Monday, 8 October 2018

Meet Tonino, l'Orticoltore di Ceglie Messapica

Ceglie Messapica is a town in Puglia with roots that go back to pre-Roman times. The inhabitants are proud of this 'older than Rome' tradition and this results in a self-sufficient atmosphere whereby being off the beaten track doesn't seem to be a problem.

Although few tourists make it to Ceglie Messapica than to other Pugiliese towns such as Martina Franca, Ostuni or heaven forbid Alberobello*, there are more restaurants per capita in Ceglie than almost anywhere else for some reason.

The townsfolk enjoy a magnificent Passeggiata ending up in the Piazza Principale where Tonino, the Horticulturalist of Ceglie Messapica may be found every evening with his circle of friends chatting or listening to 'il professore' - a person fabled to be an authority on practically every subject.

In case this sounds condescending, we should mention that Tonino is himself an authority on at least two subjects: the electrical and electronics industry in which he had been involved in the past and horticulture.

In the latter speciality he has a deep knowledge of the local 'terroir' and what and how to cultivate it. His ideas are Rudolf Steiner - like, not to say Demeter - ish probably without him consciously subscribing to these schools or standards.

We found him in an extensive vegetable garden where he grows an amazing type of tomato which can be kept for over a year without rotting or drying out.

beautiful onions

lovely spuds

Also magnificent potatoes, onions, zucchini, melons all kinds of fruit and what not.

That day he had planned to make a graft onto a particular tree, we forget what variety or what he was grafting but there were examples of other grafts he had made in previous years resulting in plums of different colours growing on the same tree for instance.

It was a pleasure to watch him peel the bark from the cutting and marry it to the freshly cut branch, binding it skilfully with white cloth.

While carrying out this surgery, he explained that this was the auspicious day to make the graft as the current phase of the moon was favourable. Sensing our raised eyebrow, he added that it was the same in life: if you wanted to make a bambino, it was also necessary to do so at the right time of the month...

The 'what not' of Tonino's vegetable garden appeared to us to be one obvious thing: vines. There was room enough for a few to be sure. The land had been cleared and the deep red Puglian soil looked ready for a few rows. Why not?

Well, Tonino already had enough to do keeping his existing plantings going so in a light-bulb moment we suggested a no-spray Rauscedo grape variety such as the Soreli we had discovered earlier in the year - a new generation resistant vine derived from Friulano which would need no more than spring pruning.

Mentioning this new development, Tonino said 'oh yes, they have wine in Friuli too' or words to that effect, turned to speak to someone else on an unrelated topic and that was that!

The roots go deep indeed but they don't include anything from another province to be sure.

* Did you know that Japanese European tour itineraries sometimes consist solely of London, Paris and Alberobello?

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