Life and Customs of the Poggiorealese: Planting, Hunting and Fishing

PLANTING AND VINEYARDS

The grain productivity (hard grain) of Poggioreale is satisfying in terms of quality and refinement; the annual production reaches a medium of around 20,000 quintals; the olive groves give a median of 600 quintals of oil of very good quality; the almond groves give a good account, same with barley, oats, fava beans and legumes.

In our territory the planting of vineyards has begun. If you could know with how much care: in truth cm’ avi ‘nna bona vigna, ‘avi pani, vinu e ligua.

Especially during Roman domination, in Sicily and even in our dagale and even later under the Arabs, the vineyards had fertile vegetation, and if we think that the olive has always been planted usually in vineyards in formation, we are brought to think that the mountain to the east of Poggioreale, as well as the hilly plains of the west side one day had to have vineyards, since today such areas have centuries-old olive plantings in large numbers.

The vineyards are rising with the system of the twenty-year contract. The sumac, which has been cultivated here for a good thirty years or more, gave good production. For a decade, the planting of cotton has been practiced in the territory, which has yielded good results. Some gardens with citrus trees are found in our territory and fruit trees in the midst of vineyards are not rare, since we don’t really have fruit orchards. Our fields are still abundant with reassuring and tasty as they are nutritious, vegetables: chicory, endive, radicchio, asparagus, wild cabbage (ilassani, giri, sparaceddru, qualedda bianca e qualedda gialla), spinach, horaggine, etc. .. and in such abundance to serve as a small industry to the poor people. In front of our gates a daily offering is always present; morning and evening rough and plaintive voices invite you to buy them.

The former feudal estate Cautali, before being sold in lots to our agricultural workers produces, also produced an abundance of fennel; poor people would gather it in quantity, filled their sacks and bags and then, either alone or in community, came by foot to the nearby communities of Salaparura and of Gibellina in order to sell them, returning home in the evening with their earnings; formed for the poor people a true and providential revenue industry. This vegetable (fennel) was especially popular to buyers in the springtime when, from the Marinella dock came fresh sardines which along with the fennel gave a very tasty dish pasta with sardines and fennel. And yet, for the past few years, the taste for vegetables is lacking, or at least decreased, in good part substituted by nuare, industry planted by many farmers from Alcamo, who immigrated, which do not lack tomatoes, broccoli, squash, artichokes, celery, scalora, sweet fennel, potatoes, melons, popone melons, gourds, and fruit of every type, add the frequent traveling sellers from the gardens of Castelvetrano, Alcamo, as well as from the Palermo market, with an abundance of apples, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, oranges, lemons, eggplant.

In the best season is satisfying the presence in the territory of snails (babbaliici, babbalnceddri, judisca, attuppateddri). This is the most tasty and sought-after dish.

Our fields are no longer populated and enlivened, as they were so many years ago, today the farmer is more akin to a townsman, he is gentrified; then he was more attached to their country traditions, our farmers were enthusiastic, for example, about barbanera, studied time with its seasonal changes, that is: the wind, rain, sun; nervous horses were a sign of strong atmospheric change; if fog covered the surrounding hilltops, they would say: Fog on the mountains, rain on the land.

They admired the rainbow, and if in the west, they said: arcu siritinu agghioma bonu a lu matinu [evening rainbow, good day in the morning], or if in the east, they said; arcu matinali adinchi li zzotti e lifuntdni.

When the month of January came with spring like weather they were happy and predicted: jnnam siccu burgisi riccu; while February, if rainy and hail, the farmer feared cold weather, and said: frivaru curtu e amaru.

The sun setting with red colors and he would say: russu siritinu bon tempu a lu matinu; if the sky was white with clouds celu picurinu acqua a pntvinu.

He noted with lively interest the weather during the Easter and Christmas holidays, since his experience made his predict a good summer harvest season; in case at Christmas there was good weather and at Easter rains and colds, he recalled the adage: Natali cu lu suli e Pasqua cu lu tizziini, chista e la veru staqiuni.

Certain herdsmen, trusting their long and strong practice, knew as much as was necessary to cure the ills of their animals.

