Purgatory Beans

Ark of taste
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The Purgatory bean is small, white and round, similar to a Cannellini bean, but with a more delicate taste and a thin skin, historically cultivated in the towns of Gradoli, Acquapendente and Onano. It peculiarity is due both to the traditional growing practices that do not allow the use of chemical products and the volcanic soil. The bean is both planted and harvested by hand still today. The Gradoli purgatory beans grown on a creeping, semi-determinate plant that grows semi-upright to an average height of 38 cm. The oval shaped leaves, divided into three leaflets, are light green. The white butterfly-shaped flower grows in groups and is self-fertile. The fruit is a brown, medium sized pod. Flowering beings in mid-June, and harvest of the unripe seeds is in mid-July while harvest of the dry seeds takes place in the first half of August.   Traditionally, it is boiled in water seasoned with garlic, sage, bay and a small amount of salt, and dressed with extra virgin olive oil from Gradoli, salt and pepper.  With a fast cooking time (of about one hour), it does not need to be pre-soaked before cooking. This bean is still used today in the classic farmers’ soup and in the healthy pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean soup), both of which are characterized by the ritual of adding an abundant amount of fresh, locally produced olive oil before serving. They are also, however, very good when prepared in the oven, as an accompaniment to pieces of meat or as a side dish to lake fish.  This bean has been cultivated as a local variety for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the lunch held since the 1600s at Gradoli for the occasion of Ash Wednesday, called the “Pranzo del Purgatorio” (Purgatory Lunch), in which this bean – boiled and seasoned with salt, pepper and local extra virgin olive oil – has always a defining and well appreciated dish. Even the Etruscans, the ancient inhabitants of the area at the border of modern-day Lazio and Tuscany, grew these beans and used them often in the preparation of seasonings for meats. The product was highly appreciated by medieval farmers from upper Lazio, not only for its ability to rebuild the soil, but also for its nutritional value. The importance of this legume for the community was proven by the fact that in the 1700s the beans were associated with an economic value; they appeared as donations by the faithful, and also as a gift for celebrants of Mass. Today, this bean is at risk of being lost due to low production levels, and a small size and delicateness that has made them difficult to commercialize.Photo: A. Claudia 

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Production area:Gradoli, Acquapendente and Onano Municipality (Viterbo province)

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