Abruzzo has a secret, it’s called Solina.
We have been eating organic only for years, trying to have a small garden where our travels would see us long enough in one place. We had an amazing teacher in an Australian woman who was called Ashar, I met her one day in Israel, I was living on an open hillside outside the village of Clil, the only free village in Israel, bought field by field from the bedouins and local arabs. I was given 40 dunams (9.5acres) of land to live on, Lucy was still in the UK at the time, soon to join me. We were holding a market day, and all the people of Clil came up the hill. This Australian girl came up to sell her little “Shtilim” (her little veg plants) she lived with her boyfriend in a garden, her life was the garden.
I on the other hand, garden people, someone once told me that one can only be either a nomad, or a gardener. Being a nomad at the time, I felt like he was taking one of my loves away form me, because I also love gardening, my real work is with people though, so I say I garden people, and because most of the people I work with are actually itinerants, I say I garden nomads.
Juliette de Baïracli Levy who has led a semi nomadic life, and wrote endless books about gardening and natural cures, potions and indigenous people, said in one of her books, “even if you know you are going to move, plant some lettuces, chances are you will still be around to eat them when they are ready”. This was our motto, the way we garden on the move. When we could, we would put down a garden. Meeting Ashar in Israel was an eye opener, through the year we lived in Clil (in the Western Galilee), whilst making yurt after yurt which were always being sold the day we finished them, she taught us the secrets of the plants, she gave us Juliette de Baïracli Levy’s books, and she taught us of a life in the garden.
I “garden” nomads, because those are my people, at times I call them mutants, everywhere we went when we traveled we would always meet one person, as if actually the whole reason for us to be in any given place, was in fact that person. I call them mutants because they never seem to adjust to mainstream life, they have certain features, a power that does not allow them to integrate into mainstream society, those are the people I garden. They have always been my plants, I water them and at times when there is enough space and time they also flower, although usually after a while they get carried on with the wind again, maybe this too is how they get pollinated.
Ashar was one of those people, we used to go to her garden at night, Lucy who came to join me by then in Israel, once told Ashar that if she hears an owl call she will know that she needs to come to visit us, we would stand outside her garden and Lucy who could imitate an owl call to perfection, would call Ashar, and she would come and visit us the next day. On one of those nights, laughing our heads off in quiet, because the owls were in fact us, we walked back up the hill, we came back to our place, which was a few miles from hers on the outskirts of the village. There was a set of tipi poles, for a tipi we were making, seeing that every yurt we ever made in Israel on that hill was bought the moment we finished it, we needed another space, so still laughing our heads off like two owls, because actually we did not think there were any owls in Clil, we noticed a bird sitting on top of the poles, it was a small owl.
Ashar tricked us back.
So I garden people, and over the year of living in Clil we worked with Ashar, in return she taught us everything we know about gardening, she would wake up at 4am because she would never sleep, her dreams were always Lucid, and that frightened her.
I told her that Lucid dreaming is actually a power, and half of the people I work with try their best to become lucid in their dreams and practice dream control, she said it happens to her every night, and she hates it. So she would take to the garden instead of sleeping. The plants were her friends, she will take half a year to make her breakfast, silver beat with a sprinkle of olive oil and tahini, corn would shade her lettuces, she taught us about companion planting and much more. When we go on walks together she would always stop to pick some fresh cut grass, thinking about her compost pile, even dead animals to her were just a way to feed her plants and trees. She was our teacher.
When we came to Abruzzo years later, we naturally started making a garden, looking for local veg to grow in it, we are nomads yet we garden, but we never could garden like our teacher. Reading about local veg and produce we found out about the Ancient grains of Abruzzo.
