Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sorana Beans Fagioli di Sorana Tuscany

Dear Art Lover,
     I got to help my landlord and his brother pick the beans this year! These are the famous Sorana beans (fagioli di Sorana), a white bean widely known in Italy, maybe beyond.  I saw them in the grocery store in Firenze recently.  The price:  28.29 euro per kilo!  

Italian farmer picks the beans of Sorana ; fagioli di Sorana

   Normally the beans are planted around the end of May-beginning of June.  This year, we had a lot of rain.  That is no good since the seeds would rot if planted in soggy soils.  We had to wait for about two weeks.  Maurizio even joked that if we were lucky, we might have beans for Christmas!  I remember well that time.  One afternoon I took a break from painting to sit around with the guys after they cut back all of the weeds in the terraced campo around my home.  We sat on the hill just below my house and watched across the valley as a distant neighbor plowed his field and planted the seeds.  Our discussion was concern that he was still too early.  But he gets more afternoon sun than we do, and now I can see that whatever he did worked well enough.

the beans of Sorana ; fagioli di Sorana; Italy, Tuscany
Valleriana, Tuscany, Italy:  the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana
     Some of the farmers used nets. They roll them up after each harvest, cleaning off extra plant material and often leave them on a vertical post at each end of the former bean row.  Others, such as my friends here, use bamboo cane and create teepee shapes.  They are secured by a plastic line so they remain upright despite any winds.  Both systems work, but the nets are quite expensive, I have heard.  Beans just need to go vertical, as Jack taught most of us non-farmers.

Italian farmers pick the beans of Sorana ; fagioli di Sorana

the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana; non-mature green beanstalks
Tuscan beanstalks; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

     The bean plant is a lovely shade of green, but as the beans mature, the plant starts to yellow and die.  It is quite easy to learn to know which ones to pick and which to leave on the stalk a bit longer.  The larger beans that are found lower to the ground are often picked to store as seed for next year’s lot.  My Italian landlord told me that tradition is to choose those lower to the ground because if the bean comes from too high up the stalk, the growth from that bean will only produce beans from that higher point and upwards, resulting in fewer beans.  But, he also said that he has no idea if there is any basis of fact in this. 

     My landlord does not grow food to sell so much and his beans are not regulated with the organization of Sorana beans.  However, another neighbor’s beans that ARE part of the organic, regulated trade told me that they also take the seeds from lower down to plant next year, but also harvest those sooner, in the case of rain… which we are experiencing now.  Apparently, beans near or in the ground at any stage of life do not like soggy soils! 

     We mainly picked the beans that are in the fairly dry and pale yellow pods.  Leave the green ones to mature.  There are some that are a deeper yellow (having emerged from or passed the green stage) in which the pod is still soft to the touch, as one can feel the beans inside are, too.  We picked some of those, but separated them.  Those go straight into the fridge or freezer for direct cooking and eating soon.

Italian farmers pick beans from the stalks; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

Tuscany, bean harvest; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

bean pods ready for harvest, the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

dog takes a ride in a bean basket; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana
Valleriana, Tuscany, perfect location for organic farming

    The brothers laid out onto the patio some netting with only very small holes in it.  They then dumped the baskets of the collected bean pods on top and spread them out.  Before they ran off to lunch, they both told me to let the beans dry in the sun a bit and then come out and dance upon them, setting the beans inside free. 

     Seriously?  I had heard of grape stomping, but never bean dancing!  I was delighted.  In the early afternoon, I was enchanted to HEAR the beans popping out of the pods!  If you have ever listed to the cereal Rice Krispies when someone adds milk to it (that was never me, I never liked milk, but my brothers do), it is a similar sound… a soft sort of music in and of itself.  However, I had brought my little radio (thanks, Rusudana!) and an umbrella (I am not partial to direct sunshine) and started dancing!  What fun.

Italian white beans dry in the sun; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

Sun, music, action  . . .  dancing on beans, Tuscany, Valleriana

a perfect day, white beans drying in the sun in Tuscany

dancing on white beans to break them free; Valleriana Sorana, Tuscany, Italy harvest

the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana; sun-dried to escape beanpods

     The beans are heavier than the dying pods and the sun aids a lot on the harvest.  I had taken a break and sat at one end of the bean pile to start picking apart any pods not fully opened, when Paolo and two of his fellow ambulance volunteers arrived.  They knew that it was going to rain soon enough and lifted the net, carrying the beans into the house and left them there overnight.  Actually, they left them for the next round of bean-picking.  Sadly, I had to go to Firenze and then Cortona to meet up with a visiting cousin and I missed the rest. 

ambulance servicement; bean harvest; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

Tuscan white beans of Sorana dry inside after threat of rain

     I had assumed that all of the work with these special beans was done by hand.  But there is a machine that helps separate the pods from any stubborn beans.  It simply uses a small blast of air to separate the pods, a brilliant solution without being overkill!  I had hoped to see this machine, but will have to wait for another opportunity.

     The beans will be hand-sorted and bagged for sale.  One of the perks of living here is that ALL of the neighbors help out with the organic and bio-controlled labels for food here.  No one uses harsh chemicals in their gardens, even those who do not sell their food. 

    I must say that the subtle sunset before the rain hit was lovely.  The storm that night did not last long, but we have had rain for the last three or four days.  There are still lots of beans on the stalks that are still green, so the rain gave us a pause to relax (and in my case, paint!).  And no doubt the olive trees have been thirsty this summer.  Their harvest comes in November.  I hope that my knee has healed by then!  [I recently bought a bike for one of my studio rooms and have started a different therapy.]
Now, off to my studio!  Thank you for your interest in Tuscany, organic healthy foods, and art!   


subtle sunset Tuscany Valleriana Italia stone house

storn hits Valleriana Sorana Tuscany after white bean harvest