In Sicily there are citrus groves that cast shade on small strawberries, a fresh and fragrant “whim” of mother nature, perfect for a jam
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As I write this article, I close my eyes and I mentally fly to the Agrigento coast: dreaming a little, I can almost feel the heat of spring, the earth burning, the rustle of the sea breeze and the smell, the fragrance of citrus groves.
Given the temperatures, I imagine myself in the open air, in the countryside of Sciacca and Ribera, to share the shade cast by oranges, lemons and peaches with the small red and sweet fruits that are cultivated at their feet: the strawberries of Sciacca and Ribera.
The forgotten product that we rediscover today is the jam of Fragolina di Sciacca and Ribera, result of the transformation of a very small strawberry, similar to the wild ones.
It is said that the presence of this plant in Sicily comes from the plants brought by veterans back from the Great War; the Sicilian soldiers collected the plant from the underwoods of the Friulian and Trentine Alps and replanted them in the vigorous Sicilian countryside.
The cultivation is difficult and demanding because of the sensitivity of the plant and the fruit. Believe me, we are talking about a very rare and unique product, a “whim” of mother nature as defined by Antonino, production manager of the company Scyavuru.
During our brief but intense phone call he conveyed the passion he feels for this product telling me the difficulties and the effort that farmers face when it comes to the harvest. The commitment of Scyavuru in the enhancement of the product starts from the purchase of the raw material, ensuring a fixed price that would adequately reward the few and brave farmers who continue to cultivate the small red fruit.
The grapes are grown and harvested entirely by hand and, from the time of harvesting, the strawberries must be used or consumed within 16 hours at the latest, which is why they are brought to the farm and immediately chilled. The felling allows to preserve and work easily the small delicate fruit.
As you may have guessed, we are in Sicily, in the province of Agrigento, where the farm Scyavuru produces jams, jellies and creams obtained from only local raw materials.
Scyavuru comes from the cooperation of three farms that for generations have been dedicated to the production of fruit and have decided to transform and enhance the materials produced in the land of their property.
The name of the company, which in Sicilian means smell, fragrance, helps us to imagine the importance and respect given to the raw material used to make products more or less fragrant depending on the type of fruit.
For the production of strawberry jam from Sciacca and Ribera, the skilled hands of the company’s women are used for meticulous care in the individual steps.
The productions are made only after receiving an order from the customer, Antonino tells me, because it is a photosensitive product, which oxidizes if exposed to light for too long. The cooking takes place at low temperature, at about 90 degrees and in the open air: it is used a pot without lid that is not in direct contact with the flame. The added elements are all natural: sugar, carob flour and lemon. Once potted, the jam is pasteurized and shipped.
Antoninus states: “We do very little, the finesse of the product is determined by the high quality of the raw material and although we do not earn much from the sale of the product, we still continue to produce it because we firmly believe in the uniqueness of Sciacca and Ribera’s strawberry and in its prestige”.5 THINGS TO REMEMBER ABOUT THIS PRODUCT
The farm Scyavuru is a complete supply chain laboratory of tastes and flavors. It was born in Sicily, in Ribera, from an idea of Rosario Tortorici and Antonino Tornambè that unites three fruit producers for three generations, linked by kinship and passion for agriculture.
The strawberries begin to ripen from the beginning of April and continue to do so until the end of May. The ripe fruits must be harvested every day in order to prevent the decay.
The territory in which the strawberries of Sciacca and Ribera are produced is between the two municipalities of the denomination of this fruit.
The geographical position, the favorable climate and the constant presence of water, ensured by the rivers Verdura, Magazzolo and Platani, have made very fertile the lands of the territory of Ribera, formerly called Allava.
In recent years the competition between the varieties of strawberries has basically cancelled the concept of first fruits and has reduced the strawberry gardens of Ribera and Sciacca from about 200 hectares of the seventies to the 15 hectares of today.
For this reason, a Slow Food Presidium was established to safeguard this small production.
Thinking about the sweetness and aroma of this fruit I can only imagine a dessert. I propose then to use the jam as a topping.
Form a ball of buffalo ricotta cheese as if it were an ice cream and place it in a cup, season with a spoonful of jam and end with a crispy part, almond grain. The result will be a fresh, fragrant and pleasant dessert on the palate.
Gianluca Di Lello