Over millennia, the contadini (peasant farmers) in the hills and mountains of Abruzzo used to grow wheat. The heritage landrace of Solina is a wheat that was only grown in Abruzzo, a “soft” bread wheat , it favours the high mountain land, establishing itself in poor soils. It was called – “the mother of all flours, the one that fixes them all”. Sometimes a sentence like this gets stuck with me, I wonder what they meant?, when they said it fixes all flours, did they mean they mixed Solina, which is bread flour, with the other wheats they grew for pasta, in order to make bread?, it makes sense because, Durum wheat which is was also grown extensively, is harder, in fact it durum means that, hard wheat, and bread wheat is called tenero, meaning soft.
Lucy, who makes all of our breads, found that using heritage Durum wheat in her sourdough bread meant she ended up with a bread that was slightly crumbly, it would not slice well. Lower Gluten content, and the difference in comparison to gluten in modern wheat, was asking to be mixed with another flour, was this the reason that Solina was grown?, did they mean it fixes all flours, because they use to mix it with their Durum wheats, the ones they grew for pasta, to make a softer bread?, it does have a distinct flavour so maybe that was the reason or maybe its something I have not figured out yet.
I have followed a similar thread with the ancient wheats of Sicily, my favourite one there is called Tumminia or Timmilia, a durum wheat, grown by the peasants for millenia, it is the one used to make the black bread of Sicily, it was considered the poor man’s wheat, although I see it as the best of Sicilian heritage wheats for its flavour. The Sicilian had another heritage wheat possibly introduced by the spaniards called Majorca, in contrast this “soft” bread wheat was considered the rich man grain, because the rich only ate of it, it made fluffier breads and sweets. We have experimented with both of those grains, in order to understand the story for ourselves. Yet at times what makes one understand it all is a bite into freshly baked bread, and eating my first loaf of Majorca bread I saw how it all came about, how the white bread could have won over the dark, the soft over the hard. And I guess Solina has gone through a similar journey in the Abruzzo.
I make pasta from Solina, which melts in your mouth, Italians like their pasta al dente. Mixing egg with the pasta, makes it firmer, but Solina pasta is never really hard. Personally, the way it melts in the mouth to me is divine, but my Italian guests do not always agree.
So this is our love affair with ancient grains started, after being in Abruzzo for a couple of years, I met an Austrian guy, Nicolas. He lives with a woman called Federica outside the village of Tuffilo, on the hills that border Molise, the two of them have taken to cultivating ancient grains, their own veg and herb terraces, the guy is a genius, constantly researching ways to make small scale farming more efficient, no tilling, no water, smaller spaces and so on.
He came to visit our project on the foothills of the Majella massif, and he told me I have to plant wheat, I was trying to make excuses, saying I do not know if I’m ready for it that year, but he would not hear of it, he said its almost autumn, and its time to plant wheat. I am glad he did.
He showed me how to fence off a field so the wild boars wouldn’t go into it. We cleared small trees and bushes and piled them high, the thorns in the pile and its height would keep the wild boars out of the field. I cleared the land with the small Benati bulldozer, and me and the volunteers turned it by hand. The group I had at the time was mostly girls, and they took to singing, one would sit and sing to the rest of the group and the others would turn the hard packed clay soil, when one of them would get tired she would swap and became the singer, they all wanted to stop and sing, so the rotation time was quite short.
Nicolas later gave me a few kilos each, of his all grains, Senatori Capelli, Saragolla, buckwheat, and barley. we planted the whole field with our volunteers.
Because we also have an open field next to our other house a km away, and because Solina is the secret gold flower of Abruzzo, I decided that if we are already at it, Ill better plant that too, I got Marziale, our neighbour to plow that field for us, and we hand planted the Solina I got from a local organic mill in Moscufo by Pescara by hand.
Wheat has been domesticated over 11,000 years ago or so, In fact I would say that maybe wheat was really our first crop, there is a line with wheat that extends all the way back, it was the crop that made us all sedentary, it allowed us all as a people to live in larger communities, I guess because most of my adult life was nomadic, yet now trying to stay put in one place, It made sense to grow this primal crop.
Sustenance farming, or peasant farmers did not grow wheat for profit, maybe this is the reason we have lost so much of our ancient grains, because people became farmers, so if peasants grew food for themselves, farmers grow it for others, and for money.
