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.
Marzipan is the only thing that my Grandmother and cousin ask for from Europe (my Gram doesn’t really eat other candy)!
The Marzipan here in Europe is absolutely beautiful and so delicious.
My mouth is watering from the photos :-)
That first foto looked very familiar but I stayed in Rodi Garganico last summer so we would have been on the “low road”. Actually the town looks lot like Carovigno near Brindisi.
Anyway, this is much more convenient then going to Sicily for marizpane. I wonder if I can rationalize a gift finding trip up there before Christmas.
I am always amazed at your photos. They are so beautiful and makes you feel as though you are there. The marzipan makes me wish I could taste it.
I’m glad you went ahead and took the photo of the men-it’s great!
Patricia Scarpin says
Oh, these are so adorable!
nyc/caribbean ragazza says
I agree with Janie.
I love the new little header! So cute! Your blog always rocks! :O)
Most people probably don’t know that some of the worlds best almonds come from Puglia!
A local ” confetti” maker here in Pistoia, uses the Pugliese almonds for her best candies!
have fun I adore Puglia.. lucky you!
Great post. Great photos. Thank you!
Enjoy your time away. I’ll wait for you to be back to send you yours Pay It Forward package,or maybe I should start now since the mail is slow!!
Could you send me your mailing address?
Ms. Adventures in Italy says
@Jeff – let me know as there is no “shop” – it’s in her house, so you’ll need to be “in the know.”
@Sara – you’re the only one who noticed, ahha.
The fichi d’india-shaped marzipan is the cutest I’ve ever seen. I wish there were a marzipan tradition here in Campania.
I so agree about the beauty of the neglected building facade. That’s what much of my town looks like and it’s really very beautifully romantically.
Jeff- Interesting ! I came across your entry while looking for a recipe for marzipan. OMG the photos are just as a remember as a child. My mother is an Italian from Argintina and as you stated this was just for special occations. We did always have it if not at Christmas then at Easter.
OOO stick that on E-bay I’ll bid. LOL
God Bless you and your family with health and happiness.
Thanks for the photos and the wonderful memoies.
Complimenti per le foto di Ischitella! Davvero belle. Compreso quelle dei fruttini di marzapane. Se vuole, sarebbe bello poterle pubblicare nel sito “albumdipaese”. Un saluto
We recently returned from our first family vacation to Europe. We stayed with some friends who now live in Roma. As 4 day weekend, we went with our friends to Ischitella. Through a friend of theirs, we were offered an apartment there for the weekend. What an incredible experience we had in that wonderful town. We were eyed by EVERYONE as being foreign- especially with us being Caucasian and our teen son being African American. But people were more than friendly. If you ever go back, I highly recommend Pinocchio Pizza- the best!
BTW, I came across your site as I searched the web for info in this sweet town. I will have to bookmark your blog-it’s great! Oh, and we found those Espresso to Go packets on the Autostrade- loved them.
If you are ever in Roma and need an excellent place to eat- try La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali- located on Via Della Madonna dei Monti. It’s an incredible family run restaurant- would have eaten there nightly if we could.
micheline halloy says
hi,i really liked your webside.I’m from belgium and i do miss the belgium chocolats,marzipan and pastries.They are the best in the world.
Complimenti per il sito!
Per vostra informazione, l’autrice dei fruttini di marzapane è mia cugina e si chiama Anna Triggiani e abita in via Lanza a Ischitella. Andate a trovarla se passate da quelle parti. Sicuramente ci sarà un doce di marzapane anche per voi !
Maravilhosos esses marzipans! Amei o site !
Gostaria de receber a receita dos docinhos, são perfeitos!!
Ótima semana a todos e muita luz em seu viver!