They knew well how to orient themselves at night using the polar star and with the lights of the zodiac, almost as if they had a watch in their hands.

The planting ordinarily and by tradition was practiced in November, hence the maxim: lu priimt tutti Santi, Vurtiimi santu Nniria quannu lu megghiu burgisi e pi la via; mentri I’urtimu ancora s’annaculia.

To whomever because of bad weather and for delay sowed too late, the experienced admonished: lu primintiu nun hi pisca nuddru. The seed sown grew and seemed to say to the perplexed farmer: ‘nta marzu mi rifazzu, ‘nt’aprili mi veni a vidiri e s’un ti talentu, ti vinni li vdi e t’accatti lu furmentu.

March is unsure and uncertain: marzu e pazzu., .marzu marzia.. .lufriddu di marzu trasi ‘nta lu cornu di lu vdi.

In the month of May the soils develop the risina that bums the nascent sprout, it is the slow water that the sun develops the humid heat, then it is like a sure effect warning of safety to desire a storm: ‘nta maju una bona pi lavari la risina.

February, instead is considered to be a month that pushes the sprout: frivaru, cu’frevi cci misi, chistu e lu giuri di tutti li misi.

The wisdom of the farmer is found through proverbs that are gathered and make you think: who could disagree with so many sayings that refer to the preparation of the land for the seeds? Listen: terra chi nun fa erva, nun fa lavuru: tempu, simenza e zappuliaturi, acqua e ventu fa furmentu, acqua e suli fa laviiri. Eye on the land, farmer, your fathers call you to know how to understand and to deal with the land before you begin the farming cycle: cu’ terra forti laviira a bonu santu s’adura, terra nivura duna bonu pani, term bianca prestu stanca.

In order to obtain good stalks of grain, that develop in the first 15 days of June, the man of the country, entrusting himself to the protection of San Antonio of Padua called the Saint of the harvest and to which in all the world are dedicated the first 13 days of the month of June, says anxiously: la tridicina conza e gnasta and bravely preparing himself for the harvest said: vinni giugnu la fauci ‘npugnu; while for the generous production of fmit of the vineyards experience makes him say: acqua d’austu racina e mustu.

As much as in the summer he wasn’t poetic, though full of hardships, the time of the threshing and the transport of the grain to the town! Today the threshing is hastens the delivery of grain and hay, trucks quickly assure the wheat in our granaries. Good roads speed up the process; then there were dirt paths and mule-drivers, it was the mule that served usefully; today the superiority is of mechanization, the mule is disappearing from agricultural work.

Then numerous cattle and sheep were counted; today among us herding is so reduced and is held with other criteria, no longer found in the primitive state, in the wild, that is, herds and flocks (zzdccani) are substituted with dome closed pens and near to the farmer’s houses, where there are barns and large stalls.

There are Herdsmen who keep cattle for the dairy business, other own flocks, of sheep and goats that go on the country lanes distributing milk. Other dairy enterprises are carried out in full form: ricotta, cheese, tiuuma (fresh cheese), pecorino cheese is greatly appreciated, as is the refreshing and purgative lacciata.

The Poggiorealese farmer (curatulu) is very skilled.

For his specialty products there’s a proverb: latti di crapa, tumazzu (cheese) di pecora e cascavaddru di vacca.

For cheese rennet (quagghiii) there is only that made of kid. Li stgghioli are tasty (entrails twisted with omentum, mesh or intestine) of kid. Kid and lamb meat are marketed.

