18 August 2010


SARONNO, Italy - Wednesday is market day in Saronno. With more than 80 market stalls, it is the biggest market in this area and people come in from all the smaller towns around Saronno just to shop here. It can get very crowded, and with good reason: the prices are good and the food is fresh.

Saturine Peaches

They sell everything at this market, stuff to eat like fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, cheese, cookies, breads and spices, plus clothes, tablecloths and other household linens, pots, pans, plants and flowers, underwear, clothes, shoes, handbags, yarn and thread, just about anything you can think of.

Yummy Peaches

It’s always interesting to see what the local housewives are buying, and every once in a while I discover something new. My new discovery last week it was Saturnine peaches. “You know where they’re from?” the fruttivendolo asked me as I was taking a picture of the peaches on display at his stall.

“Yep,” I said. “Sicily.”

He smiled. “Not just Sicily,” he said, “but from the area around Bronte in the province of Catania, near the slopes of Mount Etna. They love that volcanic soil. Here, go ahead, try one.”

While they may have a strange shape, like a mini-donut, the flavor is so sweet and delicious they literally melt in your mouth. Mr. Fruttivendolo says they are the original peach, how peaches used to be back in the day of Adamo and Eva and cautions me not to fall for the Saturnine knock-offs called “tipo Saturnine”. They are not the real thing.

Summer Bounty

Well, we were both wrong about where they come from. Saturine peaches don’t grow in Sicily but in le Marche, the province that borders Emilia-Romagna and the Republic of San Marino. And they don’t date back from the days of Adam and Eve, well, maybe they do but they have only been grown in Italy since the early 1980’s. The squashed peaches that grow in Sicily are called umbilico di Venere or pesche tabacchiere, and while they look the same they are technically different. If you are very imaginative you might be able to see how they resemble Venus’ bellybutton, but pesche tabacchiere totally escapes me.

A Cornucopia of Fruit

On http://www.pesca-rosalia.com/ a site dedicated to these special peaches, they claim the peaches are called tabacchiera because of their snuff box like shape, but I don’t get it. I’m not an expert on snuff boxes, far from it, but the snuff boxes I looked up on the internet do not look particularly squashed.

The name pesche comes from the Latin persica as the Romans thought this fruit came from Persia. The Romans then went on to develop several other varieties of peaches as the fruit was incorporated into the Italian diet. In Sicily they still call all types of peaches persiche.

Pretty as a Peach

The pesca-rosalia site also has some interesting peach recipes, and you can substitute regular peaches for the Saturine, although the results probably won’t be as sweet. If you are further intrigued by these beauties and find yourself in Sicily in the summer months you can visit the orchards and who knows, they may even hire you as a peach picker. That’s a step up from what Peter Piper did, and I bet it’s a whole lot more fun too.

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