His Majesty, the Cannolo
According to legend, it is believed that the cannolo had its “birth” in Caltanissetta, one of the nine provincial capitals, situated in the geographic center of Sicily. “Kalt El Nissa” is the original Arab pronunciation of Caltanissetta, which means, “Castle of woman”, since at that time, (IX to XII centuries), was the seat of numerous harems of the many Saracen emirs.
The most credible hypothesis about the origins of the cannolo speculates that the favorite concubines of the emir, to while away the time would also dedicate themselves in the preparation of delicius dishes especially pastries. From among the many culinary experiments, they came whith the “cannolo”, with the obvious allusion to the sultan’s “well endowed”manliness.
Another source, however, posits thath the cannoli were prepared for the first time in a convent always in the proximity of Caltanissetta. The story goes that on the occasion of the Carnival celebrations, the nuns “invented” a phallus shaped pastry consisting of a crunchy tubular shell, “scorcia”, filled whit sheep’s milk ricotta filling sweetened with sugar and savored with roasted almond and chocolate chips, “cucuzzata”.
Whether or noti t were nuns or concubines, “these women rather different in their vows dealing with chastity, most likely in their innermost consciousness were not so different, after all, when faced with the sensual pleasure offered by this magnificent pastry.” To be sure we know that its roots go back to the period of the Arabdomination of Sicily, (from 827 to 1097).
The hypothesis on the origin of this sublime cylinder with ricotta filling, stimulating for its taste, for its interpretation between the sacred and the profane, is advanced by the duke Alberto Denti di Piraino who insisted that the cannolo most likely had been created by the skillful hand of the cloistered nuns of a convent in the vicinity of Caltanissetta. This thesis is believable when considering that at the end of the Arab domination of Sicily, which coincided with the arrival of the Normans, the harems were emptied, with one or more women once freed, having converted to Christianity, entered the convent.Here is where they could have reproduced some of the recipies with which the had seduced the courts of the emirs. These historical coincidences could explain the existence of the close connection between the two legend.
That which up to here emerges is clearly the link between the origin of the cannolo and the city of Caltanissetta, and all this, apart from what has been the exact historical fact, whether sacred of profane, point to the convent or the ancient castle of Pietra Santa.
This is all about a pastry that is Sicilian in its totality, especially in its strong contrasts:
for its color, its fragrance, its taste, its consistency, and intriguing cylindrical shapethat have been preserved throughout the centuries.
Translation of Professor Anthony Perrone for Sicilia Bella ©