Sicily and its oranges: a 600 year-old love story
How oranges arrived in Sicily and why this land decided to make them their own.
Citrus fruits today are an essential part of Sicilian culture, but it was not always so. Learn how these highly prized fruits came to the island and how the locals made them their own.
How citrus fruits arrived in Italy
Citrus fruits were brought to Italy with the Arab invasion around 850 AD. The country possesses a warm climate with mild winters and wind: the perfect conditions for large-scale cultivation of these fruit. At first only bitter and yellow oranges were grown, though over time the sweeter and red varieties were also developed.
Between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Sicily became a strategic location for the cultivation and business of selling citrus fruit as well as the global benchmark for the production of oranges.
Blood oranges and Sicily today
The climate and local conditions in the plain of Catania, near the volcano, favour the growth of these fruits and it is the only territory in the world that produces real Sicilian blood oranges. The Sicilian citrus groves are monitored and cared for by attentive local farmers whose lives are devoted to taking daily care of these fruits.
The Sicilian citrus groves are numerous and are spread all over the territory depending on the species. There is a large concentration of blood oranges in the Catania plain, on the slopes of Etna, near Siracusa and also at Enna which is known as the ‘navel of Sicily’ for its central position in the island.
The Tarocco variety of blood orange is believed to have been developed most recently. It was first grown in Pedagaggi di Carlentini, in the province of Siracusa, a small locality with a population of just under 1000 who are focused on the production of blood oranges.
The blood orange sagra at Palagonia
The local community take their blood oranges so seriously that they celebrate the fruit in a dedicated sagra. The Sagra dell’arancia rossa takes place every year around the last week of February, in Palagonia, a small province near Catania.
What is a sagra?
A sagra is a type of village festival dedicated to food. The villagers decorate the streets with stalls laden with produce and enjoy folk dancing, music and of course take the chance to indulge on local gastronomic specialities.
Locals and tourists can taste different orange juices and try recipes that are made with these highly prized citrus fruits at this sagra. The event is a party to celebrate these special fruits that are so highly prized by locals that they call them ‘l’oro rosso’ (red gold).