The sorbet: the story of a completely Neapolitan dessert

by Francesco Li Volti

Brace yourselves because the history of the sorbet passes through Naples. It is in the Campania capital that it finds its place, thanks to the products of its land (one of all lemons), to the weather conditions and, above all, to the witty hand of the doctor. Filippo Baldini, who in 1775 composed the De 'Sorbets, the first text dedicated exclusively to this dessert.

The birth of the sorbet

In Sicily

Tradition has it that his majesty Sir Bet al Limòn (lemon sorbet), as the tourists who order the dessert in local taverns call it, was born far from Naples, in Aci Trezza, in the province of Catania, in Sicily, from the idea of a fisherman who exploited the melting of ice to the right temperature, thanks to the neviere located on Etna, or rather deep pits with smooth and clean walls.

Later his nieces, Francesco Procopio Dei Knives, in the 17th century, once he moved to France, more precisely a Paris, would open the first cafe of history with an ice cream parlor inside, and for everyone it became The Procopes. Here too, the young Sicilian served his customers a subspecies of sorbet, using the same technique he learned from his ancestor.

The Neapolitan testimonies

But in Italy, among the volcanoes, there is not alone Etna. The Neapolitans probably got the news or inspiration on how to store ice on Vesuvius. Pressed and then cut into blocks of ice, the snow was brought to the city to give life to the sorbets, but also to refresh the wine or water.

In fact, the heat has always been an enemy to fight for the Neapolitans and it was essential to find a way to preserve and reuse all the snow that fell during the winter: it is not surprising that precisely at Naples ice creams like the Algida croissant or the famous sarchiapone.

He was already talking about sorbets since the 17th century Latins, which even listed some recipes. Carlo Celano, on the other hand, in News of the beauty of the ancient and the curious of the city of Naples dated 1692, he wrote, as evidence that sorbet was already highly widespread in the Campania capital:

"In Mergellina it was very fashionable for the carriages of the ladies of the nobility to stop and, with a glitz of crystal and silverware, refreshments were served, sorbets, hot drinks and sweets. "

Carlo Celano

However, the text that will bring the refreshing sweet on the lips of the whole world is the De 'Sorbets, of 1775, of the doctor Filippo Baldini, to whom we also owe one of the first treatises on the profession of nurse.

In his work, the Neapolitan author classified the dessert into three types: subacid (i.e. fruit), aromatic (in three flavors: chocolate, coffee and cinnamon) e milky (thanks to this distinction, the diversification between sorbet and ice cream was born, where the first was made with water and the second with milk).

Ippolito Cavalcanti, moreover, in his famous Theoretical - Practical Cuisine of 1837 paid homage to the sorbet, describing in detail its use and recipe, also thanks to the inevitable lemons from Sorrento.

It must be said that tal Vito Pinto already in 1816 he had "revolutionized" the offer inside his café in Largo Carità: in addition to the classic coffee, his laboratories prepared a sublime specialty, sorbet, for which a certain Giacomo Leopardi he seemed to be a huge fan of it.

Il sorbetto: storia di un dolce tutto napoletano
A homemade lemon sorbet

The Grand Tour: sorbet around the world

But the sorbet continued to be a "local" dessert, at least until the beginning of Grand Tour, the legendary journeys of the scions of the European aristocracy around the continent. Lord Byron, Goethe and many others became real literary phenomena with their letters sent to relatives and friends.

English H. Swiburne from 1777 to 1780 he stayed in Naples:

"The passion for this snowy water is so alive here, that there is no one but beggars to drink the water in its natural state, and I am convinced that a bread famine would be more tolerated than a snow famine. ".

German too Karl August Mayer, speaking of the sorbet tasted in Naples, in 1840 he published Neapel und die Neapolitaner, in which he wrote: "Refreshments prepared with snow in Naples are tasted especially in the summer evening. On the top of Sant'Angelo, which separates the gulf of Naples from that of Salerno, there are numerous holes, which preserve the ice all year round“.


The Neapolitan cuisine, Jeanne Carola Francesconi, Grimaldi Editore, Naples, 1965

Food tells Naples, Yvonne Carbonaro, Kairòs Edizioni, Naples, 2017

News of the beauty of the ancient and the curious of the city of Naples: the three eighteenth-century re-editions of the guide by Carlo Celano, Gianpasquale Greco, Rogiosi Editore, Naples, 2018

Become a supporter!

We have decided to remove advertisements from the website to ensure maximum enjoyment of our stories. However, we need financial support to keep our editorial activities alive: join the supporters of our platform, for you many advantages and preview videos!


Peppino 31 August 2021 - 19:15

I find this site very interesting, for one who is thirsty to know it is the right place

Federico Quagliuolo 31 August 2021 - 21:41

A thousand thanks!


Leave a comment

Warning: Undefined array key "allow_sel_on_code_blocks" in /home/storiena/public_html/wp-content/plugins/wccp-pro/js_functions.php online 234
error: NOTICE: You can't copy the content!