The wheat and the harvest: an historical and gastronomic tradition
Wheat was one of the first plants to be grown in the Mediterranean area. A cultivation that dates back to about ten thousand years ago and represents a milestone in the evolution of the diet of ancient men. After eating for a long-time meats, fruits and wild roots, our ancestors started to grow wheat.
From the Neolithic age onwards, this plant has profoundly marked the history of man as source of wealth. The importance of wheat is also highlighted by numerous popular beliefs related to this cereal: Greeks and Egyptians thought it was a gift from the Gods, while in the Bible it was a symbol of fertility and wealth.
THE HARVEST ACCORDING TO THE PEASANTS TRADITION
The month of June marked the time of harvest, a thousand-year tradition renewed today. Once, the wheat harvest season represented a very important moment for the farmers in Marche because they gathered the fruit of a whole year of hard work. Families woke up very early, and the farmers went into the fields before sunrise. A long and intense day was waiting for them, that’s why they used to bring with them nourishing breakfast and lunch that could support them till the evening.
The vergare - peasant’s wives - put in the guluppa – a dialectal term in Fabriano dialect for the food wrapping - bread, water, pecorino cheese and cured meats. Once in the fields, the farmers picked the shadow of a fairly large tree to put all the food and beverages they had brought. Then they took a handful of ears and cut it with a sickle as close as possible to the ground, leaving several “thorns” though that often injured their feet.
After the harvest of a nice portion of the field, the peasants gathered the wheat and with the forks formed some sheaves with the wheat ears facing outwards to let them dry.
This job involved most of the village and not for nothing, it represented a source of livelihood.
BREADS AND CRESCIA: A REAL HIT IN MARCHE
Even today, wheat is one of the main typical products of the Marche region. A major producer of spelt and corn, for this region wheat is an important element of the gastronomic tradition, often linked to recurring events or outstanding moments of rural life.
An example of this is the Pan dei Mietitori, which was cooked during the wheat harvest, the Pane al Mosto, which was prepared during the grape harvest and the Pan Nociato, which was prepared after the harvesting period for the walnuts.
However, there wasn’t just the bread: the practical and creative aspect went wild with Crescia, one of the tastiest products prepared with wheat. In the Marche region there are two versions: the Crescia sfogliata of Urbino and the one made in Macerata. Loved also by the Dukes, the Crescia Sfogliata has its roots in the Renaissance. It was prepared with eggs and lard, plus it was seasoned with salt and pepper. Once it was served as a container for meat and vegetables pies. Nowadays, it is a delicacy that is served with ham and casciotta cheese from Urbino.
The Crescia from Macerata, commonly called “white pizza”, was prepared with the bread dough leftovers and seasoned with salt and oil. Sometimes it was enriched with rosemary and onion, but the most characteristic and appreciated variation is the Crescia with Ciccioli, pieces of pressed fatty pork. There are other popular and appreciated variations: one is made of Granturco (maize) and the one called the Ciccia’nnanza of Ascoli Piceno, baked in a wood-burning oven before any other kind of breads to check its temperature.
The Crostolo del Montefeltro, a geographical variant of Crescia of Urbino, was made by mixing flour, eggs, salt, pepper, lard, oil and milk, and cooked over a grill. The Crostolo di Urbania, instead was made by polenta leftovers – the one that remained attached to the wall of the boiler.
The Focaccia farcita, typical product of Ascoli Piceno, was cooked the day before being eaten. The day after, it was sautéed in a pan with lard and stuffed with boiled vegetables. A very tasty variant was the Chichì Ripieno, a very thin focaccia filled with anchovies, green olives, artichokes and tuna.
Among all the types of bread, the place of honor is occupied by Filone Casereccio, emblem of the Marche tradition, together with spelled bread, kamut bread and the so-called Pan del Duca. It was a bread prepared with sourdough a small quantity of salt and it required a whole night to rise.
The Pan del Duca dates back to 1474, when it was prepared in honor of Giovanni della Rovere, lord of Senigallia. It was prepared with flour, sourdough and water.
In the Fabriano area, the Sciapo bread was prepared without salt, a tradition which could be attributed to the fact that the bread was consumed together with the delicious and savory, Fabriano cured meat. However, according to another school of thought, this habit may derive from a geographical distance from the sea and the consequent difficulty to get salt.
The Pane delle Terre di Frattula, derived from a the monks of Fonte Avellana Medieval tradition, was prepared with stone-ground flour.
There are other two delicious kind of breads: the Pane di Chiaserna, which requires long processing times and was cooked in wood-burning oven, and the Spelled Bread.