The South chapter
One ordinary morning in 79 CE, in a small town in what is now Southern Italy, bakers went to their shops and merchants started to put out their colorful array of fruits, vegetables, jewelry, and other goods. In an instant, the ground began to rumble. Those outside saw a thick cloud of smoke erupting from the top of the nearby mountain. For many in the city of Pompeii, it was already too late to run, and unfortunately, only a few survived. In fact, the day Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii still ranks as one of the top ten deadliest volcanic eruptions in human history. The city lay under a thick layer of volcanic ash for hundreds of years, with everything in Pompeii perfectly preserved. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius was significant, not only as one of history’s great tragedies, but because it also demonstrated that volcanic ash was critical in maintaining the fertility of the soil, adding nutrients such as potassium and magnesium. All the diversity in Southern Italy’s cuisine is because of the fresh ingredients that can be grown in the region due to the nutrient-rich soil. Crops that grow around the volcano are renowned for their bitter taste, and they don’t grow anywhere else. This is because of the potash (potassium-based salts) in the soil. Friarielli cabbages are an example of a crop that is exceptionally rare, existing due to the soil and specific climate conditions.
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