Grain was brought by hand with people when they traveled to other lands, Saragolla was brought to the Abruzzo by a Bulgarian people, its name meaning yellow grain, it is derived from khorasan wheat, Bob Quinn has noticing that grain first in the Montana county fair in the 1960, decided to preserve it and he branded it Kamut, after noticing that people who ate it did not report the same health problems that they usually encountered from eating modern wheat.
It is said that it was actually Saragolla from Abruzzo that was the grain used to make Kamut, which is now a world renown brand, though I do not know if it is true or just another one of the local tales, as they take pride in their history, even if that grain was actually brought to them by another people in turn.
Ancient grains grown over decades, adapted to their terrain through natural and human selection flourished, becoming unique landraces. In her book Restoring Heritage Grains, Eli Rogosa, who spent years preserving ancient wheats from all over the world, speaks about the french term Terroir – the taste of the land. And Solina is the taste of Abruzzo.
There is something that is lost with modern foods, in the not so ancient past, all over the world, food was grown by the contadino, the peasant farmer. He had a special wheat to mix with his durum wheat, he had special cucumbers and tomatoes, saved from seed. His apples were small, and his chestnut trees gave strong flavour nuts. Everything that he grew, had thousands of years to adapt to its land, he chose the seeds of the strongest plants, he trained the plants like I train my nomads, he gave them little water, so they will be able to grow without it. Heirloom strains of vegetables grew in his gardens, everything was made to do well, to taste well, because he ate it, it needed to grow on his small patch, and it did not need to make big quantities or meet quotas. Once he was made to grow it for others, all of that did not matter anymore, what started mattering, is how well or easy it grew, and how much he could get for it, and often, he still grew a small patch of his ancient grains, even if now he also grew modern wheat.
One day I was at Marziale’s farm (our neighbour), we were in one of the small barns under his house, and I asked him about a corn his father used to grow, as I was told his father had a special variety of corn that was legendary. Marziale who had a pig at the time, told me he fed all the last of that corn to the pig, I was aghast, a thousand years of seed saving and contadini life had come to and end right in front of me, Marziale took me into another barn, he said maybe a few seeds fell on the floor, we looked in between the dirty terracotta tiles, and managed to find 10 seeds, and I took them to our garden, trying to save them, but although a few grew, they never produced ears, and it was symbolic for me, as if here in the Abruzzo, I was seeing the end of an older life. Right in front of us, the peasant farmer life is coming to an end, this time capsule of a place, the Abruzzo and its farmers, try to hack a living from the land, but their land was not meant for making a living, it is only suitable for living. The throw away a millennia of taste and ancient foods, and plant modern crops that make them very little money. And so the tastes and flavours of our foods disappear. I saw it first hand, it was happening right on my door step.
All of my neighbours farm wheat. There is a love they have inherited from their parents, a love for the land, like their ancient grains, a thousand years of growing wheat, has gave them too special genes, yet they go to the fields to plant modern wheat for nothing, they use to eat it, but these days they end up paying just to grow it, because they can never make enough money from their little plots to even cover their expanses. Some of them have gone a step back, and they grow wheat or barley to feed their animals, or to make their own pasta, but whatever the case is, they take to their fields every year, because like their Solina, the land is in their genes, and it calls them, I admire them for that, they farm for love.
Over the years, with the introduction of modern wheats, and the demands of pasta companies who are the ones usually buying the grain in small mountain communes, Solina has become almost lost, saved by a handful of traditional farmers. People who passed the seed to their sons and daughters, yet still this old landrace wheat was almost extinct.
The Consorzio Produttori Solina d’Abruzzo, based in Sulmona says that “Solina reflects the identity of the mountain of Abruzzo in the most authentic way, and its value, expressed through its centuries-old history and unique genetic and organoleptic characteristics, it has been acknowledged and extraordinarily exalted by the European Commission (Directorate- General for Agriculture and Rural Development).”
