Where do cannoli come from?

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.

14 thoughts on “Where do cannoli come from?”

  1. LOL

    Now I have a mental image of scantily clad damsels in thigh-high, stilletto-heeled boots playing soccer while eating cannoli. Ahhh, I needed that chuckle today


    1. Yeah, but you know, the Fellini kind with the mini skirts, white oval sunglasses and Marlo Thomas haircuts. That’s a sport I’ll pay money for!

  2. Go Sicilia!

    Just giving a shout out to my people.

    I had an interesting conversation with my Dad and a great aunt once about taking pizzelle while they are hot and rolling them into cannoli shells. I think it would come out more like a waffle cone, but the crunch should be the same without as much fat content as frying. Just a thought.

    Thanks for the Sicilian history! I thought it was interesting that the Sicilians locked on to the three points of the island and adopted the symbol of the trinacria. Also interesting that it is a Medusa head with three legs coming out of it along with some wheat. My family is from the tomato and chocolate side of Sicily in Modeca and Pachino.

  3. “I’ve never figured out which ball sport it is that’s played in thigh-length, spike-heeled boots.”
    Soccer between competing teams of dominatrixes.

    1. What a dope I am! Of course!

      Isn’t that finally supposed to be an Olympic sport next year?

      – Joe

  4. Its interesting how foods developed and/or moved around. I use my Swedish krumkaka iron to make pizzelle & the batters are not really different except for the flavorings.

    You don’t suppose while invading some Viking said “leave the gun, take the cannoli” do you?

    1. It would have been in their character for sure. Thanks for the historical query! 😉

      – Joe

  5. Two days and I leave for a week in Sicily.

    I just wanted to say that.

    Also, I did not know cannoli came from there, and now I’m REALLY excited to eat dessert.

      1. It’s going to be sweet. It’s a Canadian/American military study tour, 8 days of studying Operation Husky (the invasion and liberation of Sicily in 1943) on the battlefields where it took place… and lots of eating (and wine drinking!) at night. I even got a scholarship from grad school to go! Some days my life does not suck. And I hear the food is incredible, I have been looking forward to this trip since I was selected two months ago.

        1. Husky, a.k.a. Patton Runs of the Leash! Oh do I envy your trip. Please check back in and let me know how it all went. And if you pick up any cannoli tips, I trust you’ll pass them on! Cheers,

          – Joe

  6. Would you believe the original cannoli was a form of… manna?
    ” A finer kind of manna is procured, which is called canulated or flaky manna, manna in cannoli”


    I’m not sure if a form of sulphur was the same thing:
    Sulphur refined in sticks (“cannoli”)

    But certainly Sicilian cannoli was available by 1902:

    In 1940, Esquire seems to have confused it with canneloni:
    “She likes spaghetti with stewed fresh tomatoes and onions, but her favorite pasta is Cannoli, a sort of wide macaroni stuffed with chopped meat and spinach”

    The word apparently means “Cannon-bone” (I’m sure that makes things clearer)

    What, you didn’t ask, is a cannon-bone?
    “The large third metacarpal (informally the cannon bone or shin bone) provides the major support of the body weight.”

    Otherwise, the Greeks, Romans and Arabs all had varieties of cheesecake but I think one would be hard put to trace these back to a specific one.

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