24 December 2019

24 December

Francesco Cirio - canning pioneer


Market trader whose name became known worldwide

Francesco Cirio, who pioneered the technique of canning food products to preserve their freshness, was born on this day in 1836 in the town of Nizza Monferrato in what is now Piedmont.  His father was a grain trader and Francesco developed entrepreneurial instincts at an early age.  By the age of 14 he was working at the fruit and vegetable market of Porta Palazzo in Turin.  He soon became aware that there was a demand for fresh Italian produce in London and Paris and set up a company to export fruit and vegetables to other cities in Europe.  At the same time he heard about the work of Nicolas Appert, the French confectioner and chef, whose attempts to find ways to preserve food led him to discover that heat could be used as a method of sterilisation and that foods treated in that way could be sealed in cans and would retain their fresh condition for many months.  The method, which became known as Appertisation, was taken up by Cirio, who set up his first canning factory in Turin in 1856 at the age of 20, concentrating first on peas and then achieving similar success with other vegetables.  Read more…

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Domenico Sarro – composer


Court choirmaster wrote several important operas

Opera composer Domenico Sarro was born on this day in 1679 in Trani, a seaport north of Bari in Apulia.  He was given the middle name, Natale, which is the Italian word for Christmas.  Sarro is famous for being the composer of Achille in Sciro, the opera chosen for the opening night of the new Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1737.  He studied music from the age of six at Sant’Onofrio, a church near Porta Capuana, one of the ancient city gates of Naples, which at the time was the location of the city’s music conservatory. His first opera, L’opera d’amore, was performed in Naples in 1702.  Sarro was appointed assistant choirmaster to the Neapolitan court in 1702 and by 1706 was having his religious music performed in churches in Naples. He wrote several of what were then referred to as three-act musical dramas, which were performed in theatres and private palaces throughout the city.  Sarro’s opera, Didone abbandonata, was premiered on February 1, 1724 at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples. It was the first setting of a major libretto by the writer Pietro Metastasio, who would become the most celebrated librettist of the 18th century.  Read more…

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Lazzaro Ponticelli – war veteran


Wounded soldier survived to set records for longevity

Lazzaro Ponticelli, who became the oldest living man of Italian birth and the oldest man living in France, was born on this day in 1897 in a frazione of Bettola in Emilia-Romagna.  Before his death at the age of 110 years and 79 days, Ponticelli was the last surviving officially recognised veteran of the First World War from France and the last infantry man from its trenches to die.  He had moved to France at the age of eight to join his family who had gone there to find work. At the age of 16, he lied about his age to join the French army in 1914.  Ponticelli was transferred against his will to the Italian army when Italy entered the war the following year. He enlisted in the 3rd Alpini regiment and saw service against the Austro-Hungarian army at Mount Pal Piccolo on the Italian border with Austria.  At one stage he was wounded by a shell but continued firing his machine gun although blood was running into his eyes.  He spoke of a period when fighting ceased for three weeks and the two armies swapped loaves of bread for tobacco and took photographs of each other, as many of them could speak each other's language.  Read more…

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Vigilia di Natale – Christmas Eve


Feasting on fish the night before Christmas

The day before Christmas, la Vigilia di Natale, is also referred to as ‘the feast of the seven fishes’ in Italy.  It is a tradition that no meat is served on Christmas Eve, but families in many areas will follow the tradition of serving seven fish courses for the evening meal.  Afterwards, many people will go to midnight mass to celebrate the coming of Christ and, in Rome, some will head to St Peter’s Square.  Fish dishes regularly served at the beginning of the meal include baccalĂ   (salt cod) and frutti di mare (shellfish). In Naples, a popular dish to start the meal is broccoli fried with frutti di mare.  For the pasta course, lasagne with anchovies is popular in the north, while vermicelli with clams (vongole) is often served in the south.'  There are traditionally seven different fish dishes, representing the seven sacraments, on the menu on Christmas Eve. In some areas of southern Italy, in the midnight between 24 and 25 December it is customary for families to stage a procession, at home, led by a candle-bearer followed by the youngest family member carrying a figurine of the baby Jesus, with the rest of the family members following. This procession ends with the placing of the “baby” in the cradle of the family nativity scene.  Read more…


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