After a long and scary ride through dark and slippery serpentine roads we finally arrived at Case Vecchie where Fabrizia and Béa were waiting for us.
I recovered amazingly fast from the very exhausting journey at the sight of the beautiful estate and the smell of Sicilian food specialities.
I had been very curious about the other workshop participants. At first glance they all seemed to be very friendly and soon I was astonished about how far many of them had travelled to meet in this remote spot of Sicily.
We were a completely sold old group of 12 women from all over: Kat from Toronto, Nicole, Melissa and Ericha from Philadelphia, Jana and Elyse from New York, Sandrine from Cyprus, Jasmine from Milan, Heather from Vancouver, Béa from Boston and Zoe and me representing Greece and Venezuela. Furthermore there were two special guests: Ximena from Madrid and Philippe from Sao Paolo, who were staying at Case Vecchie for cooking classes. The two interns, Linda and Andrew, who were working at that time for Fabrizia, also came from New York.
I immediately knew that this diversity of nationalities would enrich my days on Sicily. For this reason alone, the whole trip was already worthwhile.
Fabrizia welcomed us warmly with Sicilian wine and delicious dishes which were served in Italian way: ‘primo, secondo piatto, contorno e dolce’. I soon started talking with each one of the persons and without noticing I immediately felt at home.
After Béa introduced herself and revealed the schedule for the next day we were distributed in cosy and comfortable bedrooms dispersed in three different houses.
After having our first Italian breakfast with sweets and fruits Fabrizia showed us her wonderful orchard and vegetable garden. Under a fine drizzle the tiny heads of lettuce and the bright coloured broccolis were growing vigorously as if in competition. The ladder leaning against the orange tree was urgently inviting me to pick some fresh fruits. Looking into the distance I was surprised about the intense green surrounding and the snowy peaks disappearing into the horizon. I wouldn’t have expected this scenery in middle of the Mediterranean. Only because of the presence of cactuses and almond trees I believed I wasn’t in Ireland.
Afterwards we started our first food styling lesson using huge baskets of freshly picked fruits, herbs and flowers from the garden. As I cannot avoid doing, I shot tons of photographs of the different settings. Now, back home, I’m struggling choosing a selection of what I consider are the best pictures.
At the time of our arrival the weather was uncomfortable cold, humid and rainy. When travelling from Germany to Italy in spring, I expected Mediterranean and sunny climate. I was deeply shocked about the rough weather, the piercing wind and the strong rain.
Luckily weather changed from day to day. The continuous rain got softer and softer till it disappeared completely taking away the wind. By the end of my stay on Sicily I was enjoying southern spring temperatures and the caresses of the sun on my pale skin.
After a comforting ride through green Sicilian hills we reached the ricotta cheese farm from Enzo and Filippo.
I immediately loved the place with the great amount of long haired sheep and glooming white unsteady walking lambs. I tried unsuccessfully again and again to capture the attention of the sheep, hoping one of them giving me a short glance but none of them took a look at me. They completely ignored me. They only had time to chew, chew and chew. They looked as if they were starving but I’m sure they were not. After all my failed trials I headed to the completely tiled room where Enzo showed us the whole process of making ricotta.
The cheese maker proudly stood with his white rubber boots in front of the giant aluminium pot and stirred continuously the milk, talking to us but never loosing sight of the thickening liquid.
He skilfully immersed his forearms deep in the whitish amorphous milky mass and placed heavy lumps in big white plastic colanders for draining.
We could follow every step of the making of the cheese and also try each one of the different produced results, tasting ourselves through a variety of consistencies from soft and slimy to hard and consistent.
The long process from the milking by hand of the sheep to the final producing of fresh ricotta cheese is nowadays unfortunately dominated by only a few farmers. It is a disappearing traditional handicraft which is being devoured by the costs of increasing sanitary requirements and the competition of cheap mass production.
It was a great joy to observe the conviction with which the farmer showed us this family tradition inherited from generation to generation. Tasting the delicate flavour of this ricotta was a pleasure for my palate, not knowing by the time I would be soon savouring Fabrizia’s delicious ricotta gnocchi.
While swallowing these little soft bulks I discovered joyfully a new favourite food I’ll surely cook for myself in future repeatedly. Luckily Fabrizia included this fabulous recipe in the papers she handed out.
I surrender the delicacy and smoothness which is hidden in this apparent simple dish !!
On a sunny morning we headed the winding road to Palermo and after crossing the crowded streets and battling our way through the usual daily traffic jam we visited the farmer market.
