An Intimate Look at Italy’s Saffron Harvest

With journey restrictions in place worldwide, we’ve launched a brand new collection, The World Through a Lens, during which photojournalists assist transport you, just about, to a few of our planet’s most stunning and intriguing locations. This week, Susan Wright shares a group of pictures from a saffron harvest within the Abruzzo area of Italy.

Just a few years in the past, although, in happier occasions, I traveled to this remoted nook of Italy, east of the Apennine Mountains, to photograph the annual autumn saffron harvest.

It was my first journey throughout the nation’s rugged central mountains — to the wilder aspect, away from the favored vacationer spots, the place the terrain is pristine and sleepy medieval villages are scattered all through the gorgeous foothills.

Having grown up in a rural setting in Australia, I used to be fascinated by the Italian agricultural communities: their deep connection to centuries-old traditions, and the infusion of their land and tradition with an infectious love and keenness.

How great that these rural communities all through Italy come collectively for his or her annual festivals, referred to as sagre, which are sometimes devoted to a selected native meals.

Saffron, which is taken from the stigmas of the saffron crocus, is a lucrative crop. Also called oro rosso, or red gold, it was first introduced into the region around the 13th century — an import from Spain. Prized as an exotic spice, it was sold in the wealthier regions and cities of Milan and Venice, and abroad in France, Germany and Austria.

Saffron is harvested in the hours just before sunrise, while the crocus petals remain closed; this makes the flowers easier to pick and helps protect their precious crimson-red stigmas. The delicate buds are handpicked and placed into baskets.

Later, on the same day, the stigmas — three tiny threads per flower — are separated from the moist petals. It’s a delicate process that takes hours with a skilled and patient hand.

In the evening, over an open wood fire, the bright threadlike stigmas are dried in wire baskets, a process that adds to the richness of both the color and the flavor.

It takes roughly 4,000 flowers to make one ounce of saffron powder — which means there’s a staggering amount of labor packed into the tiny containers in which the spice is sold.

But there’s no doubt that families like the Sarras will one day return to the restorative power of their sagre — and to the many traditions that have endured for generations in the fields of the Navelli plateau and beyond.

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