The apple trail in the Mantuan territory to the south of the river Po

Between organic apples and ancient cultures

Apples in organic farming and old cultivars

The growth of fruit is widespread especially in the Mantuan territory situated to the south of the river Po. Though the pear has got the so-called mark of origin, P.G.I. (protected geographical indication), the apple can boast an even more ancient tradition.

In this area some farmers and farmholidays have made a courageous choice, based on top-quality products, according to the characteristics of the territory, thus competing with other areas, such as Trentino.

Their choice takes into consideration various aspects such as: care for the environment, respect for the consumer and for the ancient varieties harvested by our grandparents so as to be able to grow the same good quality apples that we could have found in the ancient orchards of the Mantuan courts.

Its is the case of apples grown according to the characteristic of the territory and that little by little have become more disease-resistant and have preserved important organoleptic qualities. Organic farming is the easiest and most natural way of growing crops as it was done in the past.

Thus we must never forget our past and its characteristic landscape. And as to the traditional Mantuan recipes, our `mostarda` (sweet fruit pickles) wouldn`t be so good if we used different varieties of apples to make it instead of the `Campanina` variety.

Historical background

Apple cultivation has very ancient origins. In fact, the Greeks knew this crop which began to be more spread during the Roman Empire. Famous writers such as Plinio and Varrone describe numerous varieties of apples which are also mentioned in literary works and paintings.

In some documents we read that fruit-growing was spread in abbey gardens and in the gardens of powerful noble families who used fruit as a food and also as a medicine. At that time rich people considered fruit-trees as precious botanical curiosities that had to be studied and exhibited.

For example, Cosimo III De` Medici, commissioned paintings with different kinds of fruit, especially apples, from Bartolomeo Bimbi, a famous painter from Florence. During the Renaissance period treatises on agronomy deal with the cultivation of the apple and its organoleptic properties. Giovanni Battista Fiera, a Mantuan doctor, philosopher and theologian (1450-1540) in his treatise on dietetics, `Coena`, describes the characteristics of the apples and quinces.

About apples and their numerous varieties he says that they can also be bad for the tummy, while quinces, are very good foo the stomach, especially when cooked with honey.

In the ancient past, as far as we know, the cultivation of apples in the Mantuan land was mainly concentrated in the orchards, as well as inside the city walls, and the production was enough to cover the needs of the local inhabitants. In the old orchards we could have found varieties such as ` Campanina`, `Decio` apples or Quinces.

AIn S.Benedetto Po, inside the Polironian Abbey, there were places called `fruttarie` suitable for preserving fruit coming from the orchards within the jurisdiction of the monastery. In 1475, in an orchard in S. Giacomo delle Segnate we read: `big pears, quinces, figs, cherries, a medlar and muscat grapevines`. ( A.Rezzaghi, `La terra di Segnate e limitrofi`).

It seems that also the Dukes of Mantua were interested in rare varieties of fruit-trees they had in their gardens, as we know from letters written by Isabella Gonzaga who was personally interested in finding trees to enrich her gardens. (G.Malacarne – `Sulla mensa del Principe`).

The Gonzagas loved to enrich their palaces with prestigious works as well as with many kinds of fruit trees. They always ate apples during the meals. At that time fruit was considered as a quality and luxury product also because it was difficult to preserve it.

It seems that Isabella D`Este very much liked the so-called `codognata` made with quinces which were also put in drawers to scent linen. The Gonzagas used fruit in preparing numerous dishes, as Bartolomeo Stefani, the most famous cook of the Gonzagas, wrote in his well-known handbook: `The art of good cooking`. Marquis Federico II wrote a letter to the gardener of the Duke of Ferrara asking him for some fruit trees. (G.Malacarne).

Also the Lords in Ferrara loved and ate fruit. At the wedding banquet of Alfonso II a great variety of fruit was offered to the guest. (`A proposito di frutta`, Provincial Council of Ferrara). The people in the old rural courts to the south of the river Po did not prepare sumptuous banquets with elaborate dishes, but they cultivated fruit trees and the eldest housewives had already acquired good experience in preserving fruit and in preparing jams and fruit sweet pickles. The land in this area has always been very fertile thanks to a great number of drainage channels and deep ditches done by the Benedictine Friars and the Gonzagas. Moreover, the prevalence of the small estate lead to an intensive cultivation of fruit. Giovanni Antonio Magini describes this area as a very fertile plain where the land is humid and smooth and where wheat, legumes, rice, flax and all kinds of fruit grow abundantly, thus covering the needs of the people in nearby places, too. (In `Pera dell`Oltrepo mantovano` by C.Malagoli)

Fruit-growing will later become an essential source of income in the 1930s thanks to a rich production of apples, peaches and pears. Nowadays, the apple is widely used in cooking. It is also the main subject in Vanni Viviani`s paintings, as we can see in his villa, in S.Giacomo delle Segnate called: `Cà di Pom` (the house of the apples).


