until the fall extracted it, then there were the bordonari that are mule drivers who loaded it on mules to take the snow to the Syracuse and Ragusa areas, to Modica and Noto… to all the towns where there was a refined aristocracy, which required the snow to package sherbets, granitas and ice cream.
The great invention of the Sicilians was to separate the syrup to be cooled from the freezing ice. The two were separated in the sherbet maker, which was an all-Sicilian invention.
Sicilian and Neapolitan sherbet makers were known throughout the world and taught the people of the Mediterranean to make sherbets and ice cream.
But they always remained the most skilled and in demand throughout Europe.
Just think that it was a Sicilian who brought ice cream to France.
During this period they used special sherbets made from citrus fruits, lemon…and in particular the mandarin known as marzuolo, to make an exceptional sherbet that is still made here in Buccheri.
Nivarolo: Ice House
This is the home of the prince of Buccheri the master of snow.
I am the last nivarolo
When the snow fell, it was a celebration in Buccheri for everyone young and old.
The residents of Buccheri called it the Grace, the Lord’s grace.
Our fathers would store it and when it hardened they would stuff it inside the sack: straw and snow and put it on the backs of mules or in carts and take it to Modica, Noto and Syracuse.
You want to see how they make it: let’s go!
Nivarolo Through the streets of the village:
“With snow they financed the churches of Buccheri.
This is the church of St. Anthony: with the snow the Anthonians made their church.
This is the church of Magdalene; with the money from the snow they rebuilt the church after the 1693 earthquake. See that hole there, it’s a prince’s neviera: it’s dug in the lava!
[Nivarolo in front of a ice house].
This is a neviera: in Buccheri there were 25 of them.
A soil of straw and a soil of snow was made, and it was compacted, a soil of snow and straw and it was compacted.
And so up to the mouth of the Neviera.
When it became hard it was cut and stuffed into sacks with straw and the mules carried it to Syracuse, to Palermo and to Malta.
The Knights with the sherbet would cool their throats.
Do you want to see how to make [sherbet]?
[Nivarolo and the sherbet maker].
“And you finally arrived not even if you came from Roccauda.
“Here the snow: work!
“And let’s make some sherbet. We fill the recipient with ice and salt to lower the temperature;
we pour into the well lemon juice, brown sugar, a little bit of water, a little bit of lemon zest, nice and fragrant.”
“How is it, is it ready?
“It’s ready, ready : see how the stick stands ? Here keep your mouth refreshed.
“Ah, how much work to make this bit of sherbet and how much wealth it has brought to the country!
“It was said: a good snowfall saves the year!”
Giovanna Battaglia, English translation, Cultural Department Splendid Sicily