STORIES AND LEGENDS OF SICILY PREFACE

 

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

                      Edmund Burke (1729-1797) 

trinacria bella how sicily was bornSicily is the richest and most interesting region of Italy, according to recent statistics. In fact, more than 37% of Italian  monumental and artistic wealth is found in the ancient Trinacria (term given by the ancient Greeks, depicting,  according to classic iconography, the “medusa with three legs,” representing the triangular form of the island, and symbol of the sun). With regard to its geographical position, Sicily is, in fact, the  largest island in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, and has  always been of great strategic importance for all populations  that have visited it.Sicily is a point of encounter, practically obligatory for  the  diverse peoples that gravitate in the area of Mare Nostrum, or  “Our Sea”, a place of business exchange where different cultures have met and assimilated over the centuries, like multicolored tassels in a mosaic.

historia-siciliana.itIt is, shall we say, an ancient Melting Pot of people with various languages, habits, and beliefs, that have fused together in testimony of the richness that diversity provides to humanity.The Sicilian monumental and artistic panorama emphasizes the profoundly beautiful combination of styles and patterns in each and every territory: from the Greek statues of the Satiro in Mazara del Vallo and Mothia (Trapani) and the Greco-Roman theater of Taormina to the mosaics at Piazza Armerina (Enna), and on and on through the centuries up to the present day to mention some:  Fiumara d’Arte of Santo Stefano, and  Gibellina (Trapani).

Sicily in effect is the the world’s largest Open Air Museum

The great German traveler, Wolfgang Goethe (poet and writer during the XVII century) said:

“To come to Italy and not visit Sicily, is not to recognize its true essence and spirit”.

This enormous and invaluable wealth, you will see, is discovered not only in the artistic-monumental aspect, but also in the richness of its eno-gastronomic tradition, already appreciated worldwide, though perhaps not well understood, and most of all not properly evaluated by the local and national governments, without a doubt, as a the greatest  sources of business of our land.

 

In Sicily, more than in other parts of the world, human history (from the Latin, “Istor”, or to comprehend) and legend (form Latin, Legere, or to read) are closely connected to both wine and culinary tradition.

We invite you, therefore, to read the history of Sicily by a different literary key, on that we find quite appropriate, as well as “appetizing”, and which we call: “Sicilian Wine. Stories and Legends from the Kitchen to the Cellar.”

 

FROM THE ANCIENT GREEKS TO…SICILYWINE.COM

FROM THE ANCIENT GREEKS TO…SICILYWINE.COM

 trinacria bella how sicily was bornAgriculture, together with fishing, have been among the major activities  performed by Sicilians, and their conquerors, since ancient times.
Under a sun that shines for 6-8 months per year and a fertile territory, most of volcanic origin, with varying microclimates and altitudes, from the Iblei Mountains to the Madonie and Etna, to the valleys and plateaus along the beaches, Sicily allows for all types of cultivation. It was for this  reason that the ancient Greeks decided to venture to opposite shores of  the Mediterranean and  establish different colonies on the island, many  of which, such as Siracusa, or Syracuse once capital of Magna Grecia,  or “Great Greece”, became so important that their names persist today. The first indigenous inhabitants of the island, of 3000 B.C., the Sicani,  and the Siculi, were dedicated to the foraging of wild fruits of the  island, nourishing themselves with berries.

SIcilyart_maschera fenicia Mothya copy 2

We do not know much about the culinary habits of the Phoenicians,  originally from what we call Lebanon today, who were skilled sailors  that journeyed along the entire Mediterranean, conducting business with  all types of products, and founding important cities such as Palermo  (which means “port city”).

While the Phoenicians were able fishermen, they were not, however, great cultivators. Despite this, we most likely owe them for the arrival of the olive and fig plants to our island.We know that the Phoenicians surely ate boiled greens, dried fruit, and fried fish. Remnants of their civilization are still visible at Motya, a small island near the coast of Marsala.

 

Greek Vase

 In 500 B.C., the Carthaginians of North Africa established their first settlements, but they were not the only ones. In fact, during nearly the exact same period on the southeastern coast of Sicily, between Syracuse, Naxos and Taormina, the Greeks arrived. Right away, the Greeks found this land ideal for the cultivation of their favorite plants: the strong olive and the vine.War broke out almost immediately between the Greeks and the Carthaginians, but lets leave that part for the historians.

 

 

ArchesrtatoVery close to, in Gela a great Siceliot-Greek poet, Archestrato of Gela (IV century BC), wrote “Hedypatheia” or “Gastronomy”, the first Poem of Gourmet.  As a young poet Archestratus was disciple of the most famous Epicurus, becoming an Expert in the art of pleasure. In his poem Archestratus tells of his long journeys in search of the best food and the finest wines. It also deals with the bread, fish, the production and storage of wine and food. It focuses mainly on fish, indicating the best quality, the places of origin, the most famous species and the specific fishing seasons. The first gourmet book in the world.See more also  Wine Trails of Sicily >>

WINE FOR THE SPIRIT…OLIVE OIL FOR THE BODY: THE GREEK MYTHS

WINE FOR THE SPIRIT…OLIVE OIL FOR THE BODY: THE GREEK MYTHS

Dyonisious putto wine copy

Homer referred to Sicilian olive oil in his Odyssey, which he based largely on this island of volcanoes and vineyards. Indeed, today we believe olive oil was the sole food product exported by the Greeks, according to its availability in Solone, around the sixth century B.C. In fact, it was here that the conservation of olives in “salamoia”, or, in salt, began, and where whole and pitted olives were packed and shipped for arrival at the tables of the gourmands of the period.

