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

4.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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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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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 (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #773,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the second time I've bought this book being a friend "borrowed" it for it to never return home. The pastry recipes are wonderful and not complicated at all but still quite delicious. What I really enjoyed is that Signora Grammatico presented a recipe for making SOLID quince paste*, other cookbooks seemingly give untested recipes being the end results were quite unsatisfactory, many times ending up a wet goo, BITTER ALMONDS is also an interesting read which brings Sicily to the reader.

*I have a large Portuguese quince tree which is only for Signora Grammatico's quince paste recipe
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Half of the book is her story and the other half consists of recipes. Her perspective on the Catholic church as a result of being "raised" by nuns is interesting and her success as a business woman despite her limited resources is quite impressive. So far I've tried a few recipes and they have been excellent. I had a little difficulty understand how to shape some of the cookie/biscotti recipes without photos but I ended up making a different shape and the biscotti were delicious, the shape doesn't matter. I have made a few adjustments as I found I didn't like some of the measurements - too much baking soda & powder in one recipe for instance. A novice baker may find the recipes too vague in some of the instructions but I used them as a guideline and adjusted baking times, shapes, temps as needed. The biscotti have all tasted just like the ones found in the bakeries in Italy so it's a treat to make them at home.
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Touching book! I met Maria Grammatico, the baker this book is written about, approximately two weeks ago (07/2015) in Erice, Sicily at her bakery. I was intrigued to learn where she learned her skill and had to buy this book.

When we arrived at the bakery, a camera crew was there, filming her. And, in the garden of her bakery, we had cannoli and sipped Marsala wine. It was the best cannoli I've ever eaten and I have access to all of the New York City pastry shops!

Maria, in person, is the consummate professional...an inspiration.

I love that some of her recipes for creams and batters are listed in this book. Am anxious to try some.
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After being orphaned shortly before WWII, my mother was sent to a convent in Italy just like the subject of this biography. It was not an easy life emotionally or physically. Thank you Mamma for being so strong for us in spite of your childhood suffering & privations.
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This account of a Sicilian girl's experience in an orphanage managed by Catholic nuns is a validation of one of our family members' experiences.
It is worthy of holding dear for any family in need of a Sicilian piece of history that may be missing in their libraries. A treasure beyond measure.
Janice Irmo Sovinee
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