Family histories and the culture of the land are uniquely entwined in Italy. It is something that interests us profoundly and adds depth to every relationship we enter in to with the families we work with. The Librandi family gave us countless insights in to their fascinating story when we visited them last month in Calabria.
One such story was recounted by Michele Librandi as we tasted windfall mulberries from the beautiful tree that shades the terrace of their agriturismo
overlooking the village of Vacarizzo Albanese. They use the berries themselves to make jam or to flavour granita (sorbet), but the really interesting part of this tree is the leaves.
The leaves from a mulberry tree happen to be one of the silkworm’s favourite food. This hungry little white caterpillar loves to fill itself with mulberry leaves and when it is sufficiently large, it starts to build its silk cocoon to begin metamorphosis. Silk was an important part of a family’s resource, so the cocoons would either be dunked in hot water or baked in an oven (both in order to remove the insect), the cocoon was then cleaned and unravelled to make long silk strands, taking care to allow some moths to hatch in order to breed.
Throughout the seasons families would work on various parts of their land holdings: olive groves, fruit orchards, fields of grain, livestock and in some places such as Vacarizzo Albanese, the symbiosis between the mulberry tree and the small white caterpillar was a part of the cycle and it is a tradition that has been handed down through the generations.