We spent a day at the foothills of Etna this Sunday and finally got a sense of autumn. Living by the water the days have been so mild it reminds me of my childhood growing up in Los Angeles where the only sign of the very gentle transition from summer to fall was the pile of leaves that would appear one day underneath our large maple tree. Here in Sicily our evergreen filled backyard does not even give us that satisfaction.
Less than an hour climb up Etna with the car, though, brings you to a whole different climate. Up there the temperature dropped, jackets came out, the clouds hovered low over the hillside below and the ground was damp from on and off drizzles from the night before. When we arrived at the Barone di Villagrande winery the rain had stopped so we headed straight to the woods looking for fallen chestnuts and the pretty crocus flowers peeking out from underneath the thick accumulation of leaves. We concentrated on collecting chestnuts and poking around for different kinds of mushrooms, none of which we picked for our ignorance about mushrooms altogether. This was too bad because we were sure some of them were edible. I couldn't help but throw in some pretty oak leaves and acorns in the chestnut bag, too. My mother-in-law instead gathered bunches of crocus flowers with plans of allowing the stigmas to dry out to obtain the spice saffron. This was new information to me and she promised a taste of risotto alla Milanese produced with her own saffron one day in the future. Although the nearby town of Zafferana Etnea is most famous for its production of honey, the name is said to derive also from the word for yellow in Arabic (zaufanah), which refers to the large quantities of broom and saffron in the territory.
A long meal followed in the winery's pretty restaurant, accompanied by tastings of their white and red wines. The best course by far was the dessert due to the mont blanc made from their own chestnuts and the mostarda made from their own freshly pressed grapes - delicious!
Today it is raining again, and hard, so I cannot pretend to be fooled about what season it is. Snacking on roasted chesnuts and decorating our windows with dried leaves has been helping too!