By Wendy Hughes

abruzzo

abruzzo

Abruzzo, a region situated in the eastern section of the Italian peninsula, is an area located high up in the desolate mountains, surrounded by lush green pastures which are carpeted in an array of alpine flowers in the spring. It is sparsely populated and the home of the unique brown Marsican bear a symbol of the Abruzzo National Park, which is a subspecies that is genetically different from alpine bears and is endemic to Central Italy. Recent scientific research have estimated that there’s only a population of about 40 individuals within the Park territory and surrounding areas.

shepherd

shepherd

The name Abruzzo, originally Aprutium, appears to have been derived from the Praetutti, one the aboriginal tribes that settled here long before the Romans, and due of its harsh rugged terrain only suitable for agriculture. Therefore the importance of keeping sheep and goats to these people will come as no surprise, but what may surprise you is that although lamb is very popular, especially in spring, you will rarely find mutton in any form in this area.

abruzzo pottery

abruzzo pottery

Bordered by the Apennines, it holds some of Italy’s wildest terrain, silent valleys, fortified villages, and vast untamed mountain plains with delightful waterfalls and springs. However it does have some great historic towns too, and those to look for are: Laniciano, beautiful medieval city dating back to 1098 B.C with its unique character was well as a wide range of coffee shops, restaurants and even a football stadium and shopping centre. San Vito has a panoramic view of the mountains and sea, and is famous as a bathing location, whereas Ortona is famous for its history and monuments that survived the last war. Other towns to look out for are Fossacesia, with its rail link between Pescara, and Gessopalena, dating back to ancient times. The medieval citadel was destroyed by the Germans in World War Two and what was left of the ancient centre has been restored and transformed into the open-air “Museo del Gesso”. One of Gessopalena inhabitants, Domenico Troilo, was a leader of the Abruzzese Resistance was Domenico Troilo and he was awarded a silver medal for his bravery. The Brigata Majella was formed in the October 1943 by partisan officers and soldiers from the Italian army, and joined by many local peasant villagers. There were very young and preferred to fight separately, but in the summer of 1944, they operated under the command of the British 8th Army until the end of the war. The Brigata was the only partisan brigade awarded the Gold Medal for Military Bravery.

abruzzo wool

abruzzo wool

Many of these cities are rarely visited by outsiders, and despite attempts to bring modern industry to the area, it is the home-based crafts such as pottery weaving, knitting, iron working, goldsmith working and lace making that has remained, as well as the shepherd, the dominant symbol of Abruzzo. These gartered and goatskin-jacketed shepherds can be seen throughout the region, carrying their heavy clubs, as they move their vast flocks over the upland pastures in summer. They live in stone huts, where they can be heard practicing their huge bagpipes and the a piffera,’ a kind of rustic oboe. As winter approaches these shepherds can be seen making their way down to the plains, along the grassy tracks into the busy lowland

towns, where they mingle, and often curse the modern day motorist. Occasionally they treat the visitor to a one-man bagpipe and piffera band, much to everyone’s amusement, but like most mountain folk they do not care to compete with the big cities, preferring to tend to their animals and carry on maintaining traditions and country skills, this is their way of life.

brown bear of abruzzo

brown bear of abruzzo

Sheep farming dominates this area, and the diet consequentlyis made up of lamb. For example abbacchio, unweaned baby lamb, is usually cut into chunks and roasted. These young lambs are milk-feed and at the time of butchering weigh between 10 and 20 pounds (5-10k). Abbacchi is often sold whole, although you can also buy them cut in half or quartered, but be aware that if you do buy abbacchio in pieces, remember that the animal should be small. If it’s too large, then it is no longer abbacchio). The meat is distinctively light in colour, very tender, with a delicate flavour, little fat, and best cooked simply with mild seasonings.

