When you think of food and Christianity, it is items mentioned in the Old and New Testaments like figs, olives, fish, and bread that spring to mind. But at La Martorana in Palermo, food without a biblical precursor is synonymous with the church. Marzipan (aka pasta reale and pasta di mandorla) was formed into the shape of fruits by the convent’s cloistered nuns. Dubbed Frutta Martorana these sweets were made from a mixture of almonds and sugar, a recipe that came to Sicily in the ninth century with the Arab conquest of the island and has been produced ever since.

At first, the faux fruits were used to decorate barren trees but eventually they were sold to parishioners and became a major source of income for the church. La Martorana convent was closed in the late nineteenth century, but the tradition of the marzipan fruit lives on in Palermo’s pastry shops where it is still made, especially in the fall when the almond paste is said to be at its best and when the confection is made for All Soul’s Day. Pasticcerie don’t limit themselves to just fruit anymore. Today I bought some Frutta Martorana shaped like pane ca’ meusa, a spleen sandwich, a typical street food in Palermo. Interesting, but for me, there is nothing like the real thing.

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Gastronomic Traditions · Sicily · Sweets & Dessert


  • omg. i cant read this post- i am mesmerised by your beautiful photography.

  • [...] a three day trip to Palermo, I managed to get in nine desserts, including two Setteveli, some frutta martorana, and gelato con brioche. The latter is essentially a big ice cream sandwich. Leave it to the [...]

  • I wish I had one at my work desk as I type this to have with my morning coffee! I love Italian and European pastries and confections: they can be such works of art…and exceedingly tasty. I literally have to stop at every pastry shop window when in Italy and stare at the amazing selections. Che bellezza!

  • One of my favourite childhood Christmas memories if of these pretty hand moulded and painted marzipan fruits that my mother made. Very like this but much smaller, exquisite. We just called them “Frott tal-Pasta Rjali.”

    I grew up in Malta, which was ruled from Sicily for 600 years, so a lot of our food traditions are similar.

    Thanks for the post!

  • [...] is a classic Sicilian dessert made by combining ricotta, pan di Spagna, candied fruit, and marzipan. These elements sweetly unify over two thousand years of Sicilian culinary history in one shot. [...]

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