The swordfish of Scilla



Many devotees of San Francesco di Paola, patron saint of Calabria and seafarers, meet, as usual, every year in Scilla, where they celebrate from Thursday 12 April to Sunday 15 a festival, in the picturesque neighborhood around the church of the Holy Spirit, on the seafront at the foot of the Castle.

The procession begins, every year, with the translation of the venerated statue of St. Francis to the beach and the delivery of a laurel wreath to the sea in memory of all those who fell into the sea.

The procession continues through the districts of Chianalea and Marina Grande.

It is in memory of an extraordinary history: the prodigy around the 1500 of crossing the Strait of Messina “on the mantle”. St. Francis had come with his companions in Catona, a village in the province of Reggio, five kilometers from Villa San Giovanni, which stands opposite the lighthouse of Messina, and is the nearest point for embarking from the continent to Sicily. On that beach there was a small port, from which daily transport boats departed, and Francesco hoped that he and his friars, not having money, in charity of a local seafarer. Instead, he did not help them, therefore St. Francis prayed God and his mantel became a supernatural ship, provoking the immediate conversion of the seafarer and of all surrounding people.

…This is a short introduction to the culture of the sea in Scilla, the faith and the devotion that you can find inside such beautiful place, the town of Scilla, a village of seafarers, and inside its cuisine.

In the apparent desert of the rocks, immersed in a violet sea, of the lonely castle, the beach, the small economy of the village, instead, you can find the same faith of St. Francis that the sea will be crossed by the crafts of the fishermen,…and will give its treasures: the swordfish.



Scilla is strictly associated to the hunting of the swordfish.

The hunting begins in the summer, when the fish is in love, passes from the Strait in its migration to the south, shaving the Costa Viola in the stretch between Bagnara and Scilla. When it goes up again, from mid-July, it will pass instead of the coast of Ganzirri, and it is there that the swords will beat in search of their booty. The hunting technique is more than two thousand years old, and it is virtually unchanged  since when it was described by historian Polibius in 2nd Century B.C.

Morning light, during the summer hunting, is spectacular in Scilla. In fact, the town is an important tourist resort of the Violet Coast, so-called because of the color that water reflects at particular times of the day. The colors are not yet completely defined, but the day is clear, only the Aeolian can not be seen, but the promontory of Sant’Elia stands out to the north, and then behind Capo Vaticano. Scilla enchants visitors with its Castle overlooking the sea, the colorful houses leaning on each other, the views of the Strait of Messina and Sicily.

As mentioned above, this tradition about the swordfish is very ancient, its cuisine is rooted in the Greek  and Roman culture.

Notwithstanding the myth narrated in the Odyssey (the town’s name seems to derive from the mythological figure of Scylla, a young nymph who refused Glauco’s love), Scilla’toponym is still uncertain: according to the historian Polybius would date back to the times of the Trojan War, but the first fortification is probably from the 5th century B.C. In late Greek age it was a fortress known as the “Oppidum Scyllaeum”, subsequently strengthened in Roman times.  Anyway, history blends with mystery, recalling the myths and legends of Ulysses fighting against Scylla and Charybdis, told by Homer and Dante Alighieri.

This explains why the fishermen of Scilla conserve any old rituals linked to the Greek fishing of the swordfish; in ancient times there were propitiatory songs “strictly” in Greek.



The Mediterranean gastronomy of Scilla is based on the swordfish.

The body of Swordfish and its flesh are delicate, rosy and very nutritious. This fish lives in the deep waters in the south of the Tyrrhenian Sea and re-emerges in spring, when the adult specimens approach the coast in search of the female.

Swordfish is a fast fish that can reach 100 km per hour and adult specimens can reach 3 meters in length and reach a weight of 150 kilos.

It is equipped with a sword that makes up almost a third of its body.

Local cuisine knows the swordfish roasted, in fillets, in countless seasonings for delicious first courses.

A very particular form, anyway, is that of the roulade, a typical recipe of this pretty village overlooking the Strait of Messina. Indeed, a culinary ritual is that of the swordfish cooked in rolls, so called “of Messina”, which require expertise and wisdom, as well as a cut of the particular fish, to obtain small and tasty morsels.