HERBS AND PLANTS

The territory does not lack good fertility even with regard to medicinal, textile, craft and aromatic herbs, we will mention just a few of the many that spring up here:

  • la gramigna contains sugar and mucilage efficaciously used for emollient substances;
  • ferule (ferla) are umbellifers from yellow flowers with a long stem, for use with balsamic poultices;
  • pellitory (en’ci di ventu) of the urticaria;
  • quisquiama (erva grassuddra) with leaves rich with glandular surface, claming, soporific, narcotic;
  • rue (ariita) employed as a sedative, astringent;
  • nettle (ardicula) from the bitter irritating jumor, some species are however very poisonous;
  • mustard (sindpa) for resolvent poultices, and flour;
  • also mallow (maroa) is refreshing and calming for the stomach and for the gums, for preparations and poultices; – horehound (mintdstru) exhales a penetrating, acrid odor and tastes bitter, used for rheumatism;
  • hemp (erva bianca) used in medicine;
  • glasswort (spineddra) heals ulceration and treats wounds;
  • echio (lingua di vdi) cures edema produced by the change of blood serum;
  • licorice is used to correct bad breath, in the bronchial catarrh;
  • the perennial corrective herb (centugruppiddra) is healthy for kidney stones;
  • lemon balm, with read and white perfumed flowers, has a calming effect;
  • centunenn is useful for boils and in pulmonary congestion;
  • rosemary (rosamanna) is good for intestinal catarrh and for dropsy.

Plants used in the kitchen: sage, oregano (ariganu)…

Industrial plants:

  • agave (zarbdra) with its fleshy leaves, covered with spines, from which one obtains textile fiber;
  • ampelodesmo (ddisa) for straps (lidma) for tying grass and sheaves of grain.

Other industrial plants are soap-plant (roddrulaventu) from which soap is made, flax for textile fiber and also for oil dyeing.

Real poison mushrooms don’t exist in this territory; poisonous herbs are enough to Euphorbia or titimaglia (camarruni) and the tasso which are clandestinely used against fish, tasso can also be used for suffumigation for congested hemorrhoids, and other herbs still used by country people as curatives.

HUNTING

Let’s say something about hunting, which will delight enthusiasts of Poggioreale and from abroad. I say: to people from abroad, because in the various seasonal periods there is no lack of hunters who come to enjoy the high spirits and enthusiasm, not without the necessary effort.

Nearby to town, in the Pioppo area and then in all the mountainside beyond Belice right in the former feudal Cautali there is rabbit and hare hunting.

For hare, the hunt requires the right greyhound dog, and lively pursuit and accompanied by enthusiasm when the prey depends on the way it’s sought.

For hunting rabbit, cerneco dogs who can follow a scent of wild animals, are prized, bloodhounds, with their droopy ears, with their excellent sense of smell, true stalking dog, the setter, is rather needed for hunting on the water, the spinoso, our crossbreed and in general the Italian bloodhounds, the fine pointer; the biting dachshund, with the very short legs, is more adapted for fox hunting, the Great Dane with its blunt snout, protruding incisors, bold and proud is adapted to big-game hunting. The ferret facilitates wild animal hunts.

The use of the ferret raises certain anxieties. The little, yellowish furry animal with red eyes readily and fidgetv gets into its den. When it senses the sound of the bells attached to its collar (round brass bells that have a small steel ball loose inside), it is a sign that the animal is on reconnaissance. Then at the mouth of the den, using caution, the hunters await with certain trepidation for the race instinctively felt by each individual to prove who will be the fortunate one who will catch the victim. At times however, it happens that the ferret doesn’t return; then there are worries, a guard is kept for long hours, day and night.

For rabbit, another type of hunt is often appropriate, the so-called affacciareddru, when the hunter, in the evening of the full moon silently goes to wait, for hours, hoping to shoot the prey when the rabbit, alone or with others, comes out, almost pacing and jumping. That is the moment of high anxiety for the hunter, having abandoned the tiredness in the wait, successfully has his prize. For the rabbit there is also the ridhi, that is hunting using a net (callajola), or the service of the laccutoli or prey. This system, however, is really a type of clandestine hunt, a form that is damaging to the conservation of the species.

There is also hunting for porcupine (porcu spinu) which is covered in long spines ringed in black and white; to this animal, a large rodent, whose meat is very tasty, hunting is done at night, working with large dogs and knotty sticks. Those that report it not being pleasant to come up against are the dogs which touch the points of those spines.

At times the small nocturnal hedgehog (rizzu) may be found, gray colored in the body covered with short spines and whose defense consists in rolling itself up into a ball.

