Maria Grammatico

Bitter Almonds

Bitter Almonds


Bitter Almonds is a remarkable memoir, a tribute to Sicilian food and culture, and the record of an historic and vanishing craft. At the heart of the book are forty-six recipes of unique Sicilian specialities, written down for the first time.

In the early 1950s, Maria Grammatico and her sister were sent by their impoverished mother to the San Carlo, a cloistered orphanage in Erice, an ancient hill town on the western coast of Sicily. It was a Dickensian existence - beating sugar mixtures for six hours at a time, rising before dawn to prime the ovens, and surviving on an unrelenting diet of vegetable gruel. But it was here that Maria learned to make the beautifully handcrafted pastries that were sold to customers from behind a grille in the convent wall.

At 22, Maria left the orphanage with no personal possessions, minimal schooling and no skills other than what she carried in her head and her hands - the knowledge acquired during a childhood spent preparing delicacies for other people's celebrations.

Today, she is the successful owner of her own pasticceria in Erice, a mecca for travellers the world over. Her counters are piled high with home-made biscotti, tarts, cakes, and jams - Torta Divina, Cassata Siciliana, Cotognata. A frequent customer, Mary Taylor Simeti became first friend and then chronicler of Maria's moving story.