It is a reference point for the Abruzzo, a landrace wheat that carries its taste, the taste of the mountains, it was never grown below 750m.
A lot has been written by experts about ancient wheats, and people like Eli Rogosa has made it their life work to save it from extinction, looking for pockets where people still saved seeds from their fields, a thing that has become outlawed in many countries. The idea that a thousand years of tradition and work could be lost, a wheat that was chosen for its taste, that has adapted to the poorest mountain soils, selected by hand year after year, to produce a better crop on the next, creating a unique relationship between mountain and farmer, could be lost just because pasta companies would have cheaper grain, with better elasticity, as it is easier for their machinery is a crime. This is how we have lost the treasure troves of our foods, we have worked for 13,000 years to create the most special foods to eat, and have almost lost all the tastes we have created in the span of under 50 years.
It is said that it was the gods themselves who taught us how to farm, and that it was them who gave us grain.
Luckily thanks for the good work of the The Consorzio Produttori Solina d’Abruzzo, this Ancient landrace is saved, Italians have a love for food, possibly not equaled by any other people, and the Abruzzi love their mountains, Solina is like eating the power of those mountains, in a perfumed soft flour, that melts in your mouth.
A younger generation has also realised the benefits, and fuelled by an irresistible love for the land and its old tastes, they started using it in a few restaurants that pave the way, you can now eat Solina ravioli that would also melt your heart. Pizza is served with Solina base. And so this wheat is now saved.
One of the few of small pockets in the world, that has managed to save its landrace heritage wheat, Solina is very special, because most other wheats have been grown in a larger area, adapting to a more diverse terrain, but Solina is a love affair with the high mountains of Abruzzo, the only place that it has ever grown. Perfume by lime rock and almonds, figs and olives, proud like the tall mountains of Abruzzo, and like them it grows very tall.
It is a winter wheat, so we sowed our field in September, by growing tall, like a lot of ancient grains it has adapted itself to compete with the “weeds” sown in Autumn it is usually already well taller than any other spring weed in the field, it is usually sown with less than two “quintal” a hectare so about 180kg. But modern farmers have lost the knowledge of their forefathers, because Ancient grains unlike modern wheat can produce several seed-heads from one seed, if given enough space, each seed can spring into several tillers. But local farmers, having got used to modern wheat, sow it too heavy. So it does not grow as many tillers from each plant as it could, and the seed heads tend to grow smaller, a thing that convinces them that modern wheat is really much better, making championing ancient grains a little harder with them.
We sowed our wheat by hand, scattering it, that feeling of walking with a sack of ancient wheat in front of the sleeping goddess, majella, that gentle giant that hovers around central Abruzzo, is a romance, a love affair, in which one is allowed to taste an older life, this is the core feeling of being a peasant farmer, that love, the brisk cold of morning, and the smell of wet earth, growing wheat is a ritual that has been passed in our genes, and growing it to eat yourself, is also part of the magic, because by growing it for others, you remove yourself from the process, But that feeling of belonging is the core feeling, that magic is a big part of why our foods used to taste better, its a certain alchemy that has been lost, now that we grow it for profit, or in the case of the Abruzzi who grow it for no profit, it is hard for one to cultivate that feeling, and the wheat itself suffers.
Next to our fields there are two small houses that have been left standing ,although just barely, the plaster falling of the walls and the red terracotta tiles are all in disarray, yet the oak tree and the houses, the mountain and the hills, paint this picture, we walk scattering grain like the contadini. What a gift it is to be sowing their wheat, in the same fields where it used to be sown, next to their old houses. Only 50 years ago they themselves lived that life. Now it was left to us to appreciate and I was giving thanks while planting that wheat for the land that took us in, I know we are nomads, and maybe we will always be so, yet growing the first crop that took us from being hunter gatherers and turned us sedentary was also an attempt of sort for us to settle down.
Spring has come and our wheat was the tallest, because we live on a hill, going down into the Aventino valley, one can see all the fields on both sides of the river, each farmer has a few plots, so it is a carpet of different colours, green and yellow, at times it goes red with Sulla, and blue with the chicory flowers.