The properties of the apple

An old saying says that `an apple a day keeps the doctor away`. And, to tell the truth, it really seems the apple is very good for our health. According to research done at the University of Ancona we have found out a lot of interesting things about the apple such as, for example, its efficacy in curing cholesterol thanks to the high content of fibre.

The apple is a low–caloric content food (about 40 Kcal/100 gr) and is rich in phosphorus, calcium and zinc. As it also rich in potassium and poor in sodium; it has diuretic properties and it is good for people who suffer from hypertension and also for people who suffer from diabetes as it is poor in sugar.

It is rich in vitamin C content that is even higher in the most ancient varieties. It also has digestive properties since it contains malic, citric, and oxalic acids.

The apple helps us to keep young and not to get fat as it contains polyphenols which are antioxidants with the important function of eliminating the free radicals.


Some ancient and traditional varieties in the Mantuan countryside

The traditional varieties are more resistant and more easily preserved in comparison with others. They also have higher vitamin content. Now let us have a look at some varieties:

`Campanino`: it is very suitable for making sweet fruit pickles. The fruit is small with an irregular shape, the peel is green with red nuances. The pulp is very thick and it has a very fragrant flavour. This is why it is very good when used in making cakes. Our grandparents kept this variety in their barns in order to preserve it all the winter.

`Decio`: it is an even more ancient variety and well-known for its long lasting preservability. It is not too small and not too big, with a flattened and rounded shape. The peel is green and smooth at harvest time while it becomes yellow-green while ripening. The pulp is white and crunchy, sweet and with a fragrant flavour.

`Durello`: this variety can also be preserved for a long time. The fruit is big and very flattened; it has a green peel with red pits and nuances. It becomes straw coloured while ripening. The pulp is white, sweet and with a fragrant flavour.

`Quince`: it is a sour fruit with a yellow and a little pilous peel. It is excellent for preparing very good jams and `cotognate`.

The Producers

Nowadays apple growing in the southern Mantuan territory is done following new techniques that must be respectful to the environment and to the traditional varieties. Our producers have a good knowledge of organic farming that combines new methods and traditional agriculture. This requires professionalism, much work and a good knowledge of the treatments to be done, based on natural substances, and according to the characteristics of the soil and the climatic conditions.

Organic farming requires the choice of the most suitable varieties, say, the most resistant ones to diseases, such as scab. Though it is a hard work, the farmer has a great help from insects and birds. As a matter of fact, you will be able to buy natural and tasty products.

If you go to Mr. Alfredo Andreoli`s orchard you can taste his clear cider and see the 50 varieties of apples he is growing, such as `Decio`, `Annurca`, `Limoncella`, or `Zitella`. You can also listen to his funny stories he likes telling both young and old people. Since 1996 Mr. Alfredo has been practising organic farming after the experience he received from his grandfather who began to cultivate apple and pear trees in the 1930s.

In Mr. Leonardo Calzolari`s farm you can see the cultivation of the `Florina` apple and of different kinds of vegetables. Mr. Giancarlo Fila is experienced in cultivating apples and pears from organic farming. While Mr. Guidetti is experienced in cultivating quinces and ancient varieties of cereals.


LIST OF PRODUCERS

Andreoli Alfredo`s Farmholidays Biological producer Via Argine, 68 - Schivenoglia (MN) Phone: 0386-58205 - E-Mail: alfredo.andreoli@libero.it Fruit available: - Apples (from September to January) - Pears (from July to January) - Prunes (from June to August) - Grapes (autumn)

ROB farm (Rasi Ortofrutta Biologica)Owned by Rasi Andrea Biological producer Via Bosco Scuro,8 - 46040 Cavriana (MN) Phone and Fax: 0376-82455 - E-Mail: rob@bioexpress.it Fruit available: biological seasonal fruit and vegetables pen every day all the year

Dall`Ara Lucia e Benfatti Daniela`s Farm Via Caselle, 54, - Schivenoglia Phone: 0386-58498 Fruit available: - Campanina apple (from October to November) - Pears (from August to September) - Prunes (September)

Corte Gelati Owned by Leonardo Calzolari Biological producer Via Brazzuolo, 72 - Schivenoglia Phone: 0386-58363-586013 Fruit Available: - Florina apple (September) - Melons (Summer) - Water melons (Summer)

Giancarlo Fila Bilogical producer Corte Cucca, via Giovanni XXIII - Schivenoglia Phone: 0386-58201 Fruit available: - Apples (from September to October) - Pears (from September to October) - Grapes (autumn)

Barbieri Marco`s Farm Biological producer Viale Milazzo, 19 - Sermide Phone: 0386-915270 - Fax 0386-915220 - E-Mail: biosole@biosole.it - Web: www.biosole.it Fruit available: - Apples (from September to October) - Pears (from September to October) - Melons (summer)) - Water melons (summer) - Strawberries (spring)

