Sicily, as I’m sure you’ve been able to intuit from the recipe post below. If you’re not familiar with Italian geography, Sicily is an island off the tip of mainland Italy. If the mainland is the “boot”, Sicily is the “ball” the boot is kicking, as it were. It’s an evocative visual metaphor, though I confess I’ve never figured out which ball sport it is that’s played in thigh-length, spike-heeled boots. Whatever it is, I have no doubt I’d have a great time watching it. Especially if the players don’t kick ball around, but rather a honey-baked picnic ham as the map image suggests.
Returning to planet Earth, it’s been suggested that cannoli are edible remnants of the Arab conquest of the island, which lasted from 965 to 1072 A.D.. There might be a little something to that, since the only peoples who were in consistent possession of sugar in those years were the Arabs. They also had access to spices like cinnamon and candied fruits. However Arabs have never been famous for their cheese-making, and it seems that there’s some documentation to indicate that a cream-filled roll of some sort was around about 1,000 years before that time (the Roman statesman and orator Cicero ate one during his famous visit to prosecute Sicily’s corrupt governor).
Indeed over the last two thousand years Sicily has been variously occupied by Greeks, Romans, Germanic tribes, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, French and probably others I’ve forgotten to mention. Which means there’ve been a whole lot of outside influences on the Island. Yet for all that there’s no evidence, at least that I’ve come across, that any of the various invaders ever brought cannoli (or any cannolo-like device) to Sicilian shores. So it seems cannoli are home-grown confections, albeit confections that have been adapted to incorporate various outside ingredients.
As for how long they’ve been around, it’s conventional wisdom that they’re part of a family of fried treats that were common during carnival season (early spring) in the Middle Ages. Of course no one really knows for sure, but whatever the case it’s a near for-certain that cannoli are as authentic to Sicily as
tomatoes oranges corn eggplant the mafia. Lord, I’m in an odd mood this afternoon.