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Sagra della Rana - Festival of the Frog
Noemi Reyes, Milan, Italy
Noemi and her husband Beppe help out at the local sagra (Italian festival).
Sagra Della Rana (Festival of the Frog) was held in May 2007, in Cassignanica, near Milan (Lombardy region). It ran for three weekends in May.
Thunder, Lightning, Cats, and Dogs
Wednesday May 2, 8:30am – 4:30pm
It has been an unusually warm and dry winter. Spring came early. There's fear of water shortages this summer. It has not rained for a couple of months. Today, we put up the big tent for the Festa which starts on Friday. Today, the whole day, it rained cats and dogs; complete with thunder and lightning (we should not have washed the car yesterday). No problem, the boys (10 "pensionati" – retired) showed up with their raincoats.
We stopped only during the heaviest downpours and for lunch. I helped fix lunch: chicken cotolette (thinly pounded breaded chicken breasts), pasta con ragu (simple tomato sauce), and fresh green salad. We also had focaccia and red wine. The coffee machine was not set up yet so we had limoncello instead.
Everybody went back to work after lunch. Beppe and I left around 4:30pm when they were almost finished setting up the tables. Enjoy the pictures of the setup.
Tomorrow morning, I will help with the dolci.
Thursday May 3, 9:00am – 11:00am
There were three of us this morning: Rosaria, Rina, and myself. The others will arrive in the afternoon. Rina and I peeled and cut the apples and pears while Rosaria prepared the pastry dough. I also helped butter and flour the pie pans.
Rosaria showed me how to make Crostata di Pere e Cioccolato (Pear Tart with Chocolate). She made five or six of them while I was there. You will find the secret ingredient in one of the pictures. Too bad I had to leave at 11:00am for an appointment. I will take pictures of all the desserts tomorrow before they get demolished.
Tomorrow afternoon, we help in the kitchen. Dinner starts at 7:30pm. I did not know there is also a live band (and dancing) every night. It's been overcast today. I hope it does not rain tomorrow.
More Cats and Dogs
Friday May 4, 12:00pm – 9:00pm
It's been raining since last night. We arrived at noon. The broths for the risotto, the tomato sauce for the pasta, and the trippa (tripe stew) have been going since 9:00am. I was assigned to chop up onions for the fagioli con cipolle (beans with onions), the merluzzo livornese (stewed cod in tomato sauce), and the rosemary and olive oil marinade for the grigliata mista di carne (grilled meat) and costata (ribs).
I also cut up the lemon for the fried dishes: rane fritte (fried frog) and fritto misto di pesce (seafood plate). Last task was to cut up the parmigiano into two-inch squares.
The desserts were in the bar area. I took pictures after I set up my side dishes and bread plates. Giuseppe (he calls the shots) was finishing up the brasato (braised beef), Beppe was frying more zucchini. The grill was going and the frogs were ready for the fryer. The polenta was started and the other fryers were fired up for the patatine fritte (fries), and seafood plate.
The cash register opened at 7:00pm. There was a soft drizzle. People slowly started to arrive. Giuseppe told me to take a picture of the first customer. I served the side dishes.
Beppe and I took a dinner break around 8:00pm – it was slow. I had costata and Beppe had the polenta e brasato. We also shared a plate of rane fritte.
Beppe's brother showed up with his wife. We thought they will bring the whole squad (husband and wife, wife's mother, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson) for Sunday lunch. They said they'll show up all three Sundays.
I had coffee and went back to my post. We left at 9:00pm to get up early for an appointment the next day. It was still drizzling.
SNF (Sagra della raNa Fritta)
Saturday May 5, 1:00pm – 10:00pm
No rain today, just overcast. I had a plate of seafood fry before chopping up more onions and lemons. Cut up the bread and setup my side dishes for serving.
There were more people today. The band started at 9:00pm. They were line dancing when we left at 10:00pm.
I won a bike!
Sunday May 6, 4:00pm – 11:00pm
We were on our way back from an appointment when Beppe's cell phone rang at 2:00pm. It was Rita, his sister-in-law: Rita's mother, Joli ("Yollie") won a bike from the raffle at the Festa. Joli wanted me to have the bike. They were just finishing up with dessert. Too bad we're still two hours away. I get to choose the bike and pick it up that night.
The sun was shining. We got there at 4:00pm. Because we had not had lunch, I was starving. Beppe had penne all'arrabbiata and I had ribs. I claimed my bike – I chose the bright pink one. People started to arrive at 5:30pm to stake out their tables. We will be busy tonight.
I was promoted to serve the rane fritte (another lady wanted my side dish post). There were three of us; two ladies on each side with their deep fryers and I was in the middle. We were a good team. They helped me when five or six plates of rane fritte (sounds better than fried frog) were ordered at a time.
The band started with a popular song. Customers, teenage servers, and the whole kitchen crew sang along. Can you guess the only one who did not know the song?
It's 10:30pm. Finally, it's dying down. People were dancing. Beppe and I started to wash the pots and bowls. I should have known people would be back ordering panini and patatine fritte.
We left at 11:00pm. Other ladies were cleaning up. We loaded my bike and went home. We were dead tired. Tomorrow at 8:30am, Beppe will help Giuseppe clean up the grounds. Next Friday, we'll be at the kitchen at 10am.
We gathered at one of the volunteers' house at 9:00pm where the organizers thanked the volunteers with biscotti (cookies) and gelato con fragole (ice-cream with fresh strawberries).
The Sagra della Rana took in a total of 151,000 Euro (a bit less than last year because it rained the first weekend this year).
While we said "Buonanotte" to each other, the ladies (in their 50's and 60's) started talking of a "girls' night out". I told them I'm in (I'm the youngest at 45 years).
Photos of Sagra Della Rana: Larger versions of photos on this page and many more photos of the sagra.
The Umbrian Sagra Survival Guide: All about food festivals in Umbria.
© Noemi Reyes, 2007
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