June 23: the night of San Giovanni, the night of the summer solstice, the night of dew, of tortelli, of the nocino liqueur, the night of witches, bonfires. A special evening, which combines traditions of Christian and pagan origins that are lost in the mists of time, but which are still celebrated in Parma and Province with so much participation.
The night of San Giovanni evokes magic and mystery, rituals that refer to the power of water and fire, the sun and the moon that celebrate their association on this date by pouring beneficial energies on the earth. Hence the belief that the “rozäda äd san Zvan”, the dew of San Giovanni, symbolizing the drops of blood poured from the head of the saint, has beneficial properties that affect the herbs and fruits. Medicinal herbs, dewy, amplify their properties and each of them is collected to be part of a “herbarium” that protects from illness and misfortune. Hence the tradition of serving tortelli d’erbetta in this evening, with freshly picked herbs.
The dew also has a purifying action: the land after harvest needs to be purified to accommodate the new sowing. This purifying need is also expressed through the tradition of the lighting of the bonfires by the peasants to drive away, thanks to the power of fire, evil spirits, demons and dark forces.
Tortelli and Nocino: in Parma, tradition is celebrated at the table
In Parma the traditions of San Giovanni are inextricably linked to gastronomy and still persist today. As mentioned, the tortelli di erbetta, a prince dish in Parmesan cuisine, are the protagonists of the evening, celebrated with open-air “tortellate” (outdoor dinners based on tortelli). The large outdoor tables have now moved from the courtyards and farmyards to the streets of the city, to the squares, the quarters, the dehors of the restaurants. All the city and the province come alive with tortellate organized by private individuals, associations and pro loco with tortelli at will, live music and outdoor dinners in company to wait together for the beneficial dew. And if it rains, you move all inside, but strictly with doors and windows open to let the dew in!
Still alive is the tradition of preparing “nocino” the night of San Giovanni. This popular liqueur in Parma and the province is prepared with green walnuts, not yet ripe: the walnuts are harvested right on the night of San Giovanni, bathed by the beneficial dew, possibly by female hands. Left in pure alcohol, sugar and other ingredients, the walnuts will become a strong, aromatic liqueur, ideal as a fine meal.
If you are in the city or in the province you have only to choose: among tortelli, nuts, bonfires and medicinal herbs you will be immersed in a magical and mysterious night, in ancient traditions that every relive thanks to the participation of many Parmigiani.