On the beautiful island of Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean sea, tourism starts winding down during the month of September. But there’s no rest for our Sicilian friends; in fact, it’s one of the year’s busiest times for local families. It’s harvest time in Sicily. Long-time Volunteer Country Manager Phyllis Thompson shares her happy memories of her past autumn visits to the island.
By Phyllis Thompson, Global Volunteers Volunteer Italy Country Manager
Yes, September is a busy month in Sicily for the farmers and the city dwellers with gardens near their homes and nearby countryside. September is the end of the summer harvest of many Sicilian crops. Perhaps the most important is vendemmia, the grape harvest, which begins August and continues through September. Wine in Sicily has a history thousands of years old! As an oenologist remarked: “Sicilian wine encompasses the essence and spirit of 20 civilizations!” Today, for its wine production, Sicily relies on 140,000 hectares (350 acres) of vineyards, most of which are white grapes. It’s the moment when the grapes, having absorbed all the sun and the freshness that Sicily has to offer, are ready to be hand-picked and brought into the cellar to begin vinification.
I smelled the distinct, aromatic sweet tomato smell that took me back to my childhood days in my grandmother’s basement, where she canned tomatoes yearly.Phyllis Thompson ~ Volunteer Italy Country Manager
Also in September, the salt harvest around Trapani takes place, along with the pistachio, almond, and hazelnut harvests. In late September, the olive oil harvest begins and many products from family hand-tended gardens are harvested, canned and preserved.
I remember several years ago being with my cousins in Castelvetrano, Global Volunteers’ new partner community; it was the end of the summer. I witnessed firsthand my cousins and their ‘Cugini di Campagna’ (countryside cousins) harvesting bushels and bushels of tomatoes. At first glance from a distance, I thought they were making root beer or beer because of the ever so many empty dark bottles lined up for filling. They were big empty beer bottles! That thought quickly vanished as I smelled the distinct, aromatic sweet tomato smell that took me back to my childhood days in my grandmother’s basement, where she canned tomatoes yearly. This family Sicilian production line was well manned with men and women, mostly men. I think it was ‘passata’ they were bottling. There was much laughter, yelling, and joking, and everyone was enjoying this labor of love, which would provide them with tomato sauce for cooking until the following summer.
The hot sunny day ended with grilled fish and meat for all accompanied by salad and a heavily laden ‘sweet table’ – only three courses and a never to be forgotten taste experience of both food and friendship. Yes, it was a day to be remembered!
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