Further, there is the famous swordfish sandwich that you can taste everywhere in Scilla, a pride of local cuisine. Probably the most popular gastronomic two versions of the sandwich are that with tomatoes, olives blacks and capers, or that one with caramelised Tropea onion or rocket and flakes of grain.

In both case, it is a delicacy to enjoy, while watching the changing blue of the coast from the top of the village. Or walking through Chianalea, the charming fishing village that offers, among the houses on the water, of real windows on the sea as in a painting of an author.

The best companion for the sandwich or the rolls is an aromatic glass of Cirò red wine.



The main economic activities in the area of Scilla are tourism, agriculture and fishing. Farm products include olives, figs, vegetables and selected citrus fruits.

The variety of the Violet Coast lands provides for the ingredients of traditional sea and delicacies from the Pre-Aspromonte hills: cheeses, cold cuts, mushrooms and vegetables in olive oil, grilled aubergines and dried tomatoes, olives in oil, fried courgette flowers, ragoût and goat and pork meat sauces for home-made pasta, the “maccarrùni i casa”.

The main fish dishes are based on local products including, of course, swordfish, but also silver scabbardfish, garfish, sunfish, sauries, various shellfish and octopuses.

Traditional scabbardfish-based recipes (spatola alla “scigghitàna”), with specific doses of vinegar and mixed herbs growing among terraced grapevine rows, confirm that the main activities of the town are agriculture and fishing.

Traditional cookies are produced during the feast periods, and include “mustacciòli”o “‘nzuddhi”, “piparèlle”, “susumèlle”, “petrali” made with honey, almonds and flavored dried figs. Custards, desserts and lemon, orange and bergamot liqueurs always come at the end of the meal.

Edible Use of Bergamot



There are many ways to employ Bergamot and all are a great piece of Mediterranean culture of gastronomy, where Calabria shows all its core of scents and fragrances.

A first, non negligible example, is a digestiv liqueur derived from bergamot, called “Liquore al Bergamotto” and produced by Carpentierbe, a company based in San Giorgio Morgeto.

Then, there is a considerable edible use in Earl Grey tea. It is a long time that this tea is used as a drink mixer, in particular for gin, within the British Isles.



Somewhat similar in principle to the Irish coffee, though this is seldom practised today, Earl Grey Tea is flavored with Bergamot. Although the drink was never to achieve the ubiquity of the Irish coffee, it continues like many retro cocktails to be offered as a niche item in some contemporary bars and restaurants. This tea blend which has been flavoured with the addition of oil of bergamot contains that Bergamot variety of orange, which is the well known citrus fruit often growing in Italy and France. Its rind’s fragrant oil is added to Black tea to give Earl Grey its signature pungent punch.

Historically, the Tea flavoured with bergamot was used to imitate the more expensive types of Chinese tea.

Earl Grey Tea was been known in England since 1820 and the first known published references to an “Earl Grey” tea, flavoured with Bergamot, are advertisements by Charlton & Co. of Jermyn Street in London in the 1880.

The origin of the name is “Earl Grey’s Mixture”, so called after Charles Grey, British Prime Minister, received a diplomatic gift of tea flavoured with bergamot oil. The story is that a Chinese mandarin gave to Lord Grey a  bergamot oil flavoured tea, but it is reputed a legend, even if, according to the Grey family records, the use of bergamot in the tea was made in order to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water.

The Grey tea, which  employs Bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia),  has the following versions:

  • Cornflower Lady Grey
  • Citrus Lady Grey
  • London Fog
  • French Earl Grey
  • Russian Earl Grey
  • Earl Green tea
  • Earl Grey White or “Earl White”
  • Rooibos Earl Grey.

For example, Lady Grey tea is a black tea scented with oil of bergamot, but it is very recent. Lady Grey tea is a modern invention, created by and trademarked by Twinings in the early 1990s to appeal to the Nordic market, which found Earl Grey tea too strong in flavor. Lady Grey differs from Earl Grey in that it contains additional lemon peel and orange peel. It first went on sale in Norway in 1994 and in Britain in 1996.

