Saffron, the flower that raised the towers

A truly precious spice, because to get it one gram

takes one hundred and fifty flowers …

The saffron harvest is repeated every morning at dawn, before the sunlight makes the flowers open, for the entire flowering period, between the second half of October and the first of November. The work is done by hand and the collected flowers are placed in wicker baskets.

The skimming consists in the separation of the stigmas from the stamens and from the bell-shaped flower. The work must be done by hand and must be completed by the evening, otherwise the saffron risks spoiling and the day’s harvest compromised.

The drying is done by placing the stigmas on a sieve over a wood embers. This is the most delicate phase, if the stigmas remain too long on the fire they risk burning, if they do not dry well they can rot in a few days. This is why it must be done on the day of collection.

Everything starts with a flower, the Crocus Sativus, with long and light lilac-colored petals. Between the petals there are three bright red stigmas. From them with a fast and precise procedure, saffron is obtained, from the Arabic za῾farān.

Why is it so expensive? Easy to explain:

the plants have a single autumn flowering (between October and November). The flowers are picked in the early hours of the morning, when the corolla is still closed, one by one by hand. On the same day the flower is harvested, it is necessary to proceed with drying. The stigmas are placed on special sieves and briefly subjected to a source of heat, whether it be the sun itself or a small brazier. During this operation the threads lose about five-sixths of their weight: to make a kilo of dried saffron, approximately 150,000 flowers and 500 hours of work are needed.

It has been cultivated in Tuscany since the Middle Ages and, to understand its value on the market of the time, 500 grams of stigmas were worth like a horse. It is history that, in 1228, the Municipality of San Gimignano paid its debts with the banks partly in money and partly in saffron. Used not only as a bargaining chip, its commercialization guaranteed considerable gains, to the point of allowing the construction of the famous towers of San Gimignano (around 1300 there were 72), a “status symbol” of wealth and power.

Recipe of the local tradition, it is the Milanese risotto.

Legend has it that it all started in 1500, thanks to a lucky mistake: Maestro Valerio da Profondovalle, a painter engaged in the coloring of the windows of the Milan Cathedral, used saffron to vary the shades of yellow, by mistake he dropped the yellow powder in his rice cooker, he ate it anyway …

Saffron has extraordinary medicinal properties, such as being a powerful antioxidant, much greater than vitamins C and E.

A long life elixir to be consumed habitually.