Diary of our visit in May All Photos ©Puntarelle & Co
The Strawberries are just beginning to ripen in English fields, but landing in Sicily it feels like high summer. It’s the perfect time for the Puntarelle & Co team to visit the island to see for ourselves how the produce we bring you is grown, catch-up with existing suppliers and forge relationships with new ones.
As it’s Sunday afternoon, the markets are closed and the growers are taking a well-earned break with their families so we head for the beach. But any thoughts of spreading a beach towel are put on hold when we first encounter the rocky coastline south of Syracuse. The sight, and smell, of wild thyme stops us in our tracks and we are in sea vegetable heaven with swathes of wild fennel, samphire and sea rosemary by our feet. How we wish we could send you a taste of this wild Sicily.
Monday morning is here and we’re checking out the local Market. Shopping bags are being filled enthusiastically with exceptionally sweet local Oranges and new season green Lemons. Stalls are piled high with the freshest Greens - Spinach, Broccoli, Wild Rocket, Courgettes and Kohlrabi. Huge bunches of Basil and Parsley sit alongside Broad Beans, Fine Beans and red/cream speckled Borlotti. Various types of Violet and White Aubergines and red/green streaked peppers nestle-up to Datterini, Marinda, an Ox Heart type and a local variety of plum tomato. There are piles of sweet baby watermelons, Cantaloupe-type melons, cherries, strawberries, apricots and peaches, both flat and round. The restaurants of Ortigia are making full use of the local produce, so, of course, there’s lunch to be had before catching up with our suppliers.
Tuesday is a busy day with visits to the Wholesale Fruit & Veg Market a priority. The Market day starts late at 5-6am and all deals are done by 9am so we join the rush of little Piaggio Ape trucks hastening to buy and sell. Stalls are full to bursting with the freshest local produce and the market is abuzz with negotiations carried out with much passion and gesticulation. Scents of lush green Leaves, ripe Tomatoes and super-fragrant Wild Strawberries fill the air.
So many fruits are brought to Market at their absolute peak of ripeness – fantastic for local consumption but it means, sadly, we cannot choose them to bring back to London. We have to resist several varieties of ripe Apricots; large, fragrant and luscious Nespole, way too delicate to travel; and delicious tender, thin-skinned Cherries.
What will definitely be on our pallet are the small red/yellow Watermelons so loved by our customers, their flesh made sweet, tight and juicy by Sicilian sun; locally-grown, very fragrant Cantaloupe Melons; Juicy round Peaches and the first Flat Peaches as their scent is irresistible. And there will be new season Sicilian Lemons, which at this time of year are green. Just as Sicilian Oranges develop their characteristic blush from exposure to some cold weather, lemons remain green unless the temperature drops. Sicilians love these summer lemons and so do we. You will find deliveries of these aromatic, unwaxed Green Lemons on our shelves right through summer.
Our customers expect Puntarelle & Co to have the best Tomatoes available and we happily select several of the sun-ripened varieties on offer here. Pale, round and firm Aubergines will be making the trip back to London along with those large, fleshy, red/green streaked peppers which are another customer favourite. We are excited to find flat pink Cipollini Onions. These are so good roasted in the oven with those aubergines and peppers, so they are a must. Great quality, pungent new season Garlic – of the keeping variety, rather than wet – will be coming to London too.
We leave the final details of our shipment in the capable hands of our trusted grower/supplier, Az. Agricola Laudani,while we make our last visit of this trip to a very special organic citrus ‘Garden’.
The San Giorgio Estate in Scordia is a magical place. A glorious organic oasis on the plain below Mount Etna, it has breathtaking views of the volcano. Owners Rudolf and Benedikta von Freyburg took the decision to grow organically when they realised chemical sprays were affecting the health of their farmworkers. The transition to organic took 3 years and these days chickens and geese crop the weeds instead of them being sprayed. All kinds of herbs, such as fennel and lemon verbena, grow wild on the land, including some that are new to us, and are used locally in breads and pastries. Purple sage and Oregano are grown in the kitchen garden along with Trompetta Zucchini. Several varieties of citrus and other fruits are nurtured on around 120 hectares of land. Beehives sit in the middle of the groves to pollinate the flowers and provide Orange Blossom Honey. We take a tour of the estate with Dr Bottino, driving past Palms, Cyprus and Pink Peppercorn trees, stopping to admire, smell and taste all the good things they grow here.
The Estate’s position on the Island and selection of citrus varieties ensures a long harvest from the end of November to the beginning of June but the climate is not without its challenges. Six weeks ago a sudden hailstorm damaged 70% of the Flat Peach crop at a critical time – the aroma of these on our visit is, however, amazing. The ‘Ruby Red Apricot crop was spared and should be ready to harvest soon. A small number of lemon and lime trees are also grown and the Freyburg’s are experimenting with new cross-varieties such as Lemonquats and Cemquats. The ‘Rudolfina’ Clementine, as described to us, sounds wonderful and we look forward to trying them when they are ready. We are excited to find a few Avocado trees, heavy with fruits. Their season is short and we are happy to know these will be coming to London for our customers. Nearby Nespole fruits hang ripe and heavy and Magheritta, the silky-haired goat, is resting in the shade offered by a lemon tree.
Everything on the Estate is carried out with great care and attention and we feel the privilege of collaborating with people who clearly love what they do. We will be working with the San Girogio Estate much more a little later in the year. After an inspiring tour of their beautiful Estate we leave Sicily, returning to London with heads full of plans for the future to bring you, our customers, more of the best produce Sicily has to offer.