How to peel a fico d’india

Sicilian Prickly Pears

The exotic prickly pear (fico d’india) is a delicacy in Sicily and thrives around the entire island. Known also as the Barbary fig (opuntia ficus-indica) it is a species of cactus cultivated throughout the world in arid and semiarid areas and is thought to be native to Mexico.

It is best to taste them after the first rains as the plant soaks up the water immediately which fattens the fruit beneath a tough prickly exterior.

But how do you get to the fruit? Good question.

Up to the prickly pears

First you climb up here.

Detail of those prickly pears

Then you pick one of those oval-shaped spiky balls with a special contraption which is a steel cup fastened to a broom handle. You put the fruit in the cup and snap them off at their base. And with some good gloves try your hand at peeling them.

Warning peeling these little beasts is not for the faint hearted if you get a splinter they hurt like hell and are real buggers to get out.

With your prickly pear fastened into the end of a fork the challenge awaits …

Fico 1

On a flat surface with the fork firmly holding the fruit you cut almost all the way through on the ends.

Peeling Ficho d'india

Making a slit down the middle beside where you have the fork you can push the skin back with the knife and fork.

Fico nearly peeled

They are best served fresh so allow them to cool in the fridge.

Their taste? They are filled with hard little pips but the soft flesh is quite refreshing and sweet like a melon. There are many varieties the red ones are the most vibrant but there are also orange, green and so-called ‘white’ ones which are a golden colour.

Red fichi

I’ve seen fico d’india ice cream, sorbet and even liquor so the fruit seems quite versatile. The taste is pleasant but I’d really love if someone could take out the pips for me please! Sicilian’s don’t seem to be bothered by them swallowing them without a second thought.

Also don’t go eating too many of them as they have the sneaky habit of making people painfully constipated. My husband is always telling me about the time my father in law (bless his soul) ate ten fichi d’india and ended up in hospital. So go easy on those fichi!

Buon Appetito

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Sicilian saying of the day: Learning

 

Olives 2015

U lignu si torci quannu e’ virdi

 

Literally the wood is moulded when it is green.

Sicilian wisdom is practical, true and often uses metaphors from the natural world.

This phrase is symbolic of the islands basic ‘folk wisdom.’

In fact habits and character are best moulded in youth.

 

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So you’re married to a foreigner … an Italian perspective

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What’s it like for a Sicilian to be married to a foreigner?

Living in the south of Italy is very much like living in a Middle Eastern country, Sicily isn’t the south of the Italian peninsula but rather a northern state of Africa. Sicilian’s are very traditional and proud of their culture. An islander is foremost a ‘Sicilian’ before they are an Italian. Until a few years ago someone catching the ferry across the strait at Messina to Calabria was greeted with ‘Welcome to Italy’ signage. That is why I have personalized the title of this collective post as marrying a Sicilian was so much more complicated than simply marrying an Italian, it was about being considered a foreigner by the wider community for many years.

There is a Sicilian saying which goes:

Moglie e buoi dei paesi tuoi

Literally ‘wives and cattle from your hometown.’ Now you might be going WTF does that mean? Which was exactly my reaction was when my husband uttered this pearl of Sicilian wisdom into my ear. (If you are involved with a Sicilian be prepared for endless bits of folk sayings to come your way, I suggest you do as I do, ignore them or use them as quaint decorations on ceramic tiles.)

So if the saying said to avoid foreigners in marriage unions, why in the hell did my husband marry me? His response is a laconic Sicilian ‘BOH!’ a guttural sound uttered by islanders which means they have no idea.

Something happened deep in the soul of this quiet sensitive typically Sicilian man to make him fall for this opinionated, free spirited and at times short tempered Australian girl. This ‘cow from the other side of the world.’

Choosing to marry me wasn’t the easiest thing for my man G. to do, his close knit family was convinced he’d move away to Australia and they would never see him again. But once they understood I wasn’t the wicked witch of the West and wanted to experience life in Sicily they gradually accepted me.

When we first moved back to Italy after being married in Australia we were the source of local gossip, many thought I wouldn’t last long in small town Sicily, but I’m still here! There’s no secret to it only perseverance and sacrifice.

 

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There are still many compromises and a tug of war still going on. G. puts up with my questioning, challenging and insisting. He has been dragged to the most isolated capital city in the world (Perth, Western Australia which is also my home town), five times over the past decade.

G’s tried and failed with English thanks to a frustrating hearing problem, which has turned me into a screecher over the years.

My Sicilian male is bemused by my need for constant dialogue and can’t understand the idea behind blogging (but I’m thinking this may be a general ‘male’ problem here – apologies to all the male bloggers out there!)

I harbor ambitions which my G. cannot understand, he sulks and says to himself, why aren’t I enough for my wife? You see I’m not your typical Sicilian spouse, who is usually your stay home type. I need to travel, buy books, take photos, connect to the internet, write, be creative and accomplish things. I’m a really ‘shitty’ housewife. I have turned whites into all the colours of the rainbow by forgetting socks in the wash, I can’t iron to save my life and my house is always dusty. Take me or leave me. It seems my husband can’t live without me, go figure!

