Everyone knows that granita, a drink based on crushed ice, is served when it’s hot. But its origins are less well-known. In fact, Sicilian granita comes from the Arab conquest of Sicily of between 827 and 1091 A.D. The sherbet recipe, an iced drink perfumed with fruit juice or rosewater, was brought into Sicily with the Arabs. This traditional drink has evolved on the island since the Middle Ages and given birth to the nivaroli. The nivaroli were the men charged, in Winter, with collecting snow on the slopes of Etna and the Peloritani, Hyblaean and Nebrodi mountains. They were then, for the rest of the year, charged with conserving the snow in the “neviere”, or ice-house, to protect it from the heat of summer. It was even carried on the sea during the driest months. Antonino Cucuccio – Young Alpinist companion, in the Acireale section of the Italian Alpine Club, offers us testament:
The snow of the “mountain”, of the “neviere” of Etna, was […] perfect for making granite in the heat of full summer, and it was sold “na vanedda a nivi”, today called the Lancaster Acireale road. The winter snow was placed in great pits, specially dug into the ground, and covered with volcanic ash, or directly in volcanic caves. In summer, it was reworked into balls, recovered with ferns and straw and transported, by mules and wagons, in jute sacks.
Still today, on some mountains, it is possible to find these pits, sometimes very large, that were used to store the ice, finished in brick or stone. The “neviere”, like those you can visit on Mount Sartorius, or in the forest of Centuripe, or even in the Cave of Thieves at Pino delle Donne, are partly natural ravines, partly places that were refashioned over centuries. In a superb natural setting between wood and lava flows, they embody a balance between a natural environment that is generous yet hostile, and they demonstrate the inventive tenacity of humans, who manage to make good use of the characteristics of their habitat, inaccessible though it seems.0