After 5:00 pm, you can feel the sun rays getting flatter and less hot on Solstice Day in Venice. Parts of Riva degli Schiavoni are now tucked into refreshing shade, so it’s a good time to start exploring my favorite area in town.
Before leaving our garden, I can’t help noticing how strong the scent of the blossoms is right now. Venice is literally overflowing with blossoming shrubs in early summer. There are the roses and in particular, the white oleanders smelling of lemon and vanilla. Mirabilis jalapa, La Bella di Notte blossoms are still closed, but some start opening as the sun is slowly disappearing from the garden. These are favorite flowers in Venice, opening their red, yellow and orange blossoms only at night. You can also find them on the mainland (you can see many of these in Iesolo !) because they are easy to grow if you remember to water them once a day in the early morning.
La ninfea (water lily) is closing her blossoms for the night … The flagstones feel still warm while I’m walking back into the house. The blackbirds are quiet and in the distance you can hear the voices of the day-trippers passing by our little campo. It seems that the thick jungle of plants in the garden acts like a screen muffling their voices. The garden looks very green, lush and cool like it has stored lots of water for the hot summer months ahead. Even wisteria is blossoming once again, and the oleanders in town are a dream come true (take a look at them in this article – Summer on the ancient island of Olivolo).
On solstice day and the weekend following the longest day of the year, Venetians celebrate outside. They love to eat dinner in a corner of their private corte (courtyard) or on their terrace and altana. Usually, they also feast together on a campo. In the eastern parts of town, in Castello, two feasts take place marking the onset of summer, the solstice feast on Campo della Bragora, and la Festa de San Piero de Casteo.
Castello is the most ancient part of town which was first inhabited by Byzantine merchants when it was still full of swamps and wild reeds. It was cultivated by the nuns of San Zaccaria (read more about our origins in this Venetian story). Bragora means reeds and wilderness, so cultivating land and creating spacious vegetable gardens wasn’t easy as many shallow pools of salt water covered the islands. This was the area where warehouses and the homes of merchants from Constantinople were built, and where their boats were moored on Riva degli Schiavoni.
Between the 7th and 11th century AD, the church of Sant’Antonin and San Giovanni in Bragora were built and in the 15th century, the church complex of San Giorgio dei Greci, which is still the most important Greek Orthodox church outside Greece.
What I love about Castello is its large number of secret gardens, some of them quite spacious hiding behind the red brick walls. A beautiful reminder of the exotic gardens of their first inhabitants, for the merchants who had moved to Venice also brought their favorite trees, flowering shrubs and vegetables.
This past still reverberates in Castello when it comes to feasts. I think it can’t be a coincidence that Byzantine recipes are still used in particular in this part of Venice to make sweets and cakes in the pastry stores.
Solstice feasts in Venice don’t just last one day and on Campo della Bragora, local food and coffee are tasted, dances are shown off and games are played together. This year, vegetables from Sant’Erasmo were also on the menu and you can see Lagoon-grown apricots in the picture at the bottom of this article. This is the last big feast Venetian celebrate together before leaving for their summer retreats in the Dolomiti mountains.
So it must be a very special menu to celebrate the onset of our vacation time. It’s pleasant joining the crowds on a warm evening, talking to neighbors and relatives on Campo della Bragora just in front of this ancient church.
We’ve got a staple menu for this solstice weekend in our family. Last year, I shared it with a friend from Portland, OR, and she used it to cook a solstice dinner for her friends. It’ s basically a five-course-menu, consisting of a summer fish soup and tagliolini with crabs and lots of summer vegetables. It also includes some wonderfully refreshing drinks. Here’s the link to our complete menu on Ann-Amato Zorich’s Facebook Page.
I love the pomegranate spritz version, also served at Met, the restaurant of Hotel Metropole. The other drink on our menu doesn’t contain alcohol, it’s one of my favorite summer lemonades, limonata alla lavanda e miele (lemon-lavender-honey lemonade whose recipe we’ll share soon in our food section on the blog).
For the pomegranate spritz, mix one part dry white wine, one part pomegranate juice and two parts tap water. Add a bit of lemon juice or serve with raspberries (our favorite variant). Serve cold but don’t use ice cubes.
Tagliolini with crab: You can use canned crabs and pomodori passati – canned tomatoes or home-made tomato puree. Fry the crabs in olive oil with the tomatoes and herbs (freshly picked oregano from th garden would be great). Leave to simmer for about 20 minutes, then add a hint of white wine and bring to the boil. Season with sea salt, black pepper and sweet cream, stir carefully and add the pasta (we use tagliolini). Sprinkle with minced parsley and chili-flavored olive oil (optional).
In our next post, we’ll explore the fruit and vegetable markets in Venice during Solstice time ! And below are the albicocche (apricots) from Sant’Erasmo :-)