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La Panarda in Abruzzo

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

David Usher

Campo di Giove is a small village in the Majella mountains of Abruzzo east of Rome near Sulmona. It is Carol Usher's ancestral village on her father's (Sciuba) side. We visited a few times over the years meeting her cousins and attending a wedding.

On one visit many years ago we were invited by her cousin, Sergio Vella, and his wife Dora to a birthday party for her brother. In late April we were driven to a mountain restaurant high above the town at noon on a Saturday and walked a path still covered with winter snow in the woods to get there because the driveway was not passable. We expected a nice Italian lunch, cake, cookies and we'd be back in town by mid-afternoon.

It was midnight when we left and had consumed more Italian food than ever before or since. Had we realized we were attending a panarda we would not have filled up on the first three courses of an Abruzzo tradition since medieval times. Often 20, 30, or as many as 70 courses are served over the course of several hours. In this case on long tables like a banquet. There was music, karaoke solos, wine, many children and communal singing all celebrating the birthday and family and community. It was a fantastic unexpected experience.

At 6 o'clock, a priest came to say Mass, then the eating and festivities resumed until midnight. We had been to la panarda but did not know that until later.

A most interesting Abruzzese culinary tradition is la panarda, a multi-course feast of gargantuan proportions. A legend holds that la panarda was born when a young mother, gone to fetch water near her home, returned to find her newborn in the mouth of a wolf. Desperate, the woman prayed to Saint Anthony of Abate, and the wolf let the baby go. The grateful young mother promised to prepare a feast for Saint Anthony, starting a tradition that would be passed down from generation to generation for centuries to come. Most panarde consist of 35 to 50 courses and last all night, thus enabling guests to partake of every dish at a leisurely pace.

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