Ferragosto is an Italian national holiday where the Italians escape the dog days of August and take a rest from the labor of the harvest season. It is a family holiday rivaled only by Christmas, and many Italians head for the beach for a week of relaxation, friends and good food. With respect to food and drink, it appears that watermelon often plays a starring role. At HeathGlen Farm, we thought a pitcher of watermelon Limoncello mojitos for Ferragosto was an appropriate crowd-pleaser, and oh-so-easy to make ahead of time.
A (little) History of Ferragosto:
The Italian festival called Ferragosto is celebrated on 15th August which dates back originally to the Romans. Ferragosto was later incorporated into the Catholic faith, and then tweaked even later by Fascism and today is a relevant part of popular Italian culture.
The ancient Roman Ferragosto was linked to the Consualia, effectively incorporating August festivities in Italy which celebrated the harvest to provide a suitable period of rest, necessary after the hard labour of the previous weeks.
The Catholic Church then added a celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven), to the Ferragosto holiday.
Ferragosto’s Connection to Fascism
Somewhere around the second half of the 1920s, the Fascist leisure organizations set up the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto” where the train fares were discounted enough that it gave less well-off social classes an opportunity to travel. It was during these “people’s trips” that the majority of Italian families had, for the first time, the chance to reach seaside and mountain resorts, as well as see art in Italian cities. The discounted offer was limited to 13, 14 and 15 of August, and consisted of two options: the “One-Day Trip”, within a radius of 50 to 100 kilometers or the “Three-Day Trip” within a radius of about 100–200 kilometers.
Today, Ferragosto is still honored, primarily as a feast day and a holiday to escape the heat. Most Italians take at least a short holiday, if not the whole month of August, and head to the beach or the mountains for family time and parties. Food and drink is, of course central to the festivities, with huge meals, even in the hottest temperatures, central to the festivities.
My research did not uncover any particular dish that was traditionally associated with Ferragosto. All of the available photography however, included watermelon, so that is what I went with for our Ferragosto celebration. Apparently restaurants in Southern California celebrate the holiday with a full Porcetta roast. Sounds like a plan for next year’s celebration.
Pitcher Watermelon Limoncello Mojitos Recipe:
- 1 6-8 lb. watermelon, to get 3 cups strained juice
- 1/3 cup fresh mint
- 1/2 cup rum
- 1/2 cup ginger lime syrup, or simple syrup of your choice
- 1/4 cup Limoncello
- 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
- melon balls and fresh mint for garnish
- Cut the watermelon into large slices, saving the end piece to make melon balls. Lay the slices flat on the cutting board and cut off the rind. Using the melon baller, scoop out enough melon balls to allow two as a garnish per each drink you will serve. Cut up the remaining melon slices into large chunks that will fit into the blender or food processor.
- Pack a 1/3 measuring cup with fresh mint and add the mint and enough melon chunks to fill the blender. Blend into a puree (it does not take long).
- Strain the watermelon-mint mixture into a bowl or large measuring cup until you have 3 cups. Keep blending more melon chunks and mint and straining until you have 3 cups. You can puree the entire melon and reserve some out for mocktails for the non-drinkers also.
- Add to a pitcher: 3 cups of the melon-mint mixture, the rum, ginger lime syrup, and Limoncello. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.
- Remove melon mixture from refrigerator and stir in the fresh lime juice. Pour mixture into a tall glass of ice and garnish with melon balls and a mint leaf.