(cont’d from Part I)
Traditionally, the fiera offered the farmers an excuse to rest from their labors for a trip to town – in the past, on foot or on the back of a mule, later on Vespas or in a coveted battered car. Going to town meant carefully washing one’s best clothes and tucking into a pocket or inside a bodice the few coins the family had earned from the sale of eggs or wild mushrooms or field greens. At the fiera, the coins could be used to buy dried fruits, sugared almonds, candied chestnuts, or torroni (nougat), all still sold today at any fiera or mercato. Those without a sweet tooth head to the booths offering semenze (various kinds of seeds to nibble): sunflower and pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almonds, roasted chickpeas and dried chestnuts. They used to be sold in paper cones and at times, still are (though plastic bags are gaining terrain).
When we moved to the land in Umbria in the mid-70’s, our farm neighbors always headed to the beginning of the fiera outside of Assisi’s 14th- century medieval city gate, Porta Nuova (New Gate!). Trucks could pull into this open area to unload the largest objects sold at the fiera: huge oak casks, smaller wooden barrels, wine presses, buckets, ladders, hoes, axes and pruning shears. Sometimes, baby chicks, ducklings, and goslings were sold nearby. Not far away was the vendor of the head scarves and smocks all of us women wore when in the fields. Farm people gathered together to chat with neighbors whom they saw rarely due to distances between the farms. Others haggled with the vendors over farm equipment.
The rural people mixed with the local Assisi town residents as everyone strolled the rows and rows of booths selling everything from clothes to plants to pecorino (local sheep’s milk cheese) to artisan wares, such as objects in wrought iron, olive wood and terracotta. Any fiera still offers such a rainbow assortment of goods, though farm equipment is no longer a central feature. But the porchettaio, the vendor of the succulent panini di porchetta (roast pork sandwiches), still reigns at any fiera, as he has for centuries. The suckling pig is roasted all night on a spit, seasoned liberally with garlic, rosemary and wild fennel. The porchetta is then sliced and served on a panino (roll, literally “little loaf” or “small bread”). On market day, many a housewife resolves the problem of what to serve at dinner that night by bringing home a few slices of porchetta.
Next year, enjoy your panino di porchetta with a glass of the local red, a must even if it’s only 8:00 in the morning! (A case of do as the locals do…!)