Despite our differences G. is a steadfast Siculo male who is still in love with his wife, he is proud of how I have inserted myself into his home and holds me as tightly and passionately as ever in his life. G. frustratingly may not say much but subtly supports me and still tells me I’m ‘bellissima’ even if I’ve gained a few kilos over the years.

My Sicilian man reflects his island, he is deep, intense and spell bounding, lets hope the spell lasts forever.

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Map of Sicily taken from: The fashion blog Rum and Lace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secluded Sicily: Longi

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Longi, Messina nested in the mountains.
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

Longi is a tiny mountain village perched literally on a precipice with one road in and one road out in between the two other rugged mountain towns of Galati Mamertino and Frazzano’

Every time I visit I am amazed at how Sicilian’s were able to establish a place in such an unwelcoming part of the terrain, it makes my head spin to climb up along the road to Longi.

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Detail of Longi
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

I would have never discovered this treasure of a place if not for a dear friend and Compare of my husbands who is from this adorable little town. Sicilian’s often use the word Compare (you may recognize the term from the Godfather movies) to describe a close family friend, or someone who has baptized your child or been a best man at your wedding, they are considered great honors which make a Compare or the feminine equivalent Comare part of the immediate family.

Our Compare from Longi has known my husband since high school and my husband was his best man. It is thanks to him and his family that we often make trips up into the mountains to admire the contrasts in the landscape from the lush grazing lands in the tablelands in between the old forests from the highest town site in Sicily, Floresta down to the outskirts of Longi where everything becomes harsh and rocky.

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Longi’s San Leone procession
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

Over the years we have discovered Longi’s version of St Leone (yes Longi has chosen the same patron as Sinagra), walked through this timeless piazza and tasted wonderful locally made products from ice cream, to porcini mushrooms, to goats cheese and attended baptisms and other religious celebrations associated with the children of our compare in the equally ancient parish church.

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Viva San Leone at Longi
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

This spring we have even discovered the joys of a new adventure park established by the by the wonderful entrepreneurial spirit of the Longesi, together with a surprising array of bed and breakfasts and rustic Trattoria restaurants.

Even if Longi’s hold on the mountains appears precarious it is relatively close to the coast and is a mecca for those who love to pass time in the mountains trekking and escaping the chaos of the overcrowded seaside resorts.

Longi is yet another tenacious Sicilian village who is firmly gripping onto it’s place on the map of Sicily.

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Secluded Sicily: Patti

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Patti, ME © Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

The coastal city of Patti isn’t exactly a typical sleepy little Sicilian town, in the summer it is a buzzing tourist centre and is secured of its importance thanks to the many government offices and organizations that are located there. Patti’s vicinity to other big cities makes it a significant point in the map of north western Sicily.

Patti is symbolic of secluded Sicily in it’s ancientness. I keep coming back to this place thanks to a wonderful literary reference that has given Patti a special place in my heart.

Apart from being the location of a major hospital, law courts, the treasury and land tax office, two major high schools, a university campus and the forestry department amongst others things Patti is also an arch diocese in the Roman Catholic Church.

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Saint Bartholomew Patti, ME © Rochelle Del Borrello

It is this religious element that makes Patti so important. You see, the Basilica of Patti has been around for centuries. The Basilica of Saint Bartholomew is the burial place of Sicilian royalty and nobility dating from the middle ages.

While reading Goethe’s Italian Journey I was left aghast to discover he passed through Patti in the 1786 and was a welcomed guest at the famous monastery.

It surprised me that such an unassuming place could have so much undisclosed history behind it. All it took was a little background reading to discover such an important connection to possibly the most famous travel log of all time.

Patti reminds me never to underestimate any place in Sicily. No matter how dull it may seem, it is always worth taking that exit off the Autostrada to visit Patti and her hidden Mausoleums.

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Secluded Sicily: Sinagra

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Secluded Sinagra (ME)
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

My journey into sleepy Sicilian places began with my current home, Sinagra. It is the town that my husband and his family adopted as they gradually moved towards the coast away from the once agriculturally rich mountain regions whose decline began after the post world war two period.

Sinagra is one of those ancient towns who staunchly survives as it is close enough to the coast to be considered a cheap alternative for summer vacation and is an important connecting node in the transport system for trips towards Catania and the interior regions such as Randazzo and Enna.

Like so many other little villages Sinagra is small but steadfast. It’s three thousand inhabitants are tenacious and hold onto their little town as faithfully as they do their patron Saint Leone. Even the many Sinagrese who I have met in Australia never fail to have picture of good old Leone in their house or some other memorabilia dedicated to their birthplace.

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Sinagra in the summer sun
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

The main feast day of San Leone at Sinagra is on the eight of May, where a procession of the Saint’s statue is paraded through the town and nearby countryside to herald the beginning of spring. His promenades aren’t limited to May, Leone also makes a sprint over the towns main bridge on Easter Sunday amongst a suggestive pyrotechnic display and has been known to make excursions out to his wintertime home in the country church with his same name where he resides from early November until Easter.

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Santo Leo at the festa on the 8th of May
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

Those mad keen Saint lovers of the past used to run San Leone over the rocks of the river that cuts through Sinagra, bare foot and in the middle of the night, where it has been said not a single pilgrim was ever hurt. The Saint seems to have given his blessing to little Sinagra, he helps keep the place alive despite the decay of small townships in Sicily.

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