This is the last post before the holidays and I wanted it to be super fun and summery.
I love all the seasons but I have definitely a preference for summer and I want to use this post to celebrate the uniqueness of summer in Italy. Summer has some common traits everywhere but there are some peculiar things that belong to a specific country only, so today I’d love to list the Italian ones.
I started jotting down ideas for this post on my own but then I realized that my friends could help me. So I have asked them on Instagram what habit or tradition means “summer in Italy” for them and I’ve received lots of replies. Reading those replies made me feel nostalgic for the long endless summers of my childhood and also made me realize that summer in Italy is really magic.
Summer in Italy begins around June 24th: it is the day of San Giovanni (Saint John), who is the patron saint of many big and small Italian towns. This means celebrations, parades, food stalls, and street fairs. Like many other patron saints, San Giovanni is commonly celebrated with fireworks but there is something that makes it really unique: i falò.
Falò is the Italian word for bonfire and in many locations, a huge fire is lighted on the eve of Saint John’s day as a way to celebrate the saint and to celebrate summer too. In many celebrations, there is a mix of religious and pagan traditions and the way we celebrate San Giovanni makes no exception.
The fireworks and bonfires return for Ferragosto, the day that marks the peak of summer in Italy. That day, which falls on August 15th, is so important that I have written a whole post about it: summer is at its climax, many people are on holiday and they celebrate having barbecues or parties at the beach.
However, these are festivities and traditions that can easily be described. But how I can describe to you the smell, taste or atmosphere of summer in Italy? It is really difficult to translate into words that peculiar feeling of the Italian summer!
This is why I have decided to give you some snapshots of summer in Italy.
I feel that this is the best way to try and describe the elements that identify this season, here in my country. Needless to say, we begin with food. There are many traditional summer foods, many elaborate and tasty recipes, but the ones that unite Italy in summer are really simple.
A staple in Italian summers is il cocomero, which is a colloquial way of calling the anguria (watermelon). If I think about it, a snapshot immediately comes to my mind: the kiosk where they sell slices of anguria. I can clearly picture it: a hot summer night, some lights in the dark, the kiosk open until late and people gathered to eat their slice of summer sitting on wooden benches.
Another image related to the cocomero is a very common sight at barbecues or summer parties: a big old laundry bucket filled to the brim with water and one or more cocomeros happily sitting there waiting to be shared at the end of the party.
Cocomero has a close relative: il cocco, another king of Italian summers. Il cocco is the Italian for coconut and, even if it is not a local food, it is definitely a big part of Italian summers. The snapshot that is related to it involves sound as well: the sound of someone shouting “cocco, cocco bello“, while you are laying at the beach under the scorching sun.
That sounds anticipates the arrival of a young guy, usually from Naples or somewhere in the south, with a basket full of coconut slices, one of which will be your afternoon snack: the sound of coccobello, the mixed taste of coconut and sea salt on your lips, the heat and a catchy tune on the radio perfectly summarizes Italian summers at the beach.
But there is another food that really identifies the Italian summer and it’s the insalata di riso. Insalata di riso is some sort of rice salad with cheese and ham cubes, boiled eggs, olives and pickled vegetables. It has a very bland taste but it is always present at parties, barbecues, picnics, days at the beach and summer lunches at home.
When it comes to the smell of summers in Italy, something that comes to my mind quite frequently is the perfume of basil leaves. Every Italian household has a small basil plant either on the balcony or on the window sill so that basil leaves can always be picked for salads or to add a final touch to a tomato sauce.
Going out on the balcony, picking a couple of leaves, and then smelling the taste of basil on your fingers is something that has a very summer feeling for me and it’s another perfect snapshot of summers in Italy.
But there is another image that comes to my mind when I think of Italian summers and it involves a variety of senses: it is when, on a hot day, you walk down silent streets at midday and hear the kitchen noises coming from the open windows and the distant sound of the TV. Depending on where you are, the smell in the air can be different. Where I live, it is a mixture of the smell of focaccia from the local bakery, of sea salt, and of fresh laundry hanging outside in the sun.
But summer is also made of rituals. There are religious processions, street fairs, traditional feasts called sagre (usually involving food and music), lumini in mare, the tradition of floating paper lanterns in the sea, watching the falling stars on la notte di San Lorenzo, on August 10, and many more.
Rituals are also more private and usually involve food – is there something that doesn’t have to do with food, in my country? I don’t think so. Probably, the most popular ritual of Italian summers is preparing the tomato sauce (called salsa or conserva) for the winter. This usually happens after Ferragosto and involves the whole family because it is quite a long process.
I don’t know if this tradition will last in the future because the younger generations are not interested – myself included, and I am not that young anymore – but it is a pity because those hot afternoons spent cooking tomatoes and filling cans with sauce are a great way to put summer in a jar, ready to be enjoyed in cold winter days.
But now tell me: what are the habits and traditions that make summer unique, in your country? I am super curious to know!
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