Onion forecast (reloaded)

16th Century Majolica, Casteldurante (Urbania today)

Here is a post I published last year, concerning the ancient rite of “onion reading” in Urbania (an unorthodox and yet pretty accurate weather forcast method).

As last night was the night of Saint Paul of the Signs… I could not but re-publish this article – with little adjustments here and there –  whom I am particularly fond of (I am fond of onions and of old traditions – I’m not sure in which order!)

* * *

In Urbania, the old Casteldurante, best known for the majolica tradition which dates back to the Renaissance, a curious rite dealing with mystery, onions and… weather forecast is handed over from generation to generation since the Middle Ages.

Onions – apparently – which I am mostly familiar with because of the generous use we make in our fresh tomato and basil sauce at home, have an underestimated divinatory power.

In the night between Jan 24th and 25th, known as the night of Saint Paul of the Signs, twelve white onion slices sprinkled with salt are placed on a cutting board outdoors facing the East.

The origin of the prediction seems to go back to the Middle Ages when it was vital for the peasants to foretell the weather which their whole harvest  – and life – depended upon.

The procedure consists of three steps: starting from Jan 1st to Jan 12th (these are the so called giorni contereccicounting days) you must take note of the atmospherical conditions, as each day represents a month of the year. Then, starting from Jan 13th you go backwards and assign each day a month but, this time, you start from December and go back to November, etc. Should there be discordance, that means that the weather is going to be usettled. Then, on the night of Saint Paul’s conversion, you place twelve slices of onions, six in a row making two rows (one under the other), on a cutting board. You sparkle them with salt, place them outdoors, facing the East and you wait.

cipolle il resto del carlino
Ms Emanuela Forlini explaining the rite of “onion reading” (ph. Il Resto del Carlino)

The morning after you proceed “reading” the slices. If the salt has melt on the onion slice, it means that the corresponding month will be rainy; if the salt, on the contrary, is still crystal shape it means that the month will be dry.

In Urbania, the ancient and magic rite of the “onion reading” is left to Ms Emanuela Forlini, a teacher who people call in order to receive useful advices on which month is best to get married, to go on holiday or to sow. Emanuela inherited this skill from her grandafather Domenico and even her father Anselmo, a lawyer, carried on the family tradition, aware of the importance of preserving the great wisdom of the Past.

Of course, she does not claim any scientific fundamental, nor did her father. However, the onions from Urbania seem to be 70-80% reliable. And you, would you rather trust the onions or a weather forecast official website? As far as I am concerned, I prefer them sautéd in a terracotta pan, adding the perfect touch to beans all’uccelletto with tomato sauce, olive oil and sage (even if the original Tuscan recipe recommends garlic, I make my own variation with onions).

Not to be missed in Urbania: the imposing Ducal Palace on the Metauro river, the Diocesan Museum and Ceramics Collection, the Mummies in the Church of the Dead (very Romantic – not as horrid as the Cappuccini Cripta in Rome but still very peculiar…)


  1. had the luck to sit out at a mountain top restaurant not far from Parma on summer’s eve to enjoy being bathed in the evening dew while listening to a 3 piece jazz band &sipping champagne. what a great tradition.

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