 

The grain here is also of the highest quality, as the characteristics of durum wheat make it optimal both for long-term preservation, and immediate use for bread-making. It is said that the rich taste of the bread was an inspirational factor in the Romans’ decision to fight for the land that later became known as the “bread basket of Rome.”

OIl -home little

Eventually, it was Sicilian grain that was used to make the durum wheat cakes that sustained many legions of seafarers and conquerors that covered the whole of the known world…

 

Archestrato of Gela (IV century BC), wrote “Hedypatheia” or “Gastronomy” The first gourmet book in the world.

dionysius_i_of_syracuse
 As a young poet Archestratus was disciple of the most famous Epicurus, becoming an Expert in the art of pleasure. In his poem Archestratus tells of his long journeys in search of the best food and the finest wines. It also deals with the bread, fish, the production and storage of wine and food. It focuses mainly on fish, indicating the best quality, the places of origin, the most famous species and the specific fishing seasons. The first gourmet book in the world. 

Along with the grain from Sicily, the ancient Romans exported olives, fish and cheeses in terracotta vases they called vasa salsamenteria or “delicatessen vases“, made from the rich Sicilian earth. Interestingly, the salsamenteria of the time later came to be called salumeria, which is used today to mean “delicatessen”.
Unfortunately, the ancient Romans preferred the cultivation of grain to that of vines, which led to the abandonment of many vineyards and also the deforestation of large areas of land in order to make use of the wood needed for warships.

Plato (philosophical disciple of Socrates, Athens, 427-347 B.C.) write about the lifestyle and diet of the Greeks of Syracuse, which in his opinion, was overloaded with agricultural products, including cheeses, olives, onions, figs, myrtle and roasted chestnuts, often accompanied by wine. Remember Symposium means “drink together“!

Artistic ceramics of Castel Mola copy

 

THE ARRIVAL OF THE VINES AND THE LEGEND OF DIONYSIUS

THE ARRIVAL OF THE VINES AND THE LEGEND OF DIONYSIUS

Dyonisius big copy 2 go

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 her 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.

foto8

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:

Satyr_Bacchus_Petit_Palais_ADUT00240_

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.

PASTA ALLA NORMA FOR BELLINI AND MARSALA FOR GARIBALDI

Pachino cherry tomato by Vanvakys - Version 2 copyThe tomato, which arrived from America a few centuries earlier, was a great success in Sicily. Initially used as a spice, it then became an ideal condiment for pastapizzafish, and meat, and was well suited to the kosher recipes of the Jews, and was often used in their dishes. The farmers and cultivators planted many different quantities and diverse types, so as to actually create new kinds, born of grafts and various types of cultivation, among which we must mention the ciliegino di Pachino”, or Pachino cherry tomato”.

 

 

Rigatoni alla Norma by Vanvakys small copy 2In 1831, ”pasta alla Norma, a dish of clear poetic origin –  actually  operatic – was dedicated to Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma. It was in  that  year that the Scala di Milano presented the first production of this  beautiful opera. Actually, it was a true fiasco—so much so that Bellini,  disappointed and embittered, wanted to retire from his career as a  composer. However, a friend of his, who happened to be a chef, presented Bellini  with a very special pasta dish upon his arrival in their hometown of  Catania, below the many terraced towns of Mongibello (Etna.)

 

Vincenzo Bellini composer from Catania, photo by Vanvakys copys mall copy The dish  consisted of “mezze-maniche” pasta with fresh tomato sauce (representing the fiery lava), chunks of fried eggplants (the fruits of land), and a generous dusting of ricotta salata, (representing the snow) dedicated to his opera: La Norma. It is said that his pleasure upon tasting it reinforced his spirit and humor, convincing him to continue. According to anecdote, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the international mercenary, was a non-drinker. But he was unable to resist the sweet taste of Marsala. Disembarking with his “Thousands” in the city of wine (on May 12, 1860), he began his mission to invade the Reign of the Two Sicilies for the  king of Savoy.

 

 

 

 

Marsala Florio Cantines ancient bottles collection 2 copy smallHe so loved that sweet wine that it later took the name DG, after him. Still to this day, bottles of sweet Marsala carry the letters, DG, or, “Dolce Garibaldi”.
Modern wine production has surely changed with respect to the “recent past”, and certainly reflects other changes in Sicily, though delayed in comparison with the rest of Europe, on a historic and economic level, though always within the same “religious” respect for habits and traditions that are still maintained today.

 

 

  

Etna vineyard _1 copy x web

Sicilian winemaking has a nonlinear history, due to the diverse microclimates and scattered cultivation in many of the territories: from the very first crops on Etna, with its volcanic earth, to the layered organization of the Biblino plantations of Syracuse, covered by very fertile agrarian soil constituted largely from the breakage of 

Feudo Arancio Sambuca di Sicilia copyunderlying limestone and organic substances. to the distant fields of Trapani, to the grand estates of Marsala.