Between the hazelnut groves and where the forest begins, in the fertile clearings of the Floresta, Raccuja and Ucria Plateaus, potatoes have been grown since the nineteenth century. These varieties are harvested in September. There are three different types, known locally as “nustrale”, these come in varying colours such as: yellow flesh with a pink skin, yellow flesh with a yellow skin or the “biancone”, which is no longer very common, which has a completely white flesh and white skin. These three local ecotypes are the result of the constant selection done by local farmers, who have preserved and transmitted them from generation to generation.
Potatoes have always been fundamental in the local farmers diet: they are rich in well-digestible starch and minerals, such as potassium and magnesium. They have also represented a nutritious and alternative food to cereals, especially during the First and Second World Wars. The first written evidence of these varieties’ dates back to 1914 and is found in an extract from the yearbook of Sicily “la trinagria”. They were usually cultivated for family consumption and the sale of the surplus harvests reached the markets of Messina, Catania and Palermo.
Today, mountain potatoes are grown on a few hectares, in a rather limited area within the Nebrodi Natural Park, at altitudes ranging from 700 to 1300 meters above sea level, in front of Mount Etna. Loose soils, composed of sedimentary rocks, together with the cool, rainy and windy climate, constitute the environmental conditions suitable for their cultivation: these tubers, in fact, prefer cold weather rather than heat, drought and humidity.
They are sown from mid-May to mid-June, in furrows that are 60-70 centimeters apart prepared on a shallow plowed bed. The soil is broken up and fertilised with manure from local cattle, sheep and goat farms. When the plants reach about seven centimeters in height, the soil is built up around the plant using a hoe, the weeds are removed at the same time. Thanks to the rainy and windy climate of the area, the farmers do not have to irrigate, and the crops do not develop diseases. In recent years, the Colorado potato beetle, a parasitic beetle, appeared in the fields, which producers had to manually eliminate. After the vegetative cycle of potatoes, of about 100 days, corn and Nebrodi Carrazzo beans, which is another Slow Food Presidium, are grown on the land.
The potato with pink skin, is usually smaller in size and has a good texture. When cooked it remains intact and therefore lends itself to being fried, baked in the oven and in a pan. The potato with yellow skin has a delicate flavor and since it is softer, it is ideal for enriching soups, purees and omelets. The biancone is quite large in size, it is not very dense, and it is less suitable for being stored for long periods of time. It is also used for soups and purees.
These potatoes are harvested by hand in September and stored until April.
The Floresta, Raccuja, Ucria Plateaus, in the province of Messina
Presidium supported by:
Municipalities of Floresta, Raccuja and Ucria