Bronte's economy

Bronte's Pistachio

Bronte's  economy,  together

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An ancient habitation ("a caszot­ta") in the "lochi" of Bronte and below "u dumundella" ("two mon­delli", a tra­di­tional contai­ner used to measure cereals), on the pistachio spread out to dry.

Bronte's Pistachio

A little History

The pistachio (from the Greek Pistàkion) is a plant  indigenous to Mediterranean countries (Persia, Turkey), cultivated for its seeds, to be eaten as they are, to be used in confectionery or  to flavor sausages.

It is a fruit known since very ancient times. It was mentioned even in the Bible: it was in fact cultivated by the Jews and even then considered a precious fruit.

Jacob says to his sons: try to soften the heart of the Pharaoh As­surbanipal bringing him these gifts: "… a little  resin, some honey, so­me myrrh, and some pistachio and almonds" (Genesis XLIII, v.11).

Was known by the Assyrians and the Greeks as a medicinal drug, a potent aphrodisiac and as an antidote against bites by poisonous animals.

Avicenna, considered the greatest medic and scientist of the  Muslim middle east, in his  "Canon of Medicine" used to prescribe it against liver deceases and defined it an aphrodisiac.

Nobody knows when the plant appeared in  Sicily.

Probably, as it was reported by the historian Plinius, the plant was introduced in Italy by Greeks and Romans (between  the 20 and the 30 A.D.) but only  in Sicily found his natural habitat for a blooming and peculiar growth.

During the high middle ages (eighth century a.d.) the Arabs, having taken away Sicily from the Byzan­tines, h1ized in the pistachio cultivation and increased  its growth, favored particularly in Bronte's territory. The brontese dialect terms "frastuca" and "frastucara" that indicate  respectively the fruit (in Arab "fustuq") and the plant have a definitely Arab origin.

In the sciare (stony ground) of Bronte, in fact, was realized an extraordinary union between the plant and the lava ground, that continuously fertilized by the volcano' ashes, favored the production of a fruit that, for taste and flavor,  is far superior of the remaining world production.

Here, in a steep and stony land, the brontese peasant has reclaimed and transformed the lava flows of Etna in an unusual Eden, realizing  the miracle of a plant born from the rocks to produce small, tasty fruits of the highest quality, of a beautiful color: emerald green, sought after and used in confectionery and gastronomy for their elevated organoleptic proprieties.

Today, in the extensive brontese territory (25.000 hectares), pistachio orchards occupy nearly 3.000 hectares of stony ground, with very limited arable space and with steep and rough slopes, not suitable to other h1ized crops.

The quotations from the past

Brother Jacopo d'Acqui, who was the first biographer of  Marco Polo and contemporary to him, describes the astounding pistachio dishes tasted by the young Venetian traveler during his marvelous travel towards the distant China.

«Reports of young camel's thighs stuffed with duck, stuffed again with minced pork meat, pistachios, raisins,  pine-seeds and spices. Of a soft and trembling cream, called balesh, made with flour, whipped cream and honey, delicately seasoned with pistachio oil or with a precious pastry of Sheriye, which is a kind of pasta like our fettuccine, but cooked in cream with pistachios and very, very small bits of gold and silver, so thin that had to be eaten with the rest of the sweet.

In some areas of Sicily it was appreciated an infusion of the fresh bark of the tree, and it was believed that the resin of the trunk could cure  the inguinal hernia, but only if used during the recitations of appropriated magic formulas».

(Irene Faro, Pistachio between history and kitchen, Center Studies Europe 2000, 1991)

Many are also the miraculous characteristics bound to  consumption of pistachio often mentioned in ancient treatises  of natural history and in ancient texts,  charming proge­ni­tors of modern books of dietetics and alimentation sciences.

Since 1612, Baldas­sarre Pisanelli in his "treatise about foods and drinks" was writing that pistachios "cure marve­lously liver problems, clear the chest and the kidneys, strengthen the stomach, send away nausea... Can arouse erotic appetite, ...with wine are an excellent remedy against poisons ...".