Guidetti Aldo Biological producer Via Marconi, 71 - San Giacomo delle Segnate Phone: 0376-616146 Fruit available: - Quinces and old varieties

Cenna Norina Via Canali, 3 - San Benedetto Phone: 0376-614405 Fruit available: - Campanina, Decio, Red Chef Durello apples (starting from August)

Zibramonda Owned by Carlo Breviglieri Biological producer Via Argine Secchia, 20 - Quistello Phone: 0376-615031 - Fax: 0376-615362 Fruit available: - Apples (from September to October) - Pears (from August to October) - Apricots (from June to July) - Cherries (from May to June) - Figs (summer) - Peaches (from July to August) - Prunes ( from August to October)

The Mantuan `mostarda` (sweet fruit pickles)

The Campanina apples and quinces are the most suitable kinds of fruit used to make our traditional `mostarda` that is generally served with cheese and boiled meat. This product dates back to Medieval and Renaissance times when the `mostarda` was on the tables of the Mantuan princes and Lords. The historian Giancarlo Malacarne mentions the so called `albarelli`, that are small and average majolica and glass containers suitable to contain jams and `mostarda`. At that time the grocer was entrusted with the preparation of these excellent preserves that would enrich the table of the prince during the banquets.

The main ingredients are: Campanina apples or quinces, sugar and mustard. Here is the procedure about making it: peel and cut the fruit into slices. Then cover with sugar (about 350 gr/1kg of fruit) and let it rest for 24 hours. After that boil the syrup, pour it on the fruit and let the ingredients rest for another 24 hours. Do it again for the following 2 days. At last pour both fruit and syrup in a pan and boil till the slices get a tawny colour. When the `mostarda` is cold, add 8 drops of mustard per kg. Mix and pour in watertight cork covered jars.

Where you can buy `mostarda`

ROB Farm Owned by Rasi Andrea Via Bosco Scuro 8 - 46040 Cavriana (Mn) Phone and Fax: 0376-82455 - E-Mail: rob@bioexpress.it sweet fruit pickles, biological jams and fruit juices

Agricoltura del Po Owned by Vanni Geretti and Franca Verona Strada Salvo D`Acquisto, 8 - Marcaria Phone: 0376-525106 - 335-5633596 - E-Mail: vanni.geretti@tin.it

Cascina Sguazzarina Owned by Giovanni Pedretti Strada Baldese, 12 - S. Anna di Castel Goffredo Phone: 0376-78809 - Fax 0376-781203 - E-Mail: casc.sguazzarina@libero.it

Corte Gaia Owned by Maria Nodali Via Medole, 75 - Castiglione delle Stiviere Phone and Fax: 0376-632541 - E-Mail: alberto.cortegaia@libero.it

Corte Restara Owned by Maria Luisa Guerrieri Gonzaga Via L. Martiri, 91 - Sustinente Phone and Fax: 0386-43172 - E-Mail: corterestara.@libero.it

Il Galeotto Owned by Tommaso Vanzini Via Galeotto, 2 - Bigarello Phone: 0376-229165 - Fax: 0376-663562 - E-Mail: galeotto@suferella.it - Web: www.galeotto.suferella.it

Il Glicine Owned by Claudio Traversi Via S. Romano, 40/A - Ostiglia Phone: 0386-802892 - 333-3407580 - Fax: 0386-800080 - E-Mail: ladylake@libero.it - Web: www.anteanet.com/agriturismoilglicine

La Montina Owned by Augusto Mariotto Via Monzambano, 51 - Ponti sul Mincio Phone and Fax: 0376-809745

La Perla Verde Owned by Pasquale, StefanoArbustini and Erica Rossi Via Valluzze, 1 - Serravalle a Po Phone: 0386-841177 - E-Mail: stefano.arbustini@tin.it

Loghino Bosco Owned by Stefania Savazzi Via Cantalupa, 18 - Curtatone Phone: 0376-47525

Loghino Vallazza Owned by Gloria Luisa Sagoni Via Vallazza, 6 - Magnacavallo Phone: 0386-55430 - E-Mail: loghinovallazza@virgilio.it

Mossini Luigino Via Cabasse Fornace, 861 - Sustinente Phone: 0386-43302

Novoi Owned by Annamaria Maggiorato and Gabriele Boni Via Moscatello, 8 - Monzambano Phone and Fax: 0376-809235 - E-Mail: puppystar@libero.it - Web: www.novoi.it

Senga Owned by Luciana Filotto and Marina Danese Via Senga, 41 - Loc. Campitello, Marcaria Phone and Fax: 0376-969085 - E-Mail: agriturismo-senga@libero.it - Web: www.agriturismosenga.it Zibramonda Owned by Carlo Breviglieri Via Argine Secchia, 20 - Quistello Phone: 0376-615031 - Fax: 0376-615362 - E-Mail: cabrevi@tin.it

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