In the countryside of Cassano delle Murge and in some of the neighbouring municipalities, in what was once called ‘terr’d cicerin’, a local ecotype is grown that has been able to adapt very well to the area’s climate: the harsh winters and hot summers have not discouraged the emergence of this crop, which found the ideal conditions for its growth in the calcium rich soils of the Murge. The territory is partly protected by the Alta Murgia National Park, this includes the whole plateau, which begins from the centre of Puglia and continues on with a string of hills, terraces and karst cavities that gently slope down to the Adriatic coast.
The suitability and tradition of the Cassano delle Murge area for the cultivation of legumes is stated by various historical documents. Already at the end of the 19th century, given the scarce availability of animal proteins, they were consumed abundantly and sold: the chickpeas produced in the hills relied on brokers who brought the goods to the markets of Bari, Modugno and Foggia.
Statistical data relating to food consumption in the province of Bari reveals that in the early 1900s chickpea flour was only consumed in Cassano delle Murge.
The Cassano delle Murge smooth chickpeas have been preserved thanks to the work of local farmers who, every year, select a part of the harvest which is to be sown in the following year. The seed has a medium to large size, rounded shape and a smooth, thin skin, as the name suggests. Its colour varies from brick red to very dark brown, almost black, with different shades.
Traditionally the sowing took place “ai nove lamb”, in the nine days before Christmas. Today, the seeds are planted by hand between December and February, using the straight furrow technique. The crop is very resistant to diseases and parasites, and it does not require particular agronomic treatments or irrigation, thanks to the ability of the land to retain rainwater and gradually release it in periods of drought.
The harvest is generally carried out between June and July, when the plant has reached a good level of dryness in the field: the plants are uprooted by hand and grouped into bunches, which are then beaten using wooden sticks, called magghjioccl. This process is then repeated by hand, with the help of sieves or farnal that move in the wind, the grain is separated from any plant residues, leaves and pods. Finally, the product undergoes cold treatment, which consists of placing the legumes in a freezer room for a few days.
After being soaked for 48 hours, the chickpeas take about 120 minutes to cook in heavily salted water. Traditionally, once boiled, the chickpeas are eaten sautéed in a pan with pork rind and bay leaf or with fried onion and chilli. They can also be eaten blitzed or served without any seasoning, which used to be common practice, it was eaten directly from “jind u ‘pignatidde”, the typical terracotta containers used for slow cooking near the fireplace. In the past, a thick, dark drink which had a gelatinous consistency was prepared with the cooking water of the chickpeas, called “poor man’s coffee”, which was particularly appreciated for its energising properties.
They are harvested from June to July.
The objective of the Presidium is to bring together producers who intend to preserve this ecotype by using sustainable agricultural practices. The production specification in fact prohibits the use of chemical weeding while promoting the use of traditional cultivation techniques and the use of products which can defend the crop against diseases and low-impact pests.
Alta Murgia National Park
The Ministry of Labour and Social Policies
The Cassano delle Murge Smooth Chickpea Presidium is financed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, the General Directorate of the Tertiary Sector and Corporate Social Responsibility – notice n° 1/2018 “Slow Food in action: communities protagonists of change”, pursuant to Article 72 of the Tertiary Sector Code, referred to in Legislative Decree No. 117/2017.
di Nicola Gemmato
Largo Cadorna, 22
Cassano delle Murge (Ba)
Tel. +39 393 9867250
Società Agricola Racano Proscia
Via Amerigo Vaspucci, 29
Cassano delle Murge (Ba)
Tel. +39 349 3116516-347 7502733