Notwithstanding the ludicrous temperatures in my part of Sicily this week, (25 degrees at 6 am, and 50 at 2 pm), the rituals must go on. Now is the time when driving to work you encounter little old men parked appallingly on minor road and blind bends, harvesting capers at dawn, no doubt on the orders of ‘er indoors’. This weekend most of my acquaintances have let it be known that at dawn on Sunday they will be out scavenging wild origano – so much better than the farmed stuff. Occasionally one will invite me along knowing that my consumption wont be for all and sundry, so the risk is minimal – but usually the locations where the wild origano grows are kept secret within the closest family unit, so as not to risk the source of this kitchen staple.
And of course the tomatoes are ready. In the waitroseland of the north, where you can spend 6 quid on 4 tomatoes clinging onto a stalk for dear life, it’s difficult to comprehend that here you can get 20kg of tomatoes for a tenner. On the facebook market place people sell crates of toms according to variety – Piccadilly, pixel or marmante – whatever you need for your salsa. Now is the time, even in high summer, where families and extended families meet up at one of the members houses in the country and set up the outdoor kitchen at dawn. A bombola of gas and a ring, a huge pan, at least 100 litres, which would put my Mum’s jam pan to shame, to heat the tomatoes. Another group sterilising and washing bottles, and a third with the machine to extract all the tomatoey goodness and discard the skins. They’ll knock out 500 bottles or so under a blazing sun, which will then be divided up according to rank.
In town little old ladies spread out tomatoes cut in half on any available wall to dry in the sun and conserve in oil, and the hardy few will make a concentrate of tomato (‘u strattu) and the local speciality, ‘capuliata’. It may be that locals want a nice new flat with garage and lift, and a full optional Jeep to take the kids to school, but scratch the surface and the peasant society which existed here till the ‘economic miracle’ in the 60’s, is alive and well. And it’s what makes Sicily unique.