The fox and the weasel (baddrdttula) are not spared by the hunter, the former shrewdly attacks chickens, rabbits, hares; the latter, being very agile, throttles hens and rabbits, their abundance is a danger to the valvaggina.

It is remembered, at least up until a century ago, on the western incline of the so-called Mountain and therefore facing the east side of town, was a dense forest, when there were wild boar, wild goats, while in the Park underneath dear lived, with an abundance of wild hare and rabbits, for a delightful place for hunting for the Signori of the princely House and also for the Viceroy.

Now the forest is practically gone and the Park is a charming orchard of olive and almond. Hunting, a rabbit may be found, but the rest of the animals can no longer be found.”

BIRDS AND FOWL

Bird-watching finds a favorable place in our territory. Besides the feathered beings mentioned in the chapter on “II Belice,” there is also a discreet and pleasurable variety of birds that attract the attention of hunters.

Here we’ll mention a few of the most prominent kinds:

  • tawny pipit, the largest type of lark; the skylark, that is the crested and hooded lark (cucucciuta);
  • the lark with the brownish tail that flies very high, singing, and then falls perpendicularly in a dive with its wings closed;
  • the quail, migratory bird, of dark plumage with light-colored spots and a short tail;
  • sometimes the king of quails may be seen, a 20-cm. wading-bird, with a large head, short, strong beak that is considered to be the leader of the quails;
  • the missal-thrush, a great thrush of this area, pale ash gray on top and white with spots underneath;
  • the red-winged thrush and musicus; the storm-cock (mannzzu), very round;
  • the arborius thrush olive-green above and yellow bellow, with black spots, much sought-after for its delicious meat; the mockingbird (mocking thrush), with its full and modulated voice;
  • the turtle-dove, a type of small and elegant pigeon, with a small head and plumage the color of white hazelnut, and the other smaller turtle
  • dove (tunisina);
  • the wild pigeon.
  • The partridge is not rare and it the most sought-after by hunters. This bird has a red peak, with the red circles around its eyes, a white throat, black neck, the upper parts tending to deep purple, ashen underside, and it is very tasty;
  • the blackbird, all black except for its beak and its yellow eyes, lives in the woods and in garden, a good singer, is known for its sonorous call which at times can be imitated by the beccaficu bird;
  • the whitethroat, the mngmnima, types of warblers: the first is summer migratory passerine, about 14 cm. long, with gray plumage, red above and white below (sylvia cinerea), and the second with clear eyelids and lively coloring, dark ashen color above, olive-green on its back, liver-red underneath, both are passerines.
  • The starling or stornello, a regional passerine with a sharp yellow beak, black plumage with spots on its shoulders, belly, and under its tail, lively garrulous;
  • the plover (ciurluviu).

There is also an abundance of birds that are not hunted:

  • the goldfinch,
  • robin redbreast,
  • the magpie with black head, back, wings and feet, and with a white stripe on its wings and then all black underneath (cnrcnrnzzu);
  • the hoopoe (pipituni) with a long thin beak, with blackwinds and tail, and with a large plume of feathers on its head, rust colored on top, white underneath;
  • the bunting with dark plumage;
  • the bam owls (vanmjannu), lion-colored with gray dots on top, and white underneath, with a wing spread of 90 cm., with a beard, bird of theft,
  • the titmouse with the yellowish-green back, black striped on its breast, with a short beak;
  • the predatory hawk (spriveri) no less than the kestrel, hazelnut colored above, white lines below;
  • the kite (nigghiu).

Birds that cause worry are the jackdaw (giavuli), specifically:

  • (corvus monedula) black magpie, with a large head, ashen plumage on the back of its head, a clear black stripe on the front that, like a collar, runs around to the start of the beak, plumage all black with yellow surrounding the eyes; these have their talons out, are voracious, and damage the freshly-sown fava beans.

There have been for more than a year a discreet number nested in town, on the ancient farmsteads, who have destroyed the wild pigeons that brightened the Poggiorealese sky, and decimated the sparrows that were very numerous in the town, and that in the early spring mornings, with their festive and rich song, awaked the people, now the presence of sparrows is rather rare! They should be taken care of and preserved.

