Wednesday, September 24, 2008


In our Gangivecchio hazelnut groves the 2008 crop has matured and the ground is now literally carpeted with brown nuts. The hazelnut grows as a small spreading tree or a large clump-forming shrub. Its seeds or 'nuts' develop singly or in clusters of as many as five. Each nut is partly enclosed in a short leafy husk until autumn when it matures and falls to the ground. Hazelnut kernels are rich in unsaturated fats and protein and they supply vitamin B6 and thiamine as well. The nuts are eaten raw or roasted, in confections like cookies and cakes, and candies, especially in combination with chocolate. Other uses include a hazelnut vodka liqueur (Frangelico) and a flavoring for coffee. It happens that our local, ground dwelling porcupines also have a passion for hazelnuts, and at this time of year these nocturnal animals make regular nightly forays into the groves to feast on fallen nuts.
Scientific name: Corylus avellana
Italian common name: Nocciolo comune
English common name: Hazelnut

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sicilian Donkey

The donkeys in this photo live on a farm just down the road from Gangivecchio. Their ancestors were domesticated in Egypt about 6000 years ago. In Sicily the donkey was once an important farm animal, valued for its ability to carry or pull heavy loads and work long hours. By nature, these animals are intelligent, curious and playful. The milk of the female donkey contains more sugar and protein than cow's milk and it was once considered highly beneficial for babies and people in poor health.
Scientific name: Equus asinus
Italian common name: L'asino Siciliano
English common name: Sicilian Donkey

Sunday, September 14, 2008


In ancient times, this perennial herb which is a common plant of the Sicilian countryside was thought to have strange mystical and medical properties. It was widely used by magicians, witches and sorcerers in both black and white magic rituals. In late summer and early autumn a cluster of violet colored flowers develops from the center of the rosette of flat green leaves. Autumn mandrake is a poisonous plant and all of its parts contain powerful chemicals that may cause serious illness or death if eaten.

Scientific common name: Mandragora autumnalis
Italian common name: Mandragora
English common name: Autumn Mandrake

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


With its hillside oak woodlands, grassy slopes and dense blackberry thickets, Gangivecchio offers excellent habitat for this small brightly colored tortoise. In early morning and late afternoon Hermann's tortoise forages for plant leaves, flowers, seed pods and fruit. During the heat of midday it rests in its nighttime den, usually found beneath heavy vegetative cover. Hermann's tortoise may hibernate for 4 or 5 months during the mild Mediterranean winter and some individuals are believed to live for 70 to 100 years.

Scientific name: Testudo hermanni
Italian common name: Tartaruga di terra
English common name: Hermann's tortoise

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fig Season

The enormous old fig trees that shade Gangivecchio abbey courtyards are now providing an extravagant harvest of sweet juicy fruits. Figs are eaten fresh or dried and they are used in a variety of Italian dishes from antipasto to dolce. Besides their nutritional value as sources of calcium and fiber figs contain vitamins A and C. Figs are believed to predate even wheat as a crop for human use. The Egyptians were cultivating this tree for its fruit in 4000 BC.
Scientific name: Ficus carica
Italian common name: Fico commune
English common name: Common Fig