Story of a Bean

26 Oct 2015

Beans for grapes. That was the exchange that at the start of the last century linked the inhabitants of the Basso Canavese with those of Monferrato in Italy’s Piedmont region. Older residents still remember how all the local families used to grow beans in the middle of the cornfields.

 

In the field and in the kitchen

The bean plants grew up the corn stalks, and before the corn was harvested, the beans would be patiently picked by hand. Large, flat and white, the local Piattella Canavesana variety has a compact, delicate texture and a very thin skin. It was a valuable crop, because as well as reaching a yield of around 150 kilos per “giornata piemontese,” an ancient unit of measure equal to 3,810 square meters, it could be sold or used for barter and was eaten by the local farmers. The beans were so nutritious that they were the staple of the local diet until the 1960s, but they were also highly prized, and each family had their own regular customers who would return often to buy the beans, not only from surrounding villages but the whole Canavese area and nearby provinces.

 

Also known as Piattella di San Giorgio Canavese or fasol at Cutres (Cortereggio bean), it was traditionally eaten cooked in an earthenware dish called a pignatta with pork rind, lard and other seasonings. Almost every week, on Saturdays, the pignatte were taken to the communal oven and the beans were left to cook slowly after the bread had been baked. The beans would then be eaten for the rest of the week, hot or cold in salads. When the communal ovens fell out of use, the locals used their home ovens to prepare the beans.

 

Over time, cultivation of the variety was gradually abandoned. Given the difficulty of growing and harvesting the legume in the cornfields, just a few farmers continued to plant it for their own consumption. Families reproduced the seeds, preserving them in tiny quantities and saving them from extinction. It is thanks to foresight of one of these farmers, Mario Boggio, that the Piattella beans are again being widely grown in the area, after he sent a few kilos of beans to the germplasm bank at the University of Turin in 1981 to ensure the seed’s survival.

 

The bean and the land

The Presidium is the result of the efforts of Mario, Andrea, Ivano and other friends, supporters and Cortereggio inhabitants, who set up a committee for the protection of the Piattella Canavesana to encourage its planting and to return the bean to the market.

 

Initially there were few seeds and few growers, but the perspicacity that distinguished Mario is a common characteristic among all of this project’s participants. In just a few years they have managed to increase production exponentially, and to infect the whole community with their enthusiasm and desire to promote the local area through the pilot project of the first local Presidium.

 

Cortereggio is a little-known corner of Piedmont, still characterized by quality agricultural and artisanal production, medieval villages and castles and a social fabric that is alive but struggling to emerge. It is better known, however, for the abandoned warehouses along the highway, the ruins of the local economy’s golden years, when the Italian computer company Olivetti built its technological hub here.

 

Now the inhabitants of Cortereggio and San Giorgio have moved on from that past and want to start again from the land, from a simple bean. They want to network together all the entities that can study and analyze the local area’s productive, environmental, historic and social characteristics, so as to have a complete analysis of the territory and to launch a process of awareness-raising among the community and institutions, making the area increasingly better, cleaner and fairer.

 

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