A January Celebration Brings Warmth to Cascia
While leading his long-horned oxen and playing his organetto, Peppe de Lillo sang le pasquarelle (traditional mountain verses) in harmony with a tambourine-player, launching Cascia’s “Festa delle Tradizioni Rurali”. Medieval hilltown, Cascia, is famous for St. Rita (born there in the 14th century), black truffles, pecorino cheeses, saffron – and now – for la roveja.
Following the 1979 earthquake, the smaller farm villages ringing Cascia – Civita di Cascia among them – were abandoned. About twenty years after the earthquake – restoration completed – villagers returned. Most of the restored family homes became summer retreats: few people still worked the rugged land.
Just over twenty years ago, Silvana Crespi De Carolis found a treasure in a dusty corner of the cantina (“cellar”) of her family’s restored Civita house: a battered can of legumes, survivor of the 1979 earthquake. She showed the legumes to elderly farmers: they were mystified. Undaunted, Signora Silvana – “con curiosita’ e determinazione,” as she put it – researched the legume and then relaunched its cultivation. Signora Silvana’s family now cultivates la roveja as do two other committed area farmers. Slow Food – focused on the preservation of local food varieties and biodiversity – declared la roveja “presidio” (assuring its preservation, diffusion.)
La roveja reigns at Cascia’s annual mid-January rural festival in hearty soups.
Silvana and roveja-producer Geltrude offered visitors steaming bowls of roveja goodness, enhanced with the subtle taste of the Cascia area saffron. They were delighted when we asked for seconds! In a nearby booth, niece Lucia sold packets of the roveja beans and roveja polenta flour, enthusiastically sharing “roveja lore” and recipes.
Just opposite the roveja booth, young volunteers fed the bonfire, taking the chill off the snowy January night and making coals for the toasting of bruschetta. The bruschetta drizzled with local olive oil drew in the visitors but the best was yet to come: cheese-producer, Roberto, slipped wedges of his caciotta (cow’s milk) cheese to melt on top of the toasting breads. They went fast. While munching the cheesy bruschetta, visitors headed to his booth to taste his cheeses, salamis, porchetta, wild boar mortadella. An icy mist draped Cascia but the simple delicious foods – and the festive camaraderie– warmed the winter night.
Click here to read about the Feast of Santa Rita in Cascia
Click here to read about an Assisi January festival
Read about January celebrations in Orvieto
Read about Perugia’s January festival
Read about another Umbrian saffron area, Citta’ di Castello
Click here to read about another special Umbrian legume