From the moment I arrived in Puglia a couple of years ago for my first culinary trip, I knew there was something special about the area. There was something magical, as though I was in a whole different Italy. There is no lack of beauty in other parts of the country, like the well-known regions of Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast that I visit yearly.
But Puglia was different.
From the rustic terrain and blue Adriatic Sea, to the exquisite but simple cuisine, warm local people, history and olive trees that are thousands of years old, every moment held a new discovery.
There was no doubt I would be returning as I did a few months ago, bringing my guests along with me. It is a simply perfect location for cooking classes, wine, cheese and olive oil tastings and tours through whitewashed villages and no lack of wonderful activities to offer my clients.
As I explored the cobblestone streets, there was a detail that really caught my attention. Puglia is full of small ceramic acorns in the shops and larger stone acorns in the architecture.
I learned that these acorn sculptures are called the Pumo de fiore. Like spotting gargoyles in other European cities, the thing to look for in the charming towns of Puglia are the puma, which adorn balconies and palaces throughout the region.
It is recognizable by its squat conical shape and the rings of pine seeds growing up from a leafy pedestal.
The pine cone symbol can be found all over the world, from the Far East to Rome; it is believed that it is a symbol for the Third Eye and has important spiritual connections. It is no surprise it has such a presence in Puglia, a region founded and developed by Greeks and Romans and was one of the most important trading ports with Eastern civilizations.
Back in Puglia, the best places to find these puma is in Grottaglie, a town famous for its ceramics. The region’s ceramic tradition goes all the way back to Greco-Roman times, when Puglia was known for its clay, perfect for potting.
These days, it is not unusual to find small representations of these flower buds or pine cones inside the Appugliese home. The petals, about to open, suggest fertility and prosperity, two elements of Italian culture to be looked for in every region.
In Puglia, they consider the puma to be a pagan symbol, but one that speaks of good luck. It is tradition for a man to give one of these beauties to his future wife as a promise of love.
The ceramic buds come in many colours in sizes, making them a perfect souvenir, hostess gift, wedding favour for an Italian destination wedding, and good luck charm for a new home. It’s also worth mentioning that the puma can be made into elegant Christmas tree ornaments.
Many people believe that the “pine-cone” is of good omen, above all if it is given as a gift. Join me on my next culinary adventure to Puglia, and who knows…you may have a wonderful good luck charm to welcome you!
Carol Ketelson is the owner and operator of Delectable Destinations LLC. Dedicated to planning, co-ordinating and curating customized group tours to hand-picked destinations. As an experienced travel planner, Carol’s customized itineraries, specialized tours and off-the-beaten-path experiences create memorable journeys for her small groups of singles, couples, divorced, widowed and solo travelers seeking exceptional trips into the culture and cuisine of destinations around the world. Spring and Fall bookings invite travelers to taste delectable local cuisine, culturally rich traditions and mesmerizing sights. For over 10 years, Carol’s tours have captured the true essence of Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, Puglia, Spain, Ireland and India.