THE LEGEND OF DIONYSUS – The arrival of the vines in Sicily

As we well know, the ancient Greeks, and then the Romans, loved myths and legends – myths and legends that were recorded by the eminent poets and philosophers of their time, and who remain fundamental to western culture today, including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, just to name a few.

Their narratives touched upon weakness and virtue, nobility and gods, and depicted women and men who confronted wars and adventures, whether for passion or simply in search of a better understanding of the mysteries of the world and this life.

According to some of these legends, it was jealousy that precipitated the arrival of grapevines in Sicily. Zeus, the father of the gods, and always on the lookout for new love interests, fell for Armonia, a beautiful young maiden. It was his wife Hera who, upon learning of this betrayal, went straight for the counterattack, transforming herself into the young maiden’s food, and convincing the young girl to ask Zeus to appear to her in all of his majestic splendor with which he ruled Olympus.

Armonia was already pregnant when, between claps of thunder, and flashes of lightning, Zeus appeared. The glorious sight was too much for her to bear, and the strength of her emotion caused her to give birth prematurely, shedding light on a most breathtakingly beautiful baby boy.

At that moment, Zeus recognized the foul play, and immediately sewed the infant to one of his legs, completing the gestation period much as an incubator would, and for this reason, the child was called “Dionysus,” that is, the son of Zeus, the god of fertility, joy, and well-being. Dionysus decided to leave the Ellade and escape to Sicily, bringing a grape vine with him. As he was undertaking a long sea voyage, and needed to protect the small plant from the elements, he first placed it inside the bone of a bird, and later inside that of a lion, and since it kept growing, he finally placed it in the bone of a donkey. Thus was born the first ancient rule of drinking, and which is still worth remembering today: “A good glass of wine makes you light as a bird, another drink and you are courageous as a lion, but when you exaggerate with wine, you end up an ass!.” Upon his arrival in Sicily, Dionysus planted the first vineyard at Naxos, just below Taormina, the first Greek colony.

 

Read More about the Arrival of Wines in Sicily 

 

THE LEGEND OF SAINT LUCY

Saint Lucy of Syracuse (Santa Lucia 283-304) is the saint of Light and a protector of the Christian Faith, and, in terms of popular tradition, probably the most venerated Sicilian saint in the world.

On December 13th of each year, presumably since the XV Century, Sicilians pay tribute to her at the dinner table. On this day it is customary to renounce pasta, the traditional Italian meal, as well as all other foods containing wheat flour, in her honor. In Sicily, the majority of food stores are closed on St. Lucy’s Day. So what do they eat? If you are in Palermo, the answer to this question is obvious: panelle and arancine. Arancine, or arancini  di riso, fried balls of rice (a grain introduced by the Arabs) typically made with fillings such as tomato sauce with meat (ragù), butter with peas and prosciutto, and, more recently, dark chocolate.

Panelle, on the other hand, are thin cutlets made of chickpea flour and fried in seed oil. Once referred to as “piscipanelle”, panelle were traditionally sold by street vendors as a pedestrian snack food. Today, however, panelle have become a popular food in the home, and a “must” among typical Sicilian antipasto selections in restaurants, as well.
Thus, arancine and panelle became the unofficial foods eaten in celebration of the feast day of Saint Lucy.

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