Since we’re going to India over the Christmas break, we decided to go visit S’ family since we have spent the past 3 years with them. This time we made a special trip deep into the National Park Gargano.
S’ father was born in Ischitella, a small town with less than 5,000 people in it (Ischitella on Google Maps). He said that when they moved away, years and years ago, the population was declining. Some might think at 5,000 people, the town is close to extinction. But Ischitella’s population has only fluctuated by 1,000 people in the last 140 years, and in fact, the last census puts them at only 4 more people than 1861’s level.
Luckily, there is still a reason why people might come to Ischitella. Or at least, why we were there that day.
The frutta martorana, marzipane! I wrote about some beautiful marzipan fruit I saw in Palermo. That was probably the most beautiful I’ve seen so far. This marzipan fruit is the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. I wasn’t a big fan of marzipan before I came to Italy, so when S’ family first put a large bowl of this marzipan fruit in front of me, my eyes barely flicked over it. I continued munching on the chocolate-covered almonds that had captured my attention.
Then, intrigued by the details applied by hand and the craftsmanship, I tried some. The consistency just melts in your mouth. I was an immediate convert. We picked up some to take with us to India. I wanted to include some of them in the Menu for Hope Artigianale Basket (I hope you’re bidding!! EU27), but I feared they just wouldn’t hold in the mail.
Each one of these fruit is shaped and painted by hand. Two hands, in fact. A single woman makes these lovely creations to fill the gap between her normal salary and “a little extra.” The work is astonishing, and hopefully therapeutic for her.
Her tools are quite basic, with toothpicks doing most of the tedious shaping and definition.
When she saw my camera, she dismissed it with a wave and said, “I’m already on the Internet.” A woman “from London” had come and taken some pictures of her working. And she’s not the only one. Apparently there is fierce competition for the fruit in Ischitella with several women making them.
However did a small place like Ischitella become a center for marzipan fruit? S’ father used to eat these sweets when there was a wedding, and people liked them so much, they started ordering them for special occasions and holidays.
Who recognizes these? They are fichi d’india – the cactus fruit I wrote about in September.
Afterward, we walked through the “old” town, a maze of eerily quiet buildings and narrow alleyways, until we ended up back on the beautiful terrace the town has that overlooks the sea from a distance. Ischitella must have been a place of strategy, building up on a hill for protection and visibility. They overlook a strange phenomenon – Lago Varano, a large lake separated from the sea by a strip of land several hundred meters wide. I suppose now the Ischitellani use their lookout to watch the boats pass by. We were noted immediately as “foreigners” to their small town and a few recognized my father-in-law.
There is a certain beauty in neglect, isn’t there?
I am actually uneasy when taking pictures of people. I much prefer still-life or inanimate objects that will have no say in the matter. But I couldn’t resist these gentlemen, enjoying the warm sun in the middle of December. They luckily agreed but one of them threatened me, “I want to see the picture after!”
I hope to be back to deliver the picture and of course pick up some more frutta marzipane.