My big fat Ferragosto isn’t probably what I should be calling this most pleasurable of Italian feast days, one that encourages a banquetesque pig-out on a hot day, at the seaside or mountains, con tutti famiglia.
Ferragosto makes for great people-watching, as beautifully adorned, perfumed and blissfully confident Italians laugh, chat or jocularly remonstrate, safe in the knowledge that they are with a host of people they know & love, as they enjoy yet another course. I have to admit to really enjoying the indulgent leisurely guiltless siesta that you are forced to take to somehow prepare your stomach for a lighter version of gluttony later in the day. Ferragosto takes place on the 15th August and it’s a National Holiday, except for the restaurateurs who provide the main call to action of the day.
This was my first actual Ferragosto, and it seems that local Abruzzesi alongside the rest of Italy have what can only be described as their summer Christmas. Supermarkets, gift and dress & accessory shops and hairdressers do a roaring trade 3 days before as families create their picnic treats for their pre-ferragosto day spent at the beach or at a picnic table in the mountains and plan their wardrobe and coiffure accordingly.
This day like so many in the Catholic celebration calendar stems from a pagan tradition that was adopted as Assumption Day, when mere mortal Mary ascends heaven and such is paradise that leaves a taste of it to those left behind, hinting at what is to come.
Personally I do think how the day is celebrated today owes far more to its Roman roots than a later Catholic interpretation. Originally feraie Augusti was a festival that took place on the 18th or 23rd August. It was devoted to Conso, God & Protector of Agrictulture, and was literally a harvest festival when the local farmhands and Roman nobility mixed together, decorated and gave the day off to mules, oxen and other beasts of burden literally to celebrate their hard work and sample those freshly harvested ripened delights and letting their hair down so to speak.
In 18 B.C. Caesar Augustus proclaimed the entire month as a time of merrymaking, and it became known as “Augustali”. It’s from this tradition that the Italian town horses originate. Festivals were held throughout the month included venerations to Diana on the 13th August, Goddess of Wood, Cycles, Moon & Motherhood; Opi the Goddess of fertility, whose feast Opiconsiva, was celebrated on the 25th of the month, and Vertumno the God of the seasons and the harvest. There were many more too, which in turn have become village sagre, when one tasty, plentiful food is celebrated through tastings and, if you are really unlucky, a bit of line-dancing.
It’s not too surprising that the Christian Church adopted this time and rolled it into one on the 15th for Mary’s assumption. The land was at its most plentiful, an obvious symbol of fertility and good will, and accordingly a time when womenly were openly blessed and their deity forms worshipped. With providence still very much tied to the agricultural calendar and with such things as transumanza, when shepherds returned back home after tending their flocks of sheep in the south, you can see the logical adoption of Augustali as the period when mere mortals could get a sense of what paradise may hold.
There is no such thing as a light ferragosto; restaurants – at their busiest time of the year – do only serve their Ferragosto menu, on average €35 a head it seemed including wine, so be warned and don’t forget to book – the good places will be chocka on the day so if you don’t want to be left in the car park of despair, book early!
Our yummy’ Big Fat Ferragosto’ was just outside Pacentro (AQ), in a sweet little agriturismo called Costa del Gallo. Lovely service, great food and there’s a great outdoor eating area too if you book!
Costa del Gallo Ferragosto Menu
Price – €70 for 2 people for 3 courses (12 dishes) including 1 bottle of wine
Value for money – 10/10
Quality of food – 9/10
Address: SP N. 13 Morronese | Pacentro | 67030 (AQ)
Tel: 0864.55666 | No email or website
Owners Name: Andreotti Luca