Harvest Traditions in Italy
December 1, 2020

Fall harvest in Italy is filled with some real Italian favorites. Seasonal traditions can vary up and down the peninsula, but some tried and true classics include apples, grapes, persimmons, chestnuts, mushrooms, truffles, squash, pumpkins, and olives. 

Autumn is often a seasonal favorite – filled with changing colors and temperatures as well the harvest time for many types of foods.

The vendemmia, or grape harvest, usually happens at the end of August through early October. Grapes start the fermentation process to transform into wine.

The raccolta delle ulive, or the olive harvest, follows the grape harvest and starts in late October and goes into early December. Olives are picked by hand or machine and pressed immediately to make olive oil, an important staple, and base for Italian cooking.

Harvest time for grapes, olives, and other tree fruits and nuts is traditionally a family affair with everyone pitching in to gather everything and share the bounty afterwards around a fire roasting chestnuts and bruschetta with olio nuovo (new oil) and drinking some frizzy vino nuovo (new wine). Olive oil is particularly spicey when it has just been pressed and most wines are only frizzy around this time of year, which makes for a special treat. With some of the shortest days of the year, there is less time for farming and harvesting outside and more time for gathering together around a warm fire with family. Seems like the perfect setting for giving birth to a Thanksgiving tradition!

Italians don’t have Thanksgiving like in the United States, but they do have many sagre (local festivals) to celebrate important local foods during this time of year. Another day that celebrates harvest and giving thanks for family and friends is the Festa di San Martino (St. Martin’s Feast Day). This Cattholic holiday most likely replaced the pagan celtic traditions of the Samhain festivities, which is also where Halloween traditions have their roots. Celebrating change and new beginnings, St. Martin’s Feast Day has been celebrated in Italy since the 8th century. St. Martin is also known as the saint of abundance, which connects him to thanks and celebration about bountiful harvests.

Just like the 2020 COVID Thanksgiving, the Italian St. Martin’s feast tradition doesn’t allow for as much gathering together and feasting as one might like, but farming was not put on hold this year and the farmers worked hard and harvested as they always have. Mother nature seems unphased by COVID and the harvest was particularly bountiful this year. 

Luckily Italians can still gather with their immediate family and give thanks, reflect on a very unique year while drinking some frizzy wine or apple cider, and munching on some tasty bruschetta and chestnuts.  

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