One of the beautiful things about Florentine culture, and about Italian culture in general, is the central focus on enjoying the fruit and vegetables that are grown during each season. Because food is so important, seasonal produce is practically celebrated when its time comes. This way, there is always something to look forward to during the year as the months progress, regardless of the season. This keeps the consumption of food more local — because Italians tend to eat what is growing in their area at the time, the food doesn’t have to travel very far to arrive to the market. Not only that, but it keeps the cost of food low, helps the environment, and keeps farming land healthy. And healthy land means intense, rich flavors and vibrant, beautiful colors. A good practice all around!
So, you won’t find an Italian buying watermelon on a whim in November, and you certainly wouldn’t find many supermarkets stocked with chestnuts in May. For Italians, it’s much more preferable to eat a really good piece of produce (and we mean, really good) during one limited time in the year, rather than have it readily available to eat year ‘round.
Various regional dishes incorporate seasonal foods, making each season unique for Italian cuisine. Even the gelato at the various gelaterie will often have flavors that correlate with the seasonal fruit.
If you’re traveling in August, make sure to take advantage of tasting these things!
Cocomero/Anguria – Watermelon
The watermelon in August in Italy is intensely good. It’s so good, there are outdoor bars set up to serve you a slice of freshly cut watermelon (a really big slice!) Watermelon in Florence is candy sweet, juicy, and full of flavor. Be sure to try it straight or to visit a good gelateria and choose cocomero (try Gelateria Santa Trinita, Piazza Frescobaldi, 11-12/r, Ponte Santa Trinita).
Susine – Plums
Plums are succulent and run-down-your-chin juicy in August, and there are many varieties available. Be careful when you go to the market not to mistake them for nectarines – some plums are reddish in color and the same size. Then, there are the classic violet plums, and also a yellow variety — small, round, yellow-green fruits that have a tangy flavor.
Fichi – Figs
Figs, figs, figs! You won’t be able to get enough of them. Figs are everywhere in Florence fruit markets in the summer, and there are multiple varieties. Don’t think the fruit vendor is trying to scam you – the figs that seem overripe, mushy soft and even those that might be slightly cracked are actually the best ones to pick out and have. If you purchase figs and they are firm, let them sit until they are very soft. Figs range in color from spring green to purple to brown. While their texture isn’t everyone’s favorite, figs have a fresh, sugary flavor that you won’t forget. Extra ripe ones can be eaten whole.
Cetrioli – Cucumber
Cucumbers are crisp, light, and refreshing in the August heat, and worth going out of your way for. The cucumbers that you see at the market will most likely be beautiful — without a scratch on them and an even green all around.
Melanzane – Eggplant
You’ll spot at least two varieties – long, thing eggplant and round, plump eggplant. Both are worth a try, or if you see any dish made with them, that’s great too. This time of year, the skin of eggplant is soft, smooth, and has some give to it, meaning it’s definitely ready to eat.
Funghi Porcini – Porcini Mushrooms
Porcini mushrooms are so good and so versatile, they are the king. You’ll seem both at the market (dried or fresh) and in many dishes in Florentine restaurants (i.e. risotto ai funghi porcini). August is the high time that porcini mushrooms can be found in the mountains right outside of Florence. They are rich in flavor with more depth than a normal mushroom, nut brown in color and with a broader stem.
To get a chance to use these seasonal foods in the most delicious ways, be sure to check out Florencetown’s cooking classes, including the regular “Cooking Class in Florence”, with the visit of the farmers market of San Lorenzo and the “Pizza and Gelato-Making Cooking Class”