the trip (at the table) of a Scotsman to Sicily

Many British arrived in Agrigento driven by the description of gastronomic delights written by Patrick Brydone in his novel “Tour through Sicily and Malta”

In Messina he was amazed by the unusual shape of the port; in Taormina he praised the natural spectacle contemplated by the Greek Theater. In Syracuse the ruins of a city that in the past had competed with Rome for greatness; in Palermo he was enchanted by the view of the Conca D’Oro from Monte Pellegrino; and various other things he appreciated in Sicily, but with a certain detachment.

No surprise, however, amazed him and involved him more than the hundred courses that were served in bishopric of Agrigento.

On 16 June 1770 the Scottish scientist Patrick Brydone he wrote to his London correspondent William Beckford.

«We had lunch with the bishop, as had been decided, and we got up from the table convinced that the people of Agrigento could not know the true art of the banquet better than their descendants, to whom they have transmitted a good dose of their virtues and their social vices.

I apologize for calling them that, and I would very much like to have a more tender name at my disposal: I seem to reciprocate with black ingratitude the hospitality offered to us, of which we will always be indebted.

There were exactly thirty of us at the table, but on my word I don’t think there were less than a hundred dishes ».

And of that gargantuan lunch, the Scottish traveler also makes a description of some of those dishes: “They were all garnished with the most delicate succulent sauces, which left us no doubt about the truth of the old Roman proverb. Siculus coquus et sicula mensa: it is no less valid now than in those days.

Nothing was missing of what can stimulate, whet the palate, nothing that can be invented to create an appetite where there is none, as well as to satisfy it. During the banquet some gods were served favorite dishes of the Roman Epicureans, just the same: in particular the moray eels, so often mentioned by the ancient authors. It is a species of eels found only in this part of the Mediterranean, and which from here are sent to many European courts.

They are not as succulent fat as common eels, so you can eat them in greater quantities: the snow-white meat, and it is a real delicacy.

But an even better delicacy has been devised by modern luxury and refinement: it is the liver of chickens, which has managed to make it swell out of proportion, in order to make it acquire an exquisite flavor. It is truly an incomparable dish ».

The comparison with the gastronomy and customs of northern Europe is inevitable: «The fruit was brought to the table almost all with the second course, a system certainly better than ours, even if it seemed strange to us. The first dish he passed around was strawberries.

The Sicilians were very surprised to see that we ate them with cream and sugar. However, after a taste, they found that the combination was not bad at all. The dessert consisted of fruit Of every kind.

THE ice creams, even more varied, they were in the form of peaches, figs, oranges, walnuts, etc., and the resemblance to the fruit was such that anyone not accustomed to ice cream could very well be deceived ».

The Scottish scientist does not fail to tell us about the pottery which «was everything silver“.

And he judges the diners with respect: “The Sicilians ate everything, and they tried to get us to do the same. The company was particularly cheerful and did not in any way deny the ancient characteristics: several of them were more than tipsy long before we got up from the table ».

In treating Agrigento in his book entitled Tour through Sicily and Malta we find three missives dedicated to Agrigento. Two are a brief description of the Valley of the Temples and the history of the city, but the third contains the succulent description – with foods and wines that take on the role of protagonists – of the gargantuan banquet, in which the author participated, offered by the local nobility to the bishop Antonio Lanza.

Lot of English readers arrived in Agrigento in the following years driven by the description of the delights of Agrigento gastronomy and perhaps also by having read that already in the days of ancient Akragas the people of Agrigento feasted as if they were going to die tomorrow and built as if they would never die, as had their fellow citizen Empedocles wrote.

Let’s consider that in the last decades of the eighteenth century the book most loaned by the Bristol Lending Library was Patrick Brydone’s “Tour through Sicily and Malta”, published in 1773.

Those who came to Sicily for the Grand Tour also knew the island thanks to that famous text. So years later, on April 24, 1787, the German poet also arrived in Agrigento Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

Probably he had not read Brydone’s text, but Goethe also appreciated the gastronomy of Agrigento, even if he did not taste it in the Bishop’s palace, but in a small hotel where he kept girls from Girgenti, they curled tasty “cavateddi”, With their“ tapered fingers ”.

Agrigento no longer had its ancient grandeur in those last years of the eighteenth century. It had barely twenty thousand inhabitants and its houses were poor, the streets dirty, winding and narrow. But on top of the hill on which Agrigento stands, in the sumptuous Bishop’s Palace, Antonio Lanza, the head of Agrigento’s Christianity lived in wealth and his successors will live in the same state for another century.

When Brydone arrived in Agrigento, the Bishop had settled in the Diocese only a few months ago, but he had immediately linked with the local aristocracy, especially with the one that belonged to Freemasonry.

The Bishop, the aristocracy and the poor people of Agrigento (this one when he could) loved good food and for the visitors who came to admire the temples they set up unforgettable banquets.

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