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. Cool, refreshing watermelon often plays a starring role for Ferragosto, and these two recipes highlight watermelon drinks at their finest.
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.
Large Batch Watermelon Limoncello Mojito
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.
Non-Alcoholic Watermelon Aqua Fresca
While not Italian, watermelon non-alcoholic drinks are very popular in Mexico, where it is called an Agua de sandía. These non-alcoholic aqua frescas combine fruit and plenty of sugar into an ultra-refreshing drink usually served by the jug.
Making your own watermelon agua fresca, or agua de sandía, is a breeze. Just add plenty of watermelon and ice-cold water, combined with a little sugar and finished off with fresh lime juice to cut through the sweetness.
Mexico can probably beat Italy with the sheer number of hot days, and you might want to borrow a few cooling recipes from Mexican cuisine. A good start would be with these “10 Mexican Treats for Hot Days”
Watermelon Drinks for Hot Days
- Large Knife Like a chef’s knife
- 4 Cups Cubed watermelon this is ~ 1/8 of a large watermelon; get seedless if possible
- ¼ Cup sugar alternatively you can use a simple syrup
- 1 lime or 1/3 cup lime juice
- 1 Cup water
For the “cocktail”
- 1 ½ Ounce rum per glass
- ½ Ounce Limoncello per glass
- melon balls, lime slices or fresh mint for garnish optional garnishes
- Cut the watermelon in half crosswise. Slice on of the halves horizontally, lay flat and scrape out the seeds. Cut off the rinds and then cut each slice into chunks or cubes that will fit into the blender, addig to a measuring cup until you have about 4 heaping cups (if you need more than 1/2 of your watermelon, just take another slice.
- Add watermelon chunks, sugar, 1 cup water, and the lime juice to a blender and blend to your desired thickness. Add more water if it is too much like a slushie or not to your preference. This only takes 30 seconds or so.This is your aqua fresca. Some people will strain the mixture, but I personally don’t think it needs to be strained.Pour over glasses filled with ice or add to a pitcher and refrigerate until ready to serve (can be chilled 2 hours to overnight). Stir thoroughly before serving.
- For the cocktail, pour the watermelon base over ice in a glass, add the rum and Limoncello and garnish with mint or lime slices.