Sicilian Gelato on the Financial Times: Mary Taylor Simeti's article

The Financial Times "loves Sicily" again publishing a wonderful article on ice-cream entitled "The grandfathers of gelato" and written by Sicilian food historian Mary Taylor Simeti.
The article begins by questioning whether Sicily is the place where modern style gelato was born, as we like to believe, and attempts to answer the question using the little historical evidence Simeti could find (always a difficult task when it comes to researching ancient food and recipes). Beyond her historical findings, what I love the most about the article is her conclusion that what actually matters today is that top quality ice-cream is produced all over the island and share also her enthusiasm for two great masters of Sicilian gelato Corrado Assenza at Caffè Sicilia in Noto and Antonio Cappadonia in Cerda.
I can only add my own questions and doubts, or hopefully clarifications, about certain historical and etymological conclusions regarding the Arab origin of the name "sorbetto" and its meaning going back to my old university time as a student of Arabic.
It seems to me that writers talking about the Sicilian origin of ice-cream usually talk about its Arab ancestor either as "sarbat" or as "sharbat"(or šarbat) using them indistinctly and referring to the same meaning as Simeti "fruit syrups diluted with water" cooled using snow.
Now if the name sorbetto derives from the Arab "sarbat" that is actually not correct as the root doesn't refer to drinking or anything associated to drinks or food, it could still be at the origin of the word "sorbetto" as one of the meaning of the root of "sarbat" سرب is actually "dripping, flowing" and as we all know this is what an ice-cream does while you are eating it, it melts and drips ;)! If, as I suspect, writers are correct regarding the meaning and the Arab origin of Sicilian Sorbetto is a sweet syrupy drink that was frozen using the snow of Mount Etna, then the actual word should be "sharbat" (or šarbat) from the root شرب meaning "to drink, to sip".
Now, I hope to hear experts' opinions on this, I love the Arab language and quite often I feel that when talking about the Arab origin of certain Sicilian names a more rigorous scientific approach should be taken, just as Mary Taylor Simeti has shown us we can do when talking about the history of Sicilian cuisine.

This is a short video of typical Brioches we use with gelato as wonderfully described in Simeti's article on the FT. Here they are just coming out of the oven.

Written on
August 3, 2009
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