a hike in the hills

We live in a house that overlooks a magnificent valley here in Sicily.  Ever since we’ve moved in, Elliott’s been itching to explore the whole valley, not just a little traipse here and there.  Finally he had a four-day weekend and so last Saturday we packed our bags and set out for the day.

Our goal was the highest rise on the other side of the valley, which is about eye-level from our balcony and goal we’ve been studying since we moved in.  For a refresher, here’s an older photo of that highest point:

We hiked down into the valley, past the farm in the foreground of the photo, jumped the stream in the middle of the valley, and started up the steep hillside on the opposite bank.  At last we achieved our goal!  We stood triumphant overlooking our lovely Italian countryside.  We could see the Mediterranean, the whole Plain of Catania, and the queen Mt Etna presiding over this little piece of the world.

We headed down the ridgeline until we found a quiet spot for a picnic.

 “I’d like the whole biscuit, please, Mama.”

A pause for a diaper change…

We continued through sunlit olive groves.  All the olives were picked for the season, but they’re disgustingly inedible right off the trees anyway.  Much brining is required before they become the  savory snack we get from our neighbors.

Prickly pears are in season.  Haven’t figured out how to eat them yet.

We also found a dormant vineyard, tied up neatly for the winter season.  Little raisins hung in clusters from a few of the branches.  I can’t wait to see the vineyard again when the vines are heavy with grapes.  Perhaps we could even find a bottle of wine made from the grapes grown here! 

Elliott (and Lena) spotted some local birds.  His eyes are amazing.  He’ll suddenly stop and stare at something that I can’t see, swing his binoculars around and study it a little more, and then announce, “Hmm, I think that’s a…,” and then check his book to be sure.  He’s almost always right.  How does he know these things??

At our farthest point from our town (visible in the background of this photo) we were in the middle of orange groves.  Most of the blood oranges had been picked for the season but we found some discards on the ground.  They were so sweet and rich with their shockingly red flesh.  (No photos of them, though, because our hands were too sticky!)

There were still plenty of mandarins, though, and we found a few of those on the ground to taste as well.  They were so refreshing and sweet.

And finally we hiked home, weary and triumphant.  We have explored our whole valley now, from its quiet groves to its delicious fruits.  How many more hikes in how many more seasons await us in these next few years!   

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5 Responses to a hike in the hills

  1. megarber January 21, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    I can’t wait to have a hike in your valley myself hopefully one day :). Lovely pictures (as always) and lovely people :).

  2. Luz Bratcher January 22, 2012 at 2:32 am #

    Ooh! I had no idea prickly pears grew in Italy! Growing up in Arizona, they were a common sight. Have happy memories hiking through the desert with my dad, picking them with long sticks. There’s some great recipes out there, mostly for syrups and juices. They’re kind of a pain to work with, but are very tart and tangy. Maybe use as a sauce or glaze for fowl?

    This site has some instructions as well as some great links on how to prepare. http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_cut_and_prepare_prickly_pears/

    Do share how you use them!

  3. Becca January 22, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    Thanks for the tips, Luz! I see them in the market–or I guess we could just pick them wild for free–and have wondered. I’ll let you know… maybe there are some fun Sicilian recipes to try as well!

  4. lucyanngreen6 January 24, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    Gee, what an expedition. What kinds of birds did Elliott see? I wonder what birds (are they mostly seabirds?) are common to Sicily.

    The fruit, too, adds so much to the flavor of your surroundings. Thanks for sharing this, and the great photos.

  5. Emily Amundson January 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Whatever you do, don’t pick them up with your bare hands! (Even if you get them from the market.) The prickly part, of the prickly pear is no joke. Not only do they have individual barbs, but there are even more on those singular barbs. Then getting them out is near to impossible, they have to just work their way out, and it’s not comfortable.

    I saw someone pick them once. They have long sticks with a ring on the end. They place the ring around the fruit and twist the stick. Once he got it down he cut the skin off using a knife and fork. The fruit reminded me a lot of cantaloupe, of all things. Good luck!

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