The year we planted wheat saw some of my neighbours planting modern wheat all around our little field. It was a remarkable contradiction, we were the foreigners, growing their traditional wheat, their landrace grain, while they planted modern wheat, using fertilisers, and herbicides.
One day in summer, I remember looking up from La Difesa, which is our bottom house towards the Solina field, I could see all the patch work of fields stretching up the hill in between the oaks, the modern wheat lay in big yellow patches, the field that was sprayed with herbicides in order to save the wheat for the combine harvester, was all brown, yet in the middle of this carpet of yellow, brown and blue, was a golden spot, like a small heart. Our Solina.
Italy is a country, yet its people hold their alliance with their own village, they are not a political people, thousands years of empire and government had taught them that their politicians would look only after themselves, they do not even hold much stock in their respective region, but their village is like a small nation, their pride. Coming here from the UK makes this very evident. In the UK rural identity is very lost, people have bought so much into the countryside it is rare it can hold its history, and tradition. The mountain regions of Italy is a small pocket where tradition and love for the land is still intact.
And Abruzzo is possibly one of the best preserved areas.
So being foreigners we appreciate it like magic, my heart goes to my neighbours, going out with their small tracked tractors, into their fields ploughing into the night, sowing with small lights going up and down the mountainside, rushing to get the hay in, sometimes only in the afternoon because they now have day jobs down in the valley. The love affair they have with the land is evident, they sign contracts with the local pasta factory every year, so they are bound to produce a certain percentage of protein, if the grain is tested below, the price falls, yet the mountain fields and modern wheat can only achieve that protein with chemical fertilisers, so farming has been enslaved by a system, and they can not break out of it because of the system that buys their grain, they get very little help from the government, yet they love farming, though their tractors are often 50 years old, the old tracks still squick up and down in unbroken rhythm every year, it does not matter that they make no profit, they still plough and sow, their land itself calls the, it takes one of them to plough and the rest as if caught by a spell have to go into the field, another year is turning, and the beckons to be tilled.
I have made it my little obsession, for which I am branded a lunatic, I have taken to advocate their ancient grains, every time my neighbours would drive down on their tractor they will stop for a chat, in fact this is one of the main reasons one can not get anything done in Italy, as there is always someone stopping to have a chat, to bring you some vegetables, asking or offering help. But living on the edge of abandon, by the domain of the wild boar king, I understand that if we don’t help each other, we and they could not make it through. I have pulled their tractors out of the mud with my 4×4 Mercedes truck, yet equally spent many a day in which my neighbour Marziale would come down because my digger was stuck, or suffering some mechanical problem, is these lands there is really only the person and nature, and if something goes wrong, and it does all the time, one is left alone, fending for oneself, and I can often hear the wild boar king laughing at me, my Benati bulldozer will be hanging on one track over a slope, or my truck would not drive up the hill, I would be stuck fixing the water pipe from the river, and I can hear him laughing as he knows, that here in the foothills of the Majella, nature still had the upper hand, I hack and cut, I trim and fix but nature is stronger, living in the last house in the commune on the edge of the abandoned lands makes for another sort of conversation that has taught me a lot.
I have spent hours, syphoning diesel out of blocked filters out of my own engines, and out of the neighbours tractors, there was one year, a neighbour would walk up to our house everyday because his tractor stopped again, we would crank open the banjo bolts on his fiatagri, and look for the blockage, I told him he must clean the tank, but because they needed to get the hay in, there was no time for it, so we ended up going through the whole fuel blockage every morning.
