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Lemons, oranges, vegetables: the flavours of Sicily’s gardens and citrus groves

The view from the top of Rocca delle Tre Contrade is breathtaking. The sea, Mount Etna, and an expanse of trees, lush plants, herbs, and flowers combine in a unique panorama, an enchanting and exquisitely wild Mediterranean Garden of Eden. Three hectares of citrus groves, a vegetable garden that grows richer every day, a flower garden that tells the story of an enchanting place: this natural heritage requires commitment and constant care, but repays it with fruit, vegetables, herbs, and unparalleled beauty.

The magic of volcanic soil: from limoncello liqueur to olive oil

Jon and Dora, together with the “family” of Rocca delle Tre Contrade, harvest lemons every four months, totalling 100 tonnes per year. From the third flowering obtained by what is known as “coaxing the plant”, they obtain Verdello dell’Etna, a lemon with a characteristic and exquisitely fragrant peel.
Used in the production of the famous digestive Limoncello, in the preparation of cakes and jams, cut into slices or wedges for drinks and summer dishes, lemons share the stage with various types of oranges (the orange blossom imparts a very intense perfume to the whole orchard), grapefruit and citrons, mulberries, medlars and persimmons, cherry and apricot trees: the small, white, honey-sweet fruits are said to be of a very ancient variety whose name has yet to be discovered. Wild peach and fig trees stand shoulder-to-shoulder with olive trees, from which they obtain around 100 litres of oil each year.
The plants at Rocca delle Tre Contrade grow at an impressive rate: the secret lies in the volcanic soil. Every time Etna erupts, everything is covered with a very fine layer of black sand, the ash, which is an excellent fertiliser. This phenomenon requires time-consuming cleaning of the plants and soil, but is one of the main reasons why a 50 cm tall pine tree can become a 12 metre giant in just twelve years.

Locally grown fresh vegetables and flowers: the potager and the garden of Rocca delle Tre Contrade

Having a large, productive kitchen garden means being able to offer your guests fresh, locally grown vegetables every day.
Every year, the vegetable garden at Rocca delle Tre Contrade expands a little, to increase the quantity and variety of crops: there are courgettes, aubergines, onions, pumpkins, 5-6 types of tomatoes, green-leaf vegetables, beets, peas, broad beans, artichokes.
Seasonality is an important element that dictates what will be on the menu on any given day and is occasionally circumvented by freezing vegetables for use at a later date: why would you ever give up Dora’s excellent risotto primavera even when the temperatures are decidedly summery?
The garden of Rocca delle Contrade is constantly changing: like the interior of the villa, it has not been over-planned, precisely to create the feeling of something that has been there for a long time, that has grown and developed naturally, without being forced.
With more than 500 rose plants and many varieties of flowers, the table decorations are always different, as are those for dishes and desserts (roses, for example, are edible).
Most of the plants are those of the Mediterranean maquis shrublands, which are very hardy and do not need watering.

The old, old art of wild herbs

Such rich and generous soil also plays host to many wild herbs, which Dora uses for the recipes she proposes to her guests: the common sowthistle, wild fennel, the Mediterranean cabbage, known locally as “caliceddi”, cat’s ears that the locals call “cosc`î vecchia”, are precious and tasty ingredients of her cuisine.
Using wild herbs for cooking is an ancient art that requires experience and attention: there are more than two hundred edible types, but recognising them is not always easy.
Dora knows exactly which ones to forage and how to use them to make the most of their flavour and nutritional properties, creating tasty, traditional, and original dishes.

The collective nature of island hospitality

Taking care of a garden, of a house, of a guest, is a task that Jon, Dora, the gardeners, and the people who make Rocca delle Tre Contrade a unique place perform with passion and dedication: every plant is followed in its growth, every corner of the villa is cared for down to the smallest detail, every person is listened to, pampered and looked after as if they were part of the family.

 

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