The weekend of September 13 was seared on my brain and red-checked on my calendar as the day of the annual Festival del Peperoncino in somewhat-nearby Diamante. Plans were made, friends were here and the car was gassed and rearing to go. We left mid-morning and planned to arrive just in time for a late lunch of pepper shrimp, pepper liquor, pepper chocolate, pepper jelly … you get the idea.
Sadly all we got was the idea, as well. It seems unbeknownst to us and undocumented in any of the festival literature, this baby didn’t get underway until verso 8:00 at night. It was 2:00.
Instead of reversing our 136 kilometer trek on a wretchedly empty stomach we headed to the nearby medieval town of Scalea, home to mysterious grottos, secret Byzantine Mosaics and the best granita this side of Sicily.
We stopped by the Antico Casa del Gelato Bar La Torre, 10-time Calabrian gelato champs and international importer of Sicilian granita artigianale where we were happily greeted by the owner, Eugenio “Gino” Prospato.
Gino offered up spoon-sized samples of almond, cedro and lemon granita that glistened as the September sunlight peeked through the windows. He handed over the house favorite – fico d’india – then rushed off to prepare a fresh batch of pineapple.
And Gino has had plenty of practice whipping up granita. He began making this Sicilian specialty when he was NINE years old, peddling his cart throughout the hills of Santa Dominca and Praia a Mare, Calabria.
Sixty-one years later his legendary granita has a stable home and a wealth of followers. The walls are lined with medals, newspaper clippings and photos of the awards Gino has collected throughout the years.
“We can’t keep up,” his wife, Michela told us. “Every day we receive invitations to participate in another competition.”
Opening her mail in front of us she said, “This came in this morning – a competition in Bari.
“Ha,” she shrugged. “Maybe we can make it.”
As if creating award-winning granita, owning a town landmark and being a widely-respected member of the community weren’t enough, Bar La Torre recently began hosting the Festival della Granita. Each year on July 1, Bar La Torre opens it doors and offers up the best tasting granita this side of Sicily.
In addition to fico d’india and pineapple, Gino and his crew whip up melon, almond, lemon, strawberry, wild fruit, cedro and coffee granita. And the catch?
It’s all free.
Last year Bar La Torre dished out over 700 kilos of freshly made granita. When I asked why they do it, Michela smiled and said, “Because he loves it. Sixty-one years … he loves it!”
If you find yourself floating along the Tyrrhenian coast next summer and needing an ultra-light, fat-free pick-up – you know where to go.
Bar La Torre
Viale Kennedy, 9-11
Scalea (CS) Italy
Maybe I will see you there!