The Oldest Ice Cream in the World?

“Scirubbetta” calabrese, or Calabrian sorbet

We all know weather patterns have changed. I feel lucky as my childhood seemed to be filled with quite a few snowfalls. I remember my parents making a concoction of snow and orange juice which I thought was fun and delicious. After all these years I did some research.

It is linked to the cold, but it does not come from the north of Italy, but from the south, from Calabria. The main ingredient is snow... the purest one, but not the one that has just fallen, but the one called ciciarusa in dialect, i.e., snow that has turned into grains of ice due to the alternation of daytime heat with night frosts, collected in pristine spaces the local villages.

The Calabrian scirubbetta, or snow mixed with fig honey or fruit juice, 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.

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 enjoyed by the spoonful.

An insightful tradition that opens on the early 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 traditional preparation of the scirubetta involved the collection of snow in a large pot from which it was then redistributed directly into glasses or bowls 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 wine cooked with figs, prepared by housewives in the last part of summer.

In more recent times, but still descendants of the ancient oriental tradition, the variants of it include orange juice (or any kind of fruit juice) or lemon and sugar, or even with coffee and sugar, or finally with chocolate .

Give it a try the next time it snows!