Another particular characteristic, handed down by our elders and reported also by Lemeri in his "Treatise about foods and the way to preserve them…" (Venice, 1705), says that «excite the Venus ardors and increase the feminine humors exciting a sweet fermentation of the blood».

Bronte and its territory historical events, gone, in the last centuries, from one master to another, are tightly bound to that Benedictine Maniace's abbey (1174), of the Palermo's big and new poor men hospital, to which, in (1494, Pope Innocenzo VIII gave gratuitously the Abbey and all its territory and to those of Horatio Nelson, to whom in December of 1798, the Bourbon king Ferdinand gave in perpetual gift the territory and the city of Bronte.

The people of the area, mostly peasants and shepherds, were so cheated and impoverished by a century-old condition of extreme vassalage.

The small Council  got even poorer because of a great court case, initiated in order to get back the land so obviously usurped. and that went on, without interruption, for over three centuries.

Lacking cultivable land -- the majority of which belonged to the Hospital, the Duchy and few others--the Brontese peasants, during centuries of hard work, were compelled to cultivate the stony lava lands so changing bare lava castings in pistachio orchards.

So wrote father Gesualdo De Luca in the far 1883

Gesualdo De Luca«The pistachio is a tree of precious production, that thrives in few areas of Sicily: Caltanisetta, S.Cataldo, Caltauturo and other towns: above all it thrives in the piedmont lava grounds of Bronte.

The illustrious  botany professor of Catania's University, Prior Benedictine Francesco Tornabene, in one of his writings about this precious plant, praises Bronte's pistachios and praises the people of Bronte as good and intelligent cultivators of these plants in their territory.

How many hectares of piedmont sciare (lava grounds) rich of wild pistachio, lay uncultivated in Bronte's territory around mount Etna, trampled by goats, sheep and donkeys! It is terrible to see, in vast spaces of volcanic ground, the many high shrubs of wild pears and wild pistachios waiting for the hand of the grafter!

Once grafted what rich production wouldn't give? Wealth easily acquirable, not acquired only by negligence!


This fruit, precious  from ancient and noble ori­gins,  has always been a protagonist in the refined cooking, sought after for its aromatic and pleasant flavor.
Nowadays, in particular, is used in confectio­nery and salami industries, but also in chemi­stry and cosmetics (well known the active principles of its oils to beautify the skin).
An oil extracted from the fruit, particularly delica­te, finds application in dermatology for its highly emollient and softening qualities.

... Our two thousand five hundred hectares of volcanic land, …produce half  the quantity of what produce the ground in the fields close to the river; thirty  times more than what they give uncultivated.

The law of the 4 July 1874 orders that all uncultivated land belonging to the city Councils  be assigned to cultivators by sale or h1 leases: why this law is not observed?  … Here we have two peculiar species  of pistachios, Bronte's folks know well how to cultivate them, …  stealthily usurp little portions of lava and change it into gardens, …why not extend and multiply enormously the cultivation?

How much more money would not enter in Bronte?

Making  nurseries of Scornabecchi in irrigated ground  and after two years transplanting the young plants in the more mountainous stony areas. In ten years there would be forests of pistachios.»

(Gesualdo De Luca, History of the city of Bronte, Milan 1883)

Other authors, old and new, who are interested in pistachio, by way of example, are listed below: C. di Messisburgo (1552), B. Scoppi (1662), N. Lemeri (1705), V. Corrado (1705), V. Agnoletti (1834), P. Artusi (1891), G. A. Escoffier (1920), N. Douglas (1970), A. Petacci (1974), G. Woodroof (1979), G. Coria (1981), Antonelli - Currà (1984), L. Caviesel (1984), I. Faro (1991), Aru - Negri (2001).

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Translated by Sam Di Bella

  the Plant