Although they have branded me a lunatic for it, I talk for hours with them while we are fixing their tractors together, or when they stop for a chat, trying to convince them to grow their ancient grains again. They told me that the problem is actually that in the current system no one will buy their grain. The other thing is that growing Solina organically means that the field is infested with weeds, and the combine harvester has to deal with those in the harvest, and although a mill can potentially deal with all the other seeds present in the grain and clean it, it is also a source of pride to produce a clean grain they send to the mill or the pasta factory, they love to see only the wheat in the field, once people grew grain for taste, amounts did not matter as much, because you could only eat so much, or barter so much with, an acre of land or two would be more than enough, and growing wheat is easy. I couldn’t argue with their logic, and I understood the problem is much deeper than them not wanting to grow ancient wheat, I felt like I’m trying to sell ice to the eskimos, but I also know that Solina is the secret power of Abruzzo, because it is unique. We came here from the UK, I knew if we can introduce this amazing ancient grain into the market back there, this healthier wheat, with its special taste, one that can be eaten by people with Gluten intolerance, we would had a winner.
I realised though that there is no way I can get them to grow it unless I could find a buyer, I talked to a local organic mill who agreed to try and buy some, even if it did not have an organic certification, something that would take time to achieve, and would need to prove its merits, but they could not take all the grain, as they were only a small mill. The answer came one day when my friend Nicolas sent me a contact that was looking for organic farmers to grow 3000 hectares of heritage wheats all over Italy.
I spent hours on the phone trying to convince the company director to come to our local commune and arrange to talk to the farmers, our mayor agreed to give us the meeting room in the commune and Marco Bertelli who runs the Programme came and talk to the farmers. it was a last moment affair, and we did not advertise it that well, so the room was not exactly full, but Marco gave a two hour lecture about ancient grains.
He spoke about their programme, of how they have created a system of selection that sees organic production yield more than modern, he offered contracts of 75 euro a quintal (100 kg) which is about 3 times what they were getting for their modern wheat. He talked about spelt, specifying its health benefits, telling the audience how modern wheat destroys the gut, because its gluten can not be digested in the same way, saying that all of our health problems actually start in the gut, which becomes blocked by this modern gluten, which is very different from the one present in ancient grains. He suggested that a simple the way to cure people would be be to mix wholemeal spelt that is milled with the husk, with another grain like Saragolla, so not only one will end up with a superior taste pasta, one would also heal the human race from its modern day affliction and gut problems on the way.
It was an amazing lecture. He brought with him a selection of grain they cultivate through the system, showing how through this Programme, by selecting the grain every year, through a machine that chooses only the biggest seeds, through fertilising each one directly with organic fertilisers they were achieving wheat seed heads that was three time the size. His wheats were long and big, he gave every person a packet of pasta of that same spelt and ancient wheat mix.
I ended up trying to get the locals on to that new contract, I was a little beyond my pay grade, I was trespassing into their livelihood, and pride. I did not want to teach them how to farm, but I really felt like this obsession I had of seeing them grow their own traditional grain is a dream that must be realised. We spent months of talking to a bunch of farmers, and driving around with my friend Angela Schmel who was worked with me on this programme, trying to convince people. We even tried renting fields that we can cultivate ourselves, if that was really the only way we can convince them, yet I got nowhere.
I had two neighbours who agreed to try it, but in the end one had no money for the seed, and the other already planted modern wheat for the year. I have lost another year in my battle for Solina.
I decided to try and plant my own Solina again, we spent a week harvesting it by hand, my two volunteers working in the hot sun with me, we cut the wheat with a sickle like farmers did for a thousand years. that was the fun part, possibly even more romantic than sowing it under the mountain gaze, cutting the tall sheaths of Solina, lying gold now in bunches we tied together with string. I filled the small corrugated iron shed to the top with our own grain, harvesting the small field with the grain Nicolas gave me, we had our own wheat.
But we needed to thresh it, such a small scale production does not merit the combine harvester even going into the field, and although I spoke with the local guy who harvests everyones wheat, he said that it will take so much time to clean the harvester completely, and that the grain will just get mixed with the other modern wheat. So we thrashed it by hand, beating the sheaths down with a stick, Bastonare, is how it is called, derived from bastone – to beat with a stick. We got a little over 200 kilos of Solina from that small patch.
