This is certainly one of the emblems of special Sicilian sweets, the jewel in the crown of a sector that knows no crisis and that is loved worldwide.
The frutta di ‘marturana’ (in dialect) is named after a convent in Palermo: the Church of Martorana, created by Giorgio D’Antiochia, the admiral of Roger II of Sicily.
This special fruit was prepared for the first time by the nuns living in the nearby Benedictine monastery, founded in 1194 by the noblewoman Eloisa Martorana, to decorate the drab, bare trees of the garden during the visit of a powerful prelate.
It was then that this name spread, even to the type of mixture used: known as pasta reale, containing sugar, chopped almonds, honey, and egg whites. As time passed, the tradition became one of the sweet delicacies to celebrate All Soul’s Day on 2 November. In order to involved children, they were led to believe that their beloved deceased would bring this sweets in the shape of coloured shape of fruit and vegetables as a sign that they were still nearby. It was a way to create and repeat that ‘corrispondenza d’amorosi sensi’ – or ‘correspondence of loving senses’ – so dear to Ugo Foscolo, and to make the death of a family member, in particular grandparents, less painful.
Always according to tradition, the deceased gave not only the fruit of Martorana but also so-called ‘pupo di zucchero’ – a sugar figurine, to downplay and exorcise death.
Even today, for the entire month of November, Sicilian pastry shops decorate their shop windows with coloured almond paste fruits that today are no longer limited to botanical subjects, but take on the form of other Sicilian delicacies and more: from all types of fish to chips.
Pastry chefs and chefs unleash all their creativity in true works of art that require patience, passion, and professionalism. Mandarins, oranges, pomegranates, lemons, marrow, artichokes, and even tomatoes, peaches, and corn cobs, not to mention chestnuts, plums and watermelon: these are the most popular forms that are requested, especially by children who love this product with its unmistakable flavour.
The ingredients are simple: almond flour, refined sugar, glucose, durum wheat flour, vanilla and various flavours like vanilla, honey, and chopped almonds. There are two methods for preparing the almond paste: The first by cooking the sugar and then adding the other ingredients, and one done simply by mixing the ingredients cold but using powdered confectioner’s sugar instead of refined sugar. The first methods allows the pastry chef to keep the product longer as it maintains its softness and flavour. For the painting and decorations, food colouring is used while the shine on the fruit and vegetables is guaranteed by dewaxed lac.
Over recent years, many pastry shops have also featured Halloween Jack-o’-lanterns in their windows among the almond past fruit of Martorana. A mix of traditions not to be confused, but rather enjoyed and celebrated – and not only by children!