Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Legend of 'Pizzo di Lauro' - A Sicilian Story for Halloween!

Buongiorno a tutti! Anyone who has visited my website and read the descriptions of the Sicilian regions will already know how fascinated I am by the myths and legends that surround the mystical island of Sicily. So many enchanting stories are embroidered into the island's history and some offer such an insight into Sicily's past that it is difficult to divide fact from fiction. As Halloween is upon us, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to share one of the lesser known, and rather more ghostly, legends that I have heard about the area.

This legend that I have recently come across is called 'il tesoro di Pizzo Lauro', or 'the treasure of Pizzo Lauro'. It is set close to the town of Villalba, a remote, inland town which is situated 55 kilometres from Caltanissetta. Just outside of Villalba there is a tall, steep rock which dominates the skyline and is cloaked in mystery - its name is 'Pizzo di Lauro'. Residents of nearby towns do not dare to venture close to the mountain at night, however shepherds in the neighbouring hills have long told tales of spirits that dance in the night, of fierce dogs that protect the area and of witches ready to ward off curious eyes.

The legend tells of a hoard of treasure hidden inside the mountain containing enough gold to pave the streets of the whole island of Sicily. In the past, many courageous people have attempted to find this treasure but none have returned. It is said that they fell into the deep abyss below never to be found again. On stormy nights, the tale tells that it is possible to hear the spirits of these adventurers singing their sad sicilian song -

Pizzu di Lauru, pri la to ricchezza    (Pizzo di Lauro, for your treasure)
nui pirdemu la via e la salvezza        (we lost our lives and salvation)

Only when the bravest of the land will reach the rock's summit and find the hidden treasure, will the curse be broken and the souls of these men set free.

Happy Halloween!

Debra :-)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Sicilian Pride and Passion across the World!

I was inspired to create the Sicilian Connections website because over the years I have met many people of Sicilian origin who, for various reasons, have emigrated and live in different locations worldwide, but the passion that they feel for their homeland has remained strong. It was my aim to create a community where Sicilians could come together and share their wonderful stories of the island and memories of their ancestors and, thanks to the constant support of our Sicilian Connections friends worldwide, this is now a reality. Therefore, as October is officially National Italian American Heritage month, it seemed the ideal time to dedicate my blog to the pride and passion of Sicilian immigrants in America and throughout the world.

Between the years of 1861 and 1965, almost 25 million Italians left the peninsula in search of a new life. This is considered to be the biggest mass migration of contemporary times and, in Sicily, was partly due to the drop in economy and over-population experienced after the unification of Italy. In 1906 alone, 100,000 Sicilians emigrated to the United States of America and in 1920, 87 percent of Sicilian immigrants were still headed for the US. Other countries with a significant number of Sicilian immigrants were Venezuela, Brasil, Mexico, Canada, Australia and countries throughout Europe. Among the main cities in America where Sicilians settled were New York, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco and these immigrants tended to reside together in groups depending on the area that they came from. For example, in New Orleans there was a district called 'Little Palermo'.

These Sicilians were so passionate about their homeland that they took their traditions and values with them and believed in them so much that these aspects of Sicilian life have become an intrinsic part of communities worldwide and are still very much in evidence today. Throughout the year there are festivals across the world to celebrate different Sicilian traditions. The island's way of life is echoed daily in neighbourhoods worldwide through their cuisine, language and culture, such as the music listened to or the plays seen at the theatre.

It is viewed as a real honour to belong to such a loyal and devoted community and it is this devotion that will ensure that the respect for 'u paese vecchiu', or the old country, will stay strong long into the future.

Don't forget to keep sharing your favourite memories and stories with us!

A presto,

Debra :-)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Pistacchio di Bronte - A taste of Sicilian gold!

Following on from my post last month about my love for a 'festa Siciliana', this week's blog is about a different kind of Italian festa.......the 'sagra'. Sagras are celebrated in towns and villages throughout Italy and are local festivals often dedicated to a specific local food. Over the past week hundreds of visitors have descended upon the countryside town of Bronte, in the province of Catania, for its annual 'Sagra del Pistacchio'.

The town of Bronte can be reached from Catania by driving around the foot of Mount Etna and this is one of my favourite journeys in Sicily. The area may not boast the panoramic sea views of Taormina or Trapani but in my eyes it is almost equally as breathtaking. From the road to Bronte travellers can look far across the Sicilian countryside and view miles and miles of valleys and hilltop towns such as Regalbuto and Centuripe. When the sun is setting, it is truly beautiful to watch the shadows descend gradually down the deep valleys - a completely different world to the tourist filled coastal towns.