Nowadays it’s hard to find farmer markets selling regional and seasonal products. Sadly they are getting very scarce.
It was a pleasure for my senses walking through huge piles of shiny and crispy vegetables. Farmers kept constantly swapping water onto the greens to keep them crunchy.
It was artichoke season on Sicily. A feast for my eyes: everywhere I saw high stacks of baby artichokes. And what was even better, I could enjoy the taste of them prepared in many different ways.
Italian artichokes are a lot smaller than the ones you can usually buy in Düsseldorf.
I ate them during my stay on Sicily everyday and each time I was surprised about how tender they were.
The Sicilian farmers looked at first irritated about this group of people taking photographs. They probably asked themselves why we were taking photos of common vegetables and sea food.
They might have asked themselves where we were coming from, what for we were studying so intensely these domestic aliments.
After observing us for a while, they seemed to get used to us. Slowly they slid in focus and started wanting us to photograph them and posed proudly in front of their stands. Suddenly a wave was launched and local people didn’t want it to stop. Happy traders didn’t want to be photographed alone, they wanted to be captured with at least one of the charming girls of our group.
A farmer called Nuncio even asked us to send him a portrait of himself handing out immediately his postal address.
I guess local market sellers had today at least as much fun as we had.
During my second visit to Palermo I had the opportunity to see the city from a different side, under gentle March rays of sun.
This time I wandered the streets and allowed the city to seduce me.
I discovered former majestic facades marked by the influence of different civilizations even tough they’ve been washed up at the pass of centuries.
A closer look behind the flaking paint shows Sicily as a huge melting pot of cultures.
The influence of different occupiers blend uniquely together. The best example is the eclectic Cathedral of Palermo.
Within the short time I could only gain a broad overview of the richness of this Mediterranean culture reflected magnificently in its architecture.
Now I feel deeply curious about the hybrid heritage of the island and I would like finding out much more about Sicily.
I had the luck to spend the 19th of March on Sicily and to participate on the Festa San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph Feast).
One tradition Sicilian hold especially dear is their devotion to their local patron saints. Their homage to them include elaborate feasts and food.
According to legend, a terrible drought plagued the people of Sicily. It destroyed most of their crops and many people died of starvation. The people began praying to Saint Joseph and promised to celebrate his feast day by having special altars abundant in food that would be shared with all people, rich and poor, as their thanksgiving to him.
On March 19th the prayers were answered and since then Sicily’s people have kept their promise to San Giuseppe by preparing elaborate food altars.
Fabrizia arranged the visit of two altars where the hosting families welcomed us as if we were neighbours or friends. The long tables were opulent decorated and showed the devoted and intense cookery work of the family members.
Afterwards Fabrizia led us to a bakery where a woman showed us the way she baked traditional bread for the feast.
We gathered in the back room of the bakery around a granite working table where some floured and airy lumps of dough were waiting to be processed.
She kneaded the smooth dough with natural easiness and formed rapidly an ornate crown. Her experienced hands molded with artisanal skill a Child Jesus holding the world in his hands.
The movement of her hands pushing and working the white and soft doughy mass had an ethereal effect on me. The rhythmical moves imparted to me a kind of inner calm, a peace of mind.
It was a wonderful gift to having the possibility of joining devoted believers on such an important feast and experiencing their deep gratitude to God.
We spend four gorgeous days with daytrips, talks, walks, interchanging ideas and of course taking photos, cooking and eating together.
Sadly it occurred as it always happens while you’re having a good time: days went by far too quickly.
I’m unbelievable happy about having met this heterogeneous group and sharing with like-minded individuals: longing and searching for individual ways of travelling and knowing places and cultures. I feel immensely fortunate for having had the great chance to know a little bit each one of the group and for sharing with gorgeous people.
The diversity of interesting personalities inspired me extremely and my soul will reap full benefit from it for a long time.
I hope to stay in touch with all of them and maybe, who knows, to meet one or the other in some part of the world again. Thank you all for the great time together!
Group photo by Béatrice Peltre
This short trip made me curious of more and I’ll surely be visiting Sicily again.
I already knew I’d love the Sicilian homemade food but I didn’t know I would fall in love with this spot of the world. Now I’d love to see the whole range of landscapes the island offers and deepen in this for me vaguely known culture.
I still cannot say what I’ll miss more: the imposing landscapes or the fading Facades of the city of Palermo. Thisfor I need to come back.
Arrivederci Sicilia! Hope visiting you soon again.