To the foot of the volcano and back, or ‘green gold’ from Bronte
There’s always something to discover, so we set off on a journey once more, this time to Sicily, which I have a soft spot for.
We buy the renowned Bronte pistachios directly from the farmers, who have been growing them manually for generations. I love the fact that I know the producer in person, and I know where they are planted and picked.
It’s always advisable to know where your food comes from.
Sicily is different. No stereotypes!
There’s only volcanic landscape all around us.
Lava keeps cracking under our feet.
It’s amazing to see the gracious pistachio orchards, some of them almost 180 years old, all of them at an altitude of 300 to 900 m. The plants seem to be crawling right out of lava. Where there’s supposed to be soil around the smoking Etna, all you can find is just black lava, which, however, makes a great fertilizer for plants. Volcanic soil is rich in mineral salts and phosphorus, making the pistachios’ taste strong and distinct. I can’t get my head around their vitality in a place where they have to survive without a single drop of rain in the summer, growing on the steepest mountain slopes thanks to their entangled branches and roots as deep as 4 or 5 metres underground.
Pistachio fruits grow in bunches on trees. They are harvested every second year at the beginning of September. They are picked manually, as they used to be in the past, and left to dry in the sun for 3 or 4 days.
It is a truly magic period when the entire Bronte population unites: women, men, old and young alike, everyone goes and picks pistachios. What’s even more fascinating is that every Bronte family has some pistachio trees of their own.
Nunzio explains that harvesting at the right time is as important as the growing method. Pistachio trees are alternate-bearing, meaning that they must be left to ‘rest’ in alternate years.
Unlike other kinds of nuts, pistachio trees bear a rather small amount of fruit – 15 to 30 kg per plant, which is what makes them so expensive.
Before we talked business, the last piece of pistachio trivia I found out was that when you plant trees, you have to plant a male one upwind after every eighth female tree so that wind can blow the pollen from the male flower to the female pistil.
They say that Bronte pistachios are amongst the best in the world.
No wonder: little emerald green seeds covered in a violet velvet shell which are just gorgeous.
Personally, I find pistachio growing on volcanic soil heroic. In fact, this area is called ‘sciara’ in Italian, which translates as ‘uncontrollable, infertile soil’. Here, among lava and rocks, where pistachios grow, it’s almost impossible to plant anything else.
Yet that might be exactly the reason why Bronte pistachios taste so fabulous.