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Bitter Almonds: Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian Girlhood Paperback – February 1, 2003


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Bitter Almonds:  Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian Girlhood + On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal + Seeking Sicily: A Cultural Journey Through Myth and Reality in the Heart of the Mediterranean
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Books (February 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553814656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553814651
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 3.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,166,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bitter almonds lend depth of flavor to the buttery cookie doughs prepared by nuns in the south of Italy. And the bittersweet recollections of Grammatico, a renowned pastry cook and shopkeeper in Erice, Sicily, lend depth to this slender volume of Italian recipes. As researched by Mary Taylor Simeti, author of several books on Sicily, the reminiscences of hardships endured during Grammatico's girlhood, spent as an orphan in a Sicilian cloister, give poignancy to the uncomplicated, sweet pastries that make up her life's work now. Americans accustomed to rich excesses and scads of chocolate in their desserts may not find much to excite them here. But those who savor fine pastry and Italian artistry in marzipan and baking will apreciate the enormous effort necessary to translate Grammatico's recipes for use in our kitchens. Recent voyagers to the south of Italy may find themselves feeling slightly homesick for the simpler meals-and simpler lifestyle-evoked by Grammatico.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Simeti is the author of the delightful Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-Five Centuries of Sicilian Food (LJ 8/89) and On Persephone's Island (LJ 3/15/86), also about Sicily. In the course of her research, she discovered Grammatico's pastry shop in Erice, where Grammatico continues to make the traditional pastries she learned as a girl in an orphanage run by nuns. At one time convents all over Sicily were known for their special pastries; now making the special marzipan creations and other cookies Grammatico sells is almost a lost art. Simeti presents Grammatico's own account, spirited and often moving, of her bleak life in an austere convent orphanage-although it was during the late 1950s, it reads more like something out of Dickens-followed by the recipes for all the pastries she offers at her thriving bakery, now known far beyond the town of Erice. A unique and special book.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Linda Starr on April 12, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I believe this is one of the most underrated cookbooks in terms of awards (Child, Beard, etc.) and public attention. I LOVED the story, and I feel like I was allowed to have something very personal, special and unique in the recipes which are exquisite. Had I not known a wonderful Italian lady (Carmel Anthony) and tasted her special cookies, however, I may not have known enough to get this book. You'll love it!
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have just returned from Sicily where I visited Maria's shop and saw the convent where her childhood was spent. I wish I would have read the book before my visit. The smell of almond pastries led me right up the narrow street and to the pastries and candies in her shop, and they are marvelous. The convent is just a short walk up the street from her shop, in the square. The recipes she shares in the book are uncomplicated and simply delicious. Her story is not embellished. There is no polished prose. It is as she saw it and lived it and has told it with her unique Sicilian expression. I enjoyed reading it and I will continue to enjoy her recipes.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kiwiflora on November 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
I have mixed feelings about this book. Firstly what sort of book is it? Is it a recipe book - 111 pages of its 229 pages are recipes; secondly is it biography of Maria Grammatico or thirdly is it a memoir of Mary Taylor Simeti telling how she came to be telling Maria's story. And these two latter stories cover the first 118 pages.

There is a terrific story here in the life Maria Grammatico. In the 1950s, her impoverished mother sent her, at the age of 11, and her older sister to live in the enclosed and cloistered world of the local convent. There were approximately 22 people living in the convent of whom 13 were nuns, the rest young girls such as Maria and her sister. Maria lived here till the age of 25, when she left the convent. The only skills she had were how to make the delicious, dainty, delectable pastries, sweetmeats and biscuits that she had 'acquired' over the years living with the nuns. The nuns produced vast quantities of these morsels to sell to the locals on feast days and religious celebrations/ceremonies. None for the girls. It was an appalling existence really for young girls. There was never enough food, very few comforts, very little if any freedom, no celebrations or fun of any kind. The one solace for Maria was the kitchen. Now, in her fifties, she still lives in the town the convent was in - Erice - and has her own very famous and highly regarded Italian patisserie where she makes, by hand, all the delicacies she had learnt all those years ago. On You Tube there are some lovely films of Maria in her kitchen and interviews with her about her life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Anthony W. Peraino on January 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To sit in Maria Grammatico's world-famous pastry shop in stunningly beautiful Erice, on the top of a mountain in northwest Sicily, having a caffe and eating her delicious Genovesi, is to be a little nearer to heaven...figuratively, if not literally. Her feistiness and strength of character mitigated a rather difficult early life and made Maria into the success she is today. This brief, but delightful, autobiography (aided by Mary Taylor Simeti, a wonderful author in her own right), along with her terrific and not particularly difficult recipes, forms a sweet read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Susan Woodward on April 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Yes, you can go to the pastry shop, but it is more important to read the book. Even translated into English, the voice is extraordinary. The story begins sad but unsentimental -- Maria's family is so poor they send her and one of her sisters to the nunnery where the nuns will feed her and she will work -- but has a happy ending with Maria grown, educated, independent, and prosperous, living near her family. The trimphant personality comes through honest and unembellished. All of the redundancy typical of real human conversation is preserved, so it seems you are listening to Maria's voice.

Watch Maria make genovesi on youtube. Then read Leonardo Sciascia's detective novel "To Each His Own" and his collection of short stories "The Wine-Dark Sea" (both published in lovely NYRB Classics editions I especially loved "Demotion" about the ladies of the village rescuing Santa Filomena, long may she reign, from the Vatican's ax), Lawrence Durrell's "Sicilian Carousel", and Mimetta LoMonte's cookbooks (as much for the recolletions of growing up in Sicily as for the recipes) and get the "Blue Guide" to Sicily and you will be ready to go. Mary Taylor Simeta's recollections are informative too.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This could almost be sub-titled The Nun's Story (With Sweets). Except that Maria never really was, or became a nun. But she had an orphan's life in a religious institution and spent her days making sweets, which the convent sold for income. This then is Maria's story of resilience and survival, and how she ended up having the best little sweets shop in all of Erice.
I've had holidays in Sicily, in a seaside village called San Vito Lo Capo. On a clear day one could almost see Erice, this ancient town on a rock above Trapani. I've run through the cobbled streets of Erice and I've eaten those delightful almond biscuits and contemplated which Martorana fruit to buy. And I am so sorry now I had not discovered this delightful book before I visited Erice, because I am sure I must have been in Maria's shop, yes, I must have tasted her sweet offerings.
If you love life, if you love biography and a window on other worlds and other eras, do read this book. And if you have fallen in love with Sicily's sweet things, as I have, you will have the bonus of Maria's recipes.
This book, Maria's story, affirms so much of what is human and universal in us all.
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