The Twinings blend contains black tea, orange peel, lemon peel, and citrus flavoring (bergamot).

Finally, we can not pass in silence that Earl Grey tea flavours many types of cakes and confectionery, chocolates and sauces.



It is quite strange learning that any Turkish delight, lokum or rahat lokum, are a family of confections based on a gel of starch and sugar, which employs Bergamot.  But it is real, and let us know the huge importance of Citrus inside Mediterranean culture.

The traditional varieties of these Turkish sweets are mostly flavored with rosewater, mastic, but often with “Bergamot orange”, or lemon. Other common flavors include cinnamon and mint.

This Turkish delight is eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugar, copra, or powdered cream of tartar, and it is known to have been produced in Turkey as early as the late 1700s, suggesting a Persian origin.

There is also a Greek variation, λουκούμι (loukoumi), which shares a similar etymology with the modern Turkish and it is marketed as Greek Delight.

Also in Cyprus, the same scent of Bergamot, is present inside dessert protected by a geographical indication (PGI). Known as  Cyprus Delight, the same sweets are present also in Armenian and there called lokhum, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Israel have their rahat lokum, and Serbo-Croatians have “ratluk”. The entire area of ancient Persia, therefore, knows this Bergamot flavours, inside the famous sweet called “rāhat-ol-holqum”.

In any case, this Calabrian fruit and its scent wanders through the European world, even in Bulgaria, where the same Turkish Delight is known as lokum, and, as said, in Greece, where Turkish Delight is “loukoumi” or λουκούμι.

In Greece this delicacy is related to the city of Patras, with the name “Patrina loukoumia”, and to the island of Syros, to the towns of Thessaloniki, Serres and Komotini. Here Bergamot, the very essence of Mediterranean culture and gastronomy, is a common traditional ingredient, combined also inside biscuits.



Another way to employ Bergamot, this great piece of Mediterranean culture of gastronomy, is producing marmalade.

Generally speaking, marmalade is a fruit preserve, made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits, boiled with sugar and water. It can be produced not only from Bergamot, but also from kumquats, lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarins, sweet oranges and other citrus fruits, or any combination of them.

Our preferred citrus fruit, Bergamot, is employed for marmalade production,  primarily, in Britain, where is also used Spanish Seville orange, Citrus aurantium  and other fruits, in order to attain typical consistency of marmalade, – but also in France, near Nancy.

The peel of Bergamot imparts a lively bitter taste to the marmalade.

Bergamot is certainly more recent than the ancient recipes of marmelade, but since the Romans learned from the Greeks the recipe of μελίμηλον (melimēlon, “honey fruit”), today transformed into Portuguese “marmelo”, and since the Greek word μῆλον (mēlon, “apple”) stood for all globular fruits, – we can conjecture that Romans knew jam of citrus.

The most famous Roman cookbook of Apicius gives a recipe of marmalade for preserving fruits, inside a bath of honey diluted with defrutum. The mix, known as Roman marmalade, preserved also quince and lemon.

A similar recipe appears in the Book of ceremonies of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, a real catalogue of the foods available and dishes made from Byzantines.

Afterwards, since the Middle-age to Renaissance, the marmalade of oranges is a long lasting  recipe. We arrive to the age of the Scottish grocer James Robertson, who created Golden Shred marmalade in 1864. This Scottish maybe made reference to a previous English recipe book of Eliza Cholmondeley of 1677 (recorded in the Cheshire county), where there is  the earliest British marmalade recipes  of oranges (so called “Marmelet of Oranges”).

There is much to say about bergamot, citrus and the term “marmalade” and its variations in Europe, but everywhere when we say Marmalade the word is used as a generic term for preserves of all fruits, whereas only in Britain it refers solely to a citrus preserve. This show an ancient tie with citrus (maybe Bergamot) and jam.

This relationship is maybe reinforced by the history of the Scottish city of Dundee, where  is a long association between marmalade and lemon or citrus or bergamot. The story tells of James Keiller and his wife Janet, of their preserves shop in the Seagate area of Dundee and of the factory producing “Dundee Marmalade”, a preserve of “bitter” Seville orange rind. The business is still alive today.