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Among the most vivid memories I have retained of the time I lived in Parma, there’s the Tortelli Festival on June 23rd, St.John’s Eve, which is traditionally considered as Witches’ Night. Before I continue, I had better explain that tortelli is the name given to ravioli in the Food Valley… Like many other Christian celebrations, St. John’s Eve overlaps and coincides with a pagan feast: Midsummer’s Eve, the summer solstice, the triumph of light over darkness and the symbolic victory of good over evil. It is also the time of harvest and stubble fires in the fields.
It was once believed that on that night witches used to fly over the fields on their brooms, searching for souls and ending their Sabbath with a wild dance under a walnut tree. To prevent witches from entering their houses, people put either garlic or bunches of aromatic herbs and plants in front of their doors and windows. These herbs and plants were believed to be endowed with "magical power". It was also believed that all plants and fruits reached the pinnacle of their healing, nourishing and aromatic potential on that night. The walnuts used to make a famous liqueur called nocino are still picked on that night to this day. In this regard little has changed since the time the Celts inhabited these lands, around the IV century B.C. and their priests, the Druids, used to collect herbs on midsummer’s night and celebrate with huge bonfires meant to keep evil spirits away.
In Parma and its province this important festivity is still deeply felt, perhaps because it feasts the end of a usually long and cold winter, often followed by a rainy spring. On St. John’s Eve festivals and fairs proliferate everywhere, where nuts and tortelli are served. This paticular type of tortelli, made with a filling of spinach, chard and ricotta, are called tortelli d’erbetta. Even the restaurants in the old city center put their tables out, because this summer festival is an outdoor celebration and those who get soaked in the dew will soon become lucky in love. It is no coincidence that St. John’s Eve is also known as Rozäda äd san Z'van, namely St. John’s dew!