So seeing I couldn’t convince anyone else to grow it, I decided I will plant my own grain again, Marziale my neighbour agreed to sow it on his fields, I offered to try to sell it for him later, and asked for my own grain back so I can have some to plant again, he offered me twice what I gave him, a friend from Teramo who also spent some years growing his own heritage wheat asked if he can plant his with ours as he lost his land. So we ended up sowing 3 hectares of land that year.
It was a relief not to have to prepare the field by hand, and knowing the wheat can now be also harvested by the combine harvester made me relax, we had enough quantity. And even if we could not sell it, we will have enough seed to grow all of Marziale’s 15 hectares on the next year.
The Solina grew well that year, although the summer was very rainy, and most of the other fields were almost destroyed, but the weeds were also very bad that year because of all the rains. even the tall Solina was having hard work competing. But with some strange stroke of fate Marziale became very sick and ended up in hospital, the combine harvester was going field by field harvesting everyones grain. But although they tried to get Marziale in hospital to answer his phone, they couldn’t get him, that with the fact that the field now was covered in weeds because the Solina which is very tall and matured a little earlier than the other wheats, has now lodged so was lying low, made their mind to leave it, the contadino lost to the farmer, here in Abruzzo, I was seeing the loss of the ancient gold, taken to an amazing perfection by mountain and man over millennia, the fact that it behaved differently to modern wheat, and needed to be harvested a week earlier, and my neighbour being in hospital meant that our wheat was not harvested.
I tried to get them to come back, I called Marziale in hospital, we tried to come up with a plan of how to sort the grain, but the rains have come back again, and the wheat was ruined. I felt a little dejected, but I argued that being part of the farming community was like that, I was going through the pains they feel every year, so although our 3 hectares were not even harvested, some of them lost hundreds of hectares, and thousands of euros, and It felt good in a way to take part in their pain, because this wheat will always be theirs, and I felt the pain they must feel losing their farming tradition, the battle they fought with the boar king, and a modern world, that has deprived them of their treasures.
I still tried to come up with a way to save the Solina, I thought after all the seed is still in the field, maybe we can somehow plough it or cut it so it will seed itself again. But because Marziale was sick, we could not try it in time, in the end he sold his fields anyway, because he needed to pay back for his new tractor.
It felt absurd my neighbour was selling his farm to pay for a new tractor. But this is the case of agriculture in Italy, small mountain villages can not compete with the farmers down on the plains, wild boars, and weather and the poorer soil are all set against them, the pasta factories tie their hand with contracts they can never achieve, and their old tractors are only fuelled by love, because I can see no other reason why they still function. Yet in all of this what is evident is a love affair they have with their land. And one day I will see them put that love into the landrace heritage wheat, their beloved Solina, because it symbolises that love, alongside the taste of the land, the fragrance of mountain, its the love of men, and his toil that has taken a grass and elevated it into a golden grain, through 11,000 years of selection and seed saving, taking small bag of seeds on his migrations, we now stand to loose in our modern world the whole voyage of love, man took with his seeds a genetic journey of perfecting this grass into the perfect loaf of bread into a bowl of heavenly pasta.
Solina is a story of men, the plight of the Abruzzi. The tall mountains and the oak forests, it’s the story of the peasant farmer in this wild wild land.
I have this dream, to create a restaurant serving the taste of the land, the real tastes of heirloom veg and cereal, and Solina combines all of that in itself. The secret gold of Abruzzo, will be the bread that I serve. So Terroir is the taste of the land, and love is what made it grow, the feeling of belonging, the millennia clock that ticks in our genes, my neighbours still hear it tick, the land calls them to plough, the gods had given us grains made out of grass, and with it they gave us, who were nomads, the feeling of belonging. So wheat is a story of our belonging.
We fight to save the last seeds kept on the terracotta tiles, before they are lost forever. Before we as a people would lose the taste of the land forever, and with it we will be made to lose our place, and made to wander again, the gods gave us wheat, so we can settle and belong. It’s a golden thread and for me it is called Solina, The gold of the Abruzzi.