Lamb with Rosemary, salt and bread

Lamb with Rosemary, salt and bread

Classic recipes include castrato, castrated lamb, often cooked as a casserole with tomatoes, wine, herbs, onion and celery (intingolo di castrato). When in the region look out for a dish called agnello a cutturo, an aromatic herby casserole served with bread. The other crucial ingredient is chilli (peperoncino in the rest of Italy, but known locally as pepedinie). It is used liberally in all kinds of dishes, and in a region prone to magic and superstition, is believed to be a cure for many ailments ranging from neuralgia to arthritis. Most famous of all dishes is the maccheroni alla chitarra, made by pressing a sheet of pasta over a wooden frame wired like a guitar, which is usually served with a tomato or lamb sauce. Other local pastas include the roughly cut strengozze and maltagliati, both served with a lamb sauce. Cheese tends to be pecorino, and most often mature and grainy like parmesan, but you may also find young cheeses that are still mild, soft and milky.

music

music

As you can imagine the culture of Abruzzo is steeped in legends and superstitions, for example a knife or axe is always kept on the windowsill to keep away evils spirits, and a paternoster, the Lord’s prayer in Latin, should be said when a moth flies around a lamp or a star falls, so releasing a soul from purgatory. The funeral feast still exits to this day, although the dishes must not be washed in the bereaved house to save the family from further sorrow. The men still wear red or blacks capes and the funeral of a child is most moving as music is played and children dressed in white, follow the coffin to ensure that the new little angel has a good send off to its heavenly abode.

piffera

piffera

On a happier note weddings are equally as interesting as colourful ribbons are held tightly across the road. The bridal party is not allowed to cross until they give a gift to the couple. If a widow remarries, a commotion must be caused by the banding of pots and pans during the service, to frighten away the dead spouse who could ruin the whole affair. If you are looking for a holiday with a difference why not check out the Abruzzo region with its unique cuisine, traditions and way of life.

sheep

sheep

About Wendy Hughes

Wendy turned to writing, in 1989, when ill-health and poor vision forced her into early medical retirement. Since then she has published 26 nonfiction books, and over 2000 articles. Her work has appeared in magazines as diverse as The Lady, Funeral Service Journal, On the Road, 3rd Stone, Celtic Connections, Best of British, and Guiding magazine. She has a column in an America/Welsh newspaper for ex-pats on old traditions and customs in Wales. Her books include many on her native Wales, Anglesey Past and Present, The Story of Brecknock, Brecon, a pictorial History of the Town, Carmarthen, a History and Celebration and Tales of Old Glamorgan, and a book on Walton on Thames in the Images of England series, a company history and two books on the charity Hope Romania. She has also co-authored two story/activity books for children. Her latest books are: Haunted Worthing published in October 2010, a new colour edition of The Story of Pembrokeshire published in March 2011, and Shipwrecks of Sussex in June 2011 and Not a Guide to Worthing in 2014. She is working on a book entitled A-Z of Curious Sussex which will be published in 2016 Wendy also works with clients to bring their work up to publishable standard and is currently working on an autobiography with a lady that was married to a very famous 1940’s travel writer. Wendy has spent many years campaigning and writing on behalf of people affected by Stickler Syndrome, a progressive genetic connective tissue disorder from which she herself suffers. She founded the Stickler Syndrome Support Group and raises awareness of the condition amongst the medical profession, and produces the group’s literature, and has written the only book on the condition, Stickler The Elusive Syndrome, and has also contributed to a DVD on the condition, Stickler syndrome: Learning the Facts. She has also writing three novels, Sanctimonious Sin, a three generation saga set in Wales at the turn of the century, Power That Heal set in the Neolithic period entitled Powers that Heal, and a semi biographical book entitled New Beginnings which deals with two generations coping with blindness and a genetic condition. She has also had a handful of short stories published, and in her spare time is working on several at the moment. She also gives talks on a variety of subjects including Writing and Placing Articles, Writing Local History, Writing as Therapy, Writing your first novel, etc, and runs workshops on the craft of writing – both fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and a member of the Society of Authors.