October 12, 2015
They’re natives of the Americas, the mean spiky fruits. But prickly pear cacti have flourished in Sicily’s climate. You have to dodge them here–they rise 20 feet tall and come at you from all directions. Lured by a poster, we decided yesterday to celebrate the fruit I fear.
The sinister plants lined the roadway, the asphalt bloody with fallen fruit.
They paid homage to the fruit in the tiny town of Pedagaggi. They ate it fresh, candied, mashed into marmalade, and cooked into mostarda— something like prickly pear gummy bears. They drank it in liqueur.
In my early innocent days on the island, I bought several of the fruits and blithely peeled them, glove-less. For days afterwards my fingertips prickled with pain, as I sat in the sun pulling out ultra-fine spines with a tweezers. I have shunned the fruit since.
This bearded fellow explained that his hands are so calloused from the fields he has no need for gloves. But his wife came well-equipped. Every Sicilian has a story about American GIs in WWII, who plucked the fruit right off the plant and bit into it. This makes them laugh.
Food festivals in Sicily always attract a biker crowd, clad in old denim and black leather. They’re always the life of the party.
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May 1, 2015
May Day. National holiday.
Andiamo alla campagna! One and all to the countryside!
Heading for the hills on May Day is one of those unwritten Sicilian rules, like the one that requires you, when hanging out your wash, to clip each sock at the toe and hang it neatly next to its mate.
So off we go.
And there we find: bygone lanes, farmhouses with braying dogs, fields of ripe artichokes.
But why we’ve really come is to forage for wild food. We rummage in meadows, like old-time peasants. Look! There’s asparagus, lassini and malva!
This goes on for hours.
Lassini–you have to pick these stems before they flower. It’s already too late to eat this particular plant but we find lassini plants in the shade that have not yet flowered.
Malva–you eat the leaves, not the flowers. It’s such an ancient food that Horace mentions it: Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea levesque malvae (As for me, olives, chickory and malva provide sustenance.)
When hunger hits, we pull down green almonds and pop the whole fuzzy thing in our mouths. I make a sour face and am admonished for my timidity.
Twenty minutes after arriving home, the meadow is on my plate.
It’s getting cold, so I will bid you buon appetito and arrivederci.