Bronte: that Village on Mount Etna where Gold is Green and Delicious

You are not from Bronte if you don’t own a pistachio orchard. This is in brief Antonino Gulino’s answer to my question: have you ever participated to a pistachio harvest? Antonino owns a delicatessen shop in Bronte, Tipici&Food, and he warmly welcomed me to his shop and to his knowledge of pistachios on my stop in this village during my trip on the Circumetnea 

Antonino, his shop and his pistachio tree

I was walking on the main street of Bronte when a tree standing in front of the shop of Antonino attracted my attention. Was that a pistachio tree? It looked quite small to me. Antonino saw me looking around the shop and the tree and he must have read my mind. So he came outside and informed me that that was indeed a pistachio tree and that it was 5 years old. I immediately thought: what this man knows about pistachios must goes way before the pistachio is even formed on the tree. So I walked into the shop and engaged in a really interesting conversation with him.

In this part of Sicily pistachio is the signature ingredient for about everything. In Antonino’s shop you see pistachio pastes for on your bread in the morning (instead of Nutella). But also pistachio pesto for your pasta and pistachios and tomatoes spread for your bruschetta. Last but not least, simple pistachio nuts, crumbled pistachios for breading and decorating, pistachios in cookies and chocolate bars. 

the green gold of mount Etna

Pistachios are to Bronte what strawberries are for Maletto, honey is for Zafferana Etnea, and wine is for Viagrande and Castiglione di Sicilia. The production of pistachios in this tiny village perched on the West side of Mount Etna and overlooking a mountainous and deserted inland is famous all over the world. Antonino doesn’t miss the chance to pinpoint how the quality of Bronte’s pistachio is superior to that of pistachios elsewhere. And that is why Sicilians consider Bronte’s pistachios as the green gold of Mount Etna and the European Union gave the DOP protection mark (of protected origin) in 2019.

Pistachio Bronte

Bronte’s pistachio is greener, tastier and also more expensive. Let’s be honest, pistachios are never the cheapest options on the nuts shelves of any supermarket. Especially recently with new healthy lifestyle trends that label it as superfood. But as for other productions that flourish on the slopes of the Etna (i.e. wine) in Bronte quality prevails over quantity.  There are at least three reasons for this: the life cycle of the pistachio tree itself; the difficulties of harvesting on a rocky landscape; the incredibly rich lava soil that only the highest active volcano of Europe could offer.

CULTIVATING pistachios on the Etna slopes

A pistachio tree needs up to 20 to 22 years to reach full productivity. But even then, it allows its branches to bare fruits only every other year. And it is not even certain that every other year would be a good year. Bad weather conditions can influence the entire production. Particularly spring frost. Harvesting pistachios is not less problematic. Antonino asks me to picture people covered head to toe with a suit because the trees release a very sticky resin while working under the sun. The temperature is the highest of the year because the pistachio harvest is in August. The soil is steep and uneven and everyone has to walk with a bag around their neck to gather the pistachios.

This photo is a courtesy of Antonino. A pistachio grape within his orchard.

Each plant produces 10 to 15 grapes of pistachios on average. Once the pistachio is harvested, a machine takes away its ‘mallo’ which is its outside layer, to prevent it from molding. Finally the pistachio is left to dry for about 4 days before it can be used.

The like of pistachio farmers is hard and uncertain. There is no insurance affordable enough that could cover against unpredictable weather conditions. So everyone here tries to make their best out of a successful harvest year. I listen to Antonino’s prides and concerns nodding to a reality so far from my own, yet so fascinating.

Antonino offers to bring me to his pistachio orchard. I would love to follow him after his shop closes. Unfortunately there is no time for it and his orchard like all other orchards this year will not produce any pistachios. And it’s truly a pity because it must be a unique experience to see a pistachio orchard in bloom. I’ll be back and this is a promise I made to myself more than to him.

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