Summer in Florence means strolls along the Arno at sunset, gelato with friends, and dinners alfresco that go late into the night. But for those willing to venture beyond the city walls, summer also means a world of Tuscan tastes and traditions—at the sagra.
Sagra is the name given to a community’s celebration of a local culinary specialty or agricultural product. A vulgarization or variant of sacra, sagra can also refer to the festivities surrounding a church consecration, a patron saint feast, or a commemorative event of national or cultural import. The definition of sagrato — Italian for the space in front of a church entry – would suggest that the sagra tradition has long been linked with religious festivals and pageants, events that with time have grown more popular and less religious in nature.
Akin to our own crab feeds and pancake breakfasts back in the States, a sagra is a no-frills, unpretentious eating experience. They by necessity take place in large public spaces, such as recreation centres, school auditoriums, or temporary tent-halls. Expect cafeteria-style seating, paper tablecloths and plastic-ware. The service may be abrupt, and the noise level preclude any intimate chat, but once the food arrives, no one will be disappointed.
Here, where the kitchen is typically manned by local residents, you’ll find the cucina Italiana at its most authentic — from fresh, homemade pasta and desserts to grilled meats and the finest seasonal fruits and vegetables. A sagra’s featured specialty will dominate the menu, yet french fries, fried polenta, and other standard fare are usually available as well.
Come summer’s end, watch for a new host of sagras. Autumn in Tuscany brings the new oil and wine (olio nuovo and vino nuovo), white truffle (tartufo bianco), and chestnut (castagne) sagras, beginning in September.
An annual calendar of sagre, fiere and mercantini (sagras, fairs, and markets) is available through the Agenzia per il Turismo della Toscana, accessible also at http://www.vetrina-toscana.it/commercio
(go to “sagre e fiere”).