The history and the secrets of this spice are fascinating and evocative. The story goes that a poor wandering painter stopped by a tavern to rest. While sleeping, he dreamt of Mother Mary and, the following morning, he woke up and immediately tried to pain the visage he had envisioned in his dream. Having only some saffron with him, he used it on the canvas, and the tavern was later converted into a church.
Crocus sativus (the scientific name of saffron) has been cultivated in Abruzzo sin the 12th century.
But what a long road it took to get here! Its journey starts from Spain, under Philip II, when the Dominican Father Santucci, born in Navelli, comes back to his hometown bringing with him the precious bulbs that Arab conquerors brought in Spain several centuries before. The crop spread and saffron, as we can read in some documents dating back to 15th century, was particularly appreciated by Venetian merchants. It was used both to cook and to prepare perfumes, medicines, and to give color to sweets, liquors, and paint.
The flowering lasts 15 days, during which, every dawn, farmers start the laborious harvesting, one flower at the time, with a gentle gesture repeated thousands of times. It is a delicate moment, but it is critical to hurry up: it is necessary to prevent the sunrays from opening the corolla. Once all the flowers have been harvested, the stigmas are removed and left to dry. It is a difficult operation that require experience and mastery. The stigmas are put in a sieve and put 50 cm above the fire. If you take one stigma and it breaks, it means the saffron is ready.
Do you know why Milanese risotto is made with saffron? According the most widely accepted legend, around mid-16th century a master glassmaker in the Duomo had to marry his daughter to one of the richest merchants of the city. To impress his daughter’s father-in-law, he held a grandiose wedding party and, remembering the beautiful color of the saffron he used to paint glass with, he poured it on white rice. It was the most appreciated dish of the entire banquet!