HUNTING ON THE BELICE RIVER

Belice is no less famous for the varied and rich species of birds that populate it in different seasons. In the geographic Description of the Island of Sicily (108), there is mention of the abundant hunting fowl that are found during the year on Belice. This also attracts hunting fans and gives proof of the beautiful and rich variety that is to be found there. In fact:

  • there are frequently wading birds, and
  • specifically, the red heron or rannocchiaia (russeddru carisi), whose downy breast feathers cure wounds;
  • the egret (white heron) with the two beautiful long plumes on the back of its head and on its black feet;
  • the euripiga (sun heron) with beautiful and diverse coloring;
  • the guacco or nonnotto (small heron or small bittern);
  • the bittern (star heron) with the stocky body and reddish-yellow plumage;
  • the gray heron or grandma (russeddru cinnirusu);
  • ash heron or imperial, with a wing span of 1.5 meters and of the same height if measured from its middle toe to its beak: beautiful!
  • With black streaks and from its long neck, the little egret with white plumage, and a long spoonbill.

Of the family of ducks is met:

  • the royal German (coddru virdi) with variegated plumage, head and neck of resplendent dark green,
  • the whistle duck or pochard (munaciini), from the head and neck of tawny chestnut, blue beak and amethyst breast, the great merganser or redbreast swimmer, with a forelock, with a dentate beak;
  • the pintail duck with two long tail feathers, with shiny green;
  • the little German (mezzaninu), the tufted duck, with a black head and neck flecked with violet, with a forelock of long feathers hanging from the back of its head, brownish black on it back and shoulders;
  • the marine duck (tufted duck) or Turk, gray with a canary-yellow back, black and green head and neck;
  • the tobacco duck which has a chestnut colored neck and breast, the garganey and teal (warbler or Pugliese duck);
  • the spoonbill duck (anitreddra) with a long, dark beak and orange feet;
  • the nictikorax (night crow) with the black head and a line on its beak that continues past its eyes, black shiny back, two fine white feathers looped that from the back of the head end up halfway down the back, under the neck a very fine white plumage, a red circle around the eye, orange colored feet;
  • the little grebe (capuzzaldri), the lapwing (nivaldra), the cormorant (mamiini) or aquatic crow, with or without forelock,
  • the rail (faccidla),
  • the (scidbica) water pullet, pullet or king quail,
  • the woodcock (gnddrazzu) with dark and yellowish transversal lines, a long, thin, straight beak, delicious to eat,
  • the snipe (arcirottu),
  • the great snipe;
  • the jack-snipe (small snipes),
  • the ostralega, with the long red-orange beak, short tail, back shiny back,
  • the avocet with the long, upturned beak,
  • the aquatic blackbird or Italian knight,
  • the spotted rail or water-rail,
  • the redenna (riddena),
  • the sultan chicken (gaddmzzu ‘rnperiali), with the long, red beak, the frontal callous and blue feathers,
  • the bald-coot (fiddreccula),
  • the greenfoot (pedivirdi), the wild goose,
  • the strillazo, migratory swamp sparrow, the ballerina,
  • the cutrettola with large legs and a very long and very agile tail,
  • the yellow cutrettola,
  • the black-bellied sanderling,
  • the large carrier (gaddmzzu d’ncqua),
  • the plover (marteddru riali) blackish with yellow spots and large white lateral bands,
  • the curlew, the great snipe, the wheatear, a beautiful type of titmouse or meadow pipit,
  • the marsh gromwell who makes its nest among the rushes, in summer, has a black head with black spots from the throat to the breast,
  • the starling, like a turkey but smaller than a pigeon, with reddish-yellow, brown, chestnut feathers…

and many other birds which appear during their migrations, on their seasonal pass, partial or irregular, showing up on the Belice for nesting or for shorter time periods, during genuine migrations, or simple accidental or exploratory excursions.

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: https://www.amazon.com/History-Poggioreale-Sicily-1640-1956/dp/1072403374/ ]