In the microclimate around Mount Etna, Sicily, a special fruit grows. The red oranges, also known as Blood Oranges, are celebrated with a sagra as winter draws to a close.
The Arab invasion of Italy in the ninth century brought with it citrus fruits. The southern part of the country, including Sicily, benefits from a warm climate with mild winters. These are the perfect conditions for the cultivation of the fruit.
Etna’s slopes help the fruit ‘blush’
Etna’s unique microclimate is crucial for blood oranges. During the day the winter temperature averages 15ºC, while at night the mercury can register below freezing for around an hour. It is that drop which is essential for making the fruit “blush” with the anthocyanin pigment. It also helps make the fruit sweet.
The Blood Orange pigments are powerful antioxidants. Along with a high vitamin C content, they deliver great health benefits.
Celebrating Sicily’s fruit
The orange trees thrive on rich volcanic soil around Etna. The Tarocco variety is probably the most recent strain. In recognition of the quality of the “red orange of Sicily” and its environment, the fruit has the EU Protected Geographical Indication standard.
The local community take their blood oranges seriously and celebrate the fruit in the Sagra dell’arancia rossa. The sagra takes place every year around the last week of February, in Palagonia, a small province near Catania. A sagra is a village festival dedicated to food. The villagers decorate the streets with stalls laden with produce and enjoy folk dancing, music and of course local gastronomic specialities.