The mystical atmosphere that surrounds Bronte is even echoed in the town's origins. According to Greek legend, the town took its name from its founder, the Cyclops Bronte, and means 'the Thunderer'. In mythology a group of three Cyclops, including Bronte, lived under Mount Etna and made thunderbolts for Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, to use as weapons.

The pistachio which comes from the town is known as 'oro verde', or green gold, because of its value to the local economy. The value of the 3,000 hectares of Bronte pistachio actually amounts to around 15 million euros and over one percent of the world's pistachio. This pistachio is an ingredient in a wide variety of different dishes, both savoury and sweet, including pistachio salami, pasta al pistacchio and 'gelato al pistacchio', or pistachio icecream. My personal favourites are the 'paste di mandorla al pistacchio' which are soft Sicilian almond cookies with pistachio - truly buonissime!

The 'Sagra del Pistacchio' is worth a visit just to see how locals open up their private garages in order to let visitors sample one of their homemade pistachio dishes. For those who can't get to Bronte but would also like to indulge, here is the recipe for another of my pistachio favourites - 'torrone di pistacchio', or pistachio brittle -


50g butter, plus extra for greasing
100g light soft brown sugar
100g shelled pistachios

Lightly grease a baking tray with some extra butter; set aside. Heat a small heavy-based pan; add the butter, sugar and 4 tablespoons of cold water. Heat over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase heat and bring to a rolling bubble.
Cook for 5-7 minutes until the mixture starts to turn a deep golden brown. Tip in the pistachios and mix for a few seconds to coat the nuts in the caramel. Carefully and quickly pour the mixture on to the baking sheet. Leave to cool and harden.

Buon appetito! A presto :-)


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Mount Etna - Sicily's 'friendly volcano'!

Buona Domenica a tutti!

Taking inspiration from Wednesday's eruption, this blog is dedicated to the almighty and powerful presence of Mount Etna. A natural phenomena which is both fearful and yet at the same time almost considered by Sicilians as an 'amico' or an ever-present companion. It would be impossible to write about Sicily without mentioning the volcano as its presence is constantly felt, especially in the eastern and central parts of the island where the mountain reigns over the surrounding towns and villages.

We have a wonderful, uninterrupted view of Etna from our balcony in the province of Catania and, when we are there, it is the first thing that we see when we step outside with our morning espresso. It is fascinating to watch the changes on the mountain through the seasons - to see the thick snow on the summit melting away as the summer heat makes its appearance.

According to which town around the volcano is having its annual feast day we can watch the sky at different points around Etna light up with bright firework displays. Of course, the most dazzling display of all is when the volcano erupts - it is after all the most active volcano in Europe and volcanologists around the globe have often commented on the fact that the island's residents don't take the threat of Etna as seriously as they should. On the contrary, families take trips up the mountain when it is erupting to see the lava flowing right past them and I have even seen boys playing football nearby!

Every boxing day or 'il giorno di Santo Stefano' it is tradition to drive up the volcano to find some snow to play in and Sicilian 'bambini' relish the chance to put on their snowsuits and indulge in a rare snowball fight! There is even a place high up the mountain called Rifugio Sapienza where the thousands of tourists that visit the volcano every year can buy souvenirs - however in 2002 Mount Etna reminded us just how dangerous it really is when it erupted and destroyed parts of the 'rifugio', including the tourist office.

I shall never forget the fear that I felt when the volcano erupted in July 2001 and the island realised that it was truly in danger. It was an unforgettable experience to see the steps of the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Guardia in Belpasso hidden under the hundreds of Sicilians praying to God to stop the lava. Almost 7000 devotees also attended a mass at the Sanctuary of the 'Madonna della Roccia di Belpasso' in the hope of saving their towns. In 1669 the city of Catania was almost completely destroyed by lava together with 14 other towns and almost 20,000 people were killed - the airport of Catania is still frequently closed due to the volcanic ash.

The mountain has also played its part in many legends over the years such as that of Pluto, the ruler of the underworld, riding out of the volcano on four black horses to capture the Roman goddess Proserpina from the lake of Pergusa. The paradox of this 'friendly volcano' is ever-present on the island and it is well deserving of its place in legends .... in my eyes Etna is in fact a legend in itself.

A presto!

Debra :-)