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Description - Bitter Almonds by Maria Grammatico

Bitter Almonds is a remarkable memoir, a tribute to Sicilian food and culture, and the record of an historic and vanishing craft. At the heart of the book are forty-six recipes of unique Sicilian specialities, written down for the first time. In the early 1950s, Maria Grammatico and her sister were sent by their impoverished mother to the San Carlo, a cloistered orphanage in Erice, an ancient hill town on the western coast of Sicily. It was a Dickensian existence - beating sugar mixtures for six hours at a time, rising before dawn to prime the ovens, and surviving on an unrelenting diet of vegetable gruel. But it was here that Maria learned to make the beautifully handcrafted pastries that were sold to customers from behind a grille in the convent wall. At 22, Maria left the orphanage with no personal possessions, minimal schooling and no skills other than what she carried in her head and her hands - the knowledge acquired during a childhood spent preparing delicacies for other people's celebrations. Today, she is the successful owner of her own pasticceria in Erice, a mecca for travellers the world over. Her counters are piled high with home-made biscotti, tarts, cakes, and jams - Torta Divina, Cassata Siciliana, Cotognata. A frequent customer, Mary Taylor Simeti became first friend and then chronicler of Maria's moving story.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780553814651
ISBN-10: 0553814656
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 127mm x 14mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Bantam Books (Transworld Publishers a division of the Random House Group)
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Sep-2002
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - Bitter Almonds by Maria Grammatico

US Kirkus Review » An American writer living in Sicily sympathetically captures a Sicilian woman's recollections of her childhood in an orphanage, complete with recipes. After a few pages describing Sicily's impoverished west coast, tracing the history of its pastries, and explaining how she met her subject, Simeti (Travels with a Medieval Queen, 2001, etc.) draws on taped interviews to let Maria Grammatico speak for herself, with an occasional interpolation. When Maria's father died suddenly from a heart attack in 1952, her mother, pregnant with a sixth child, was unable to support the family on their small farm near Erice. So 11-year-old Maria and her younger sister were sent to a local orphanage, the San Carlo, run by nuns who earned money making and selling regional delicacies. With a mixture of pride and pain, Grammatico describes the orphans' involvement in every step of production, from shelling kilos of almonds to making molds for the famous Martorana fruits, painted marzipan candy. She learned how to paint them and how to make pastries and preserves, skills that later helped her earn her way in the world, but she remains angry about the conditions she and the other children endured. They lived mainly on meatless pasta and worked long hours in the laundry, the kitchen, and the hospital. They had no playtime, no books to read, and were punished harshly. Girls with developing breasts had to bind them painfully tight because brassieres were thought sinful. Maria missed her family, but stayed on at the orphanage until, thinking she wanted to be a nun, she entered a cloistered order in Catania. A nervous collapse brought her home, and in her early 20s she began making and selling confections and pastries; she now owns two shops. The recipes are clear and easy to follow, but the most memorable portions here contain Grammatico's vivid recollections of a vanished culture and way of life. Eloquent celebration of food and a woman who learned the hard way how to prepare it. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Maria Grammatico

Mary Taylor Simeti was born and brought up in New York City. In 1962 she went to Sicily, where she married and raised two children. Her books are the acclaimed SICILIAN FOOD (Grub Street '99), ON PERSEPHONE'S ISLAND (Bantam, '01), the forthcoming TRAVELS WITH A MEDIEVAL QUEEN (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, '02) and BITTER ALMONDS with Maria Grammatico. A respected food writer who occasionally contributes to the New York Times, Mary lives in Sicily with her husband Tonino. MARIA GRAMMATICO's famous pastry shop, the Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, can be found on via Vittorio Emanuele in Erice, Sicily.