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Apulian Cooking
Marzipan fruit Marzipan in the shape of fruit, which originated in Sicily as “frutta martorana”, is also very common in Puglia.
With the traditional marzipan fish, this “fruit” brightens up the Christmas table
by Dario Ersetti
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Marzipan fruit. Photo by Dario Ersetti

Among the typical Puglian sweets, marzipan has a major role. Used as the basic ingredient for various cakes or in the shape of a lamb at Easter (which we have already talked about in this column) or of a fish at Christmas time, it can also take the form of a wide range of brightly colored fruit or other foods. For the coming Christmas celebrations, we suggest you bring this tempting “fruit” to your table. It can be bought ready-made in many pastry-shops or you can give your imagination and creativity free reign and have fun making it at home.

The “genealogy” of the almond paste lamb, as we wrote in the past, dates back to the Etruscans and, through the Romans and the Arabs, arrived in the papal court and later in the convents of Sicily, Bari and Lecce. And on the subject of the convents and the fruit-shaped sweets, their origin seems to lead back to Palermo’s convent of the Martorana. There are two legends: according to one, the nuns decorated the trees in their orange orchard with marzipan fruit in honor of Charles V during his visit to Palermo in June 1537. The other legend says that the nuns asked the bishop’s permission to start some kind of business. When he flatly refused (nuns must pray and that’s all), the nuns changed their tack and started to sing the praises of the fruit from their orchards, asking to at least be allowed to sell that. The bishop, fed up with the arrogance of these “idle aristocrats” wanted to punish them for their pride and decided to go and visit their orchard, but in winter, to ask them the whereabouts of the marvelous fruit they had praised so much. The resourceful nuns set up a trap for the bishop (and it was a trap): what he found was a wonderful orchard full of fruit. To avoid completely losing face, the bishop put on a show of magnanimity and allowed them to sell the fruit, which from that time on was called after the convent, “martorana”.

 

 

The recipe

 

   Ingredients for about 2 kg of almond paste fruit:

 

- 1 kg of almonds,

- 5 bitter almonds,

- 1 kg of icing sugar,

- vanilla

- 50 g of glucose

 

   For the decoration:

- edible coloring, gum arabic

 

Pound the almonds with a mortar and pestle, gradually adding the sugar, until they form a powder. Place in a saucepan and stir with the glucose over a low fire, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. When cool, thoroughly knead the mixture to make the pastry smoother. After creating the desired shapes, cook till slightly hardened in the oven. Color with the edible colorings, let them dry and lastly give them a shine with a mixture of gum arabic dissolved in water.

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