Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Peaches (and more) at Leonforte

The Sagra delle pesche (peach festival) is what brought us to the 17th century town of Leonforte. And the fact that my husband's father's family comes from this town several generations ago. And, the fact that even with such family ties, my husband had never been there before.

It took over an hour to reach the town, and, as is usually the case in Italy, such relatively short distances by American standards can mean feeling transported to a completely different reality in this country (and I mean that in a good way!). Clean, cool air. Open country. Special town.

Out there it is open countryside with little development beyond the series of hill towns that dot the horizon and share Mount Etna as the backdrop. Leonforte is one of these towns and on the steep road that leads up to it some of the other hill towns can be seen near and far. (In my pre-motherhood days I would have said to my husband 'can we go over there too'?! I know better now.) This is not the picture perfect type of hill town that you get in Tuscany. Don't get me wrong, I love Tuscany, but Sicily has a rugged, worn beauty and an incredible diversity of landscape that gives it a special appeal.

The town seems to hang on the edge of a cliff and all the streets are going either down or up. There are two exceptionally beautiful (and kid-friendly) piazzas along the main street that takes you through the historic center. Here some of the stands were setting up for the peach festival. We got free tastes of the peaches, saw a kids folk dancing group, a marching band and the co-op of stalls selling Leonforte peaches and peach jams. Tasty. Not dripping juicy like summer peaches, but sweet all the same.

Further down the road I couldn't help but buy a traditional basket made by a nice old man, who told me he learned basket making when he was a small boy from his father and uncle. I asked him if young people were still learning how to make baskets today and, as suspected, he replied 'no'!. I promptly volunteered to be his pupil. I could barely understand his Italian and I am sure he didn't understand mine!

The main road ends in front of an old church and a community garden that has perfect views of the old houses that cascade down the hill and the farmland below. A wow moment. It was a great place for hanging out, picture snapping, and letting the bambino stretch his legs up and down the path, where he cultivated his on-going passion for picking anything berry-like off plants.

For a split second we considered walking further downhill, what seemed a short distance when viewed from above, to visit the town's main landmark, the Granfonte (Big Fountain, pictured above), literally positioned at the foot of the hill and the lowest point of the town. That would have been a BIG mistake, as we would NEVER have made it back up carrying a baby and pushing a stroller. The smart alternative was waiting until we were snugly in the car, where baby quickly fell asleep, to drive down to the fountain. Gorgeous. While baby slept in the car, we took turns climbing the fountain to rinse the peach juice off our hands and have a drink of the clean water and a last glimpse of the town before our drive home.

What we took home with us from Leonforte: fresh peaches (for immediate consumption), dried fava beans (for making macco, a fava bean soupy pasta dish), 4 large sausages for grilling at home, wild aspargus (for making an asparagus frittata), uplifted spirits.

Future plans: visit those other enticing hill towns!

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