Spring in Puglia has finally sprung and the meridian sun is starting lighting up the spring beauty of the countryside. Walking through the rural areas or along the coast you can suddenly find yourself standing waist-deep in a field of Puglia colorful wildflowers.
Spring in Puglia: rituals and cultural events
Here in Puglia flowers are part of an important of rituals and since summer’s coming for this edition’s cultural tidbit, we’re talking San Saint John’s day and its rituals and one of a kind Sagre (Italian harvest festivals usually dedicated to a particular crop, like wine, figs or snails): La sagra della municeddra.
For ages people the world over have perceived the period around the summer solstice as a time of heightened cosmic power and influences both beneficial and sinister over the natural world. Summer solstice rituals intended to either harness positive potential or ward off evil began to shift in the early Christian period from pagan or cosmos-focused to a more Christianized, or church-sanctioned, if you will, tradition of observance focused on Saint John the Baptist, whose nativity was established as 24 June in the Gospel of Luke.
Saint John’s eve and Saint John’s day also represent a period of the year highly associated with bonding, reconciliation, and marital and societal harmony.
Apulian tradition: 24 june, the Saint John’s eve
Many Italians, to whom this night is known as both La notte di San Giovanni, or Saint John’s eve, and La notte delle streghe, night of the witches or witches’ eve, carry out practices intended to invoke the saint’s protection from a range of ills—from disease and physical shortcomings to spells, the evil eye, and even bad love matches—yet are in fact practicing certain vestigial pagan, summer solstice rites.
In the Apulian tradition, strongly connected to the power of fire to illuminate, revive, and purify, women choose a companion with whom they wish to form a lifelong bond. Writing his/her name on a cotton tissue
Holding or tying their hands together, the two leap over a ceremonial Saint John’s bonfire on the night of the 23rd to cement this bond.
On the night of 23 June, women throughout Italian rural areas set out into the fields to gather flowers and herbs, which are then used to prepare the therapeutic and beautifying potion known as Saint John’s water (sometimes called Saint John’s elixir).
Now, according to folklore Saint John’s figure is even related to snails! Let’s see how.
Eat snails: Apulia food tradition
Perceptions of Saint John’s eve as a night in which harmony and balance may be restored come to us in part from an ancient Roman festival that took place at midsummer dedicated to Concordia, goddess of harmony. During the so-called Concordia banquets, Romans would gather together to feast on pots of stewed snails, an animal which in the Roman ideology represented various negative life aspects. A predominant theory as to why the poor lowly snail came to stand for things like discord and ill-will relates to its anatomy: the ‘eyes’ of the snail recall the age-old curse known as the evil eye, or malocchio in Italian. Romans believed that in the ingestion of the thing representing discord they were in essence courting accord, for which reason it was important to consume snails with one’s friends and one’s enemies.
To eat snails with anyone with whom you’d had any kind of disagreement during the previous year—whether a lover’s quarrel, a fight with your in-laws, a business deal gone bad—meant to literally digest, hence dissolve, any negativity between individuals. In this context then, the eating of snails was a means to foster reconciliation and restore harmony, both marital and societal.
A fascinating yet lesser known anecdote speaks of an additional benefit to males who eat snails on Saint John’s day: namely, protection against a wife’s infidelity. Simply put, the eating of the snail’s horns, called le corna in Italian, functions like a kind of sympathetic magic, a protective act against being cuckolded—called, in Italian, mettere le corna.,
What we can tell for sure is that in Apulia they were considered the “meat of the poor”, the little snails picked up from the dry bushes of the Murgia or from vineyards after the rain are nowadays a dainty morsel for gourmets and in Salento, lumache snails are a seasonal treat in line with prawns.
So, if you believed that the French are the only ones to cook and eat snails, you are wrong!
In Salento “municeddhi” (snails) are a traditional dish cooked in various ways (roasted or in a pan) but here you have the one we like most:
Pugliese cooking: snails with tomato sauce
- 300 gr. of snails
- 10 cherry tomatoes
- 1 onion
- 1 glass of white wine
- extra virgin olive oil
- chili pepper
- bay leaves
- Wash the snails well with cold water and boil them in plenty of salted water. Meanwhile, get a saucepan and stir-fried the onion. When the onion is golden, add the snails and cook for about ten minutes on very low heat.
- Add the tomatoes, the bay leaves and the basil with salt and pepper. Mix everything well and cook for another twenty minutes, still low heat, and stirring occasionally. You will be surprised by the taste!
But, if you just want to give it a try the best way is to come to Puglia where every summer, there is one of the oldest and most famous festival of Salento dedicated to snails.
In addition to snails or to Saint John’s night experience, there are many more reasons to come and join us on our Spring in Puglia – Summer in Salento tour, June 21st – June 30th. Come discover gorgeous beaches, thousands of years of history, and intriguing regional festivals that curiously intertwine legend, dancing, and a kiss from a certain spider.