The Pear Lady of the Sinni Valley

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An ancient native pear cultivar of Basilicata, recovered from oblivion, is today a Slow Food Presidium and a model of how a food can create community. The Pera Signora della Valle del Sinni is now a passion that embraces the whole community overlooking the banks of one of the most important Lucanian rivers

The passion between a fallen noble, the Pear Lady of the Sinni Valley, and the wild perastro, which guards the boundaries of Ionian lands of Basilicata, has grafted the sweetest fruit of a territory: the community. Rotondella, Nova Siri, Valsinni, San Giorgio Lucano, Colobraro, Tursi are the small guardian villages of this Slow Food Presidium that, almost like the sacred guardian of the area, the Lady of Anglona, puts everyone under his mantle to represent the Basilicata and its agroecological “good practices” in Europe.

A Pear Lady

With an erect posture, with a slender and slender hair, with a slight redness on the small yellow fruit, as if it were shy: the Pera Signora has a delicate consistency, quite juicy, sweet, aromatic and with a candid pulp. Its characteristics make it ideal both to be eaten as soon as it is picked and to be transformed into syrups, jams, nectar or simply dried. The dried lady pear is, in reality, the traditional method of preserving and consuming this particular cultivar: it has always been boiled, then divided in two and dried in the sun, in domestic ovens and, today, also in dryers dedicated to it. It can be tasted with honey, mature cheeses; excellent for sweets, pies or desserts. In fact, the Locanda Pane e Lavoro di Rotondella, in addition to serving it with Pecorino di Moliterno or as the protagonist of pies and cakes, prepares it with a delicate yogurt mousse where the sweetness of the Pera Signora jam is enhanced by the acidity of the foam. Also from the Pane e Lavoro menu, it is also offered to “refine” second courses based on black Lucanian pigs.

The reason why a pira Signur ‘ is the Lady of the Sinni Valley lies more in the “refinement” of her perfume. When July arrives and ripens, it towers over the tree and gives off a delicate but intense smell all around. «The perfume is the Pera Signora», says Filomena Laguardia of the Masseria Nivaldine in Rotondella, one of the protagonists of the recovery of the Pera Signora. «Until the 1950s it was loaded on the Nova Siri railway and it was sold as far as Naples ». But then everyone forgot it and we ended up not cultivating it anymore. And this is where the wild pear or perastro (Pyrus pyraster), undisputed prince of the spontaneous shrubs present in Basilicata. Thorny and inaccessible, so much so that in “these parts”, Filomena always says, “the perastro has always marked the boundaries between one farm and another, between one property and another”. But love can do everything and the wild, however, when he met the Lady, he became the most “chivalrous” among rootstocks and, not only did he return the noble pear to new glories, but it was an instrument of connection, no longer border, between the communities of Sinni. Countries and people called Lands of Silence now communicate, chat and hug each other around a pear. Because food is the community.

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The harvest of the Pera Signora takes place in July, in a scaled way, and, if properly preserved, it can be found all year round.

La Pera Signora, a story of love and earth

The dream of recovering the ecotypes of the territory and the ancient varieties of pear, especially the Lady, belongs to the very young Domenico Mele of Valsinni, a passionate student of the Agricultural Institute, in search of bibliographies and documentary material for his final thesis. Domenico tracks down Filomena, indicated to him as the holder of several books and historical information on the Sinni Valley. Filomena is enthusiastic about Domenico’s passion and impetuous temperament: a boy so beardless yet so “committed” to the recovery of a fundamental piece of biodiversity territorial. It’s love at first sight! The young Domenico finds what he was looking for and continues to walk. And for her degree thesis in Agriculture, the sweet obsession that drives her research is still the Lady Pear. A love that is born in the orchard and on Mother Teresa’s table and that Domenico finds every time he catches or bites his Lady.

In the meantime, Filomena experiments on the Pera Signora in her canning laboratory and begins to make the first grafts on the perasters of her own farms. One day they meet again and voilà: they imagine involving all the farmers of the area (Tursi, Colobraro, San Giorgio Lucano, Nova Siri, Valsinni and Rotondella) to graft the Signora pear on the wild pear trees and restart the production of a “municipality” old glory. Imagination is power: everything is realized and the ancient pear allows the recovery of many abandoned lands. These small yellow and red fruits are thus identified with the very story of an identity, a place, a people. «We want the Pera Signora to remain a“ small Presidium ”and not produce large numbers from intensive cultivation, as happened with apricots or other fruits of the Metapontino», says Filomena of Masseria Nivaldine. «The Lady is an expression of“ value ”not only because it is produced, but because it is the concrete manifestation of how lands and areas at risk of abandonment are saved, thanks to the care and maintenance of the perastri themselves. The Lady is the fruit of all of us who, together, tried to do what our ancestors once did: look for the perastri, graft them and », Filomena comments,« guard the territory. The Lady is the image of how the earth is conserved when you want to preserve its biodiversity ».

The whole consortium of the Sinni Valley, pursuing the common dream of restoring value to the Pera Signora and the territory that produces it, together with the COSVEL Local Action Group and following Domenico and Filomena, obtain the Slow Food Presidium in 2014 and 2016 the Lady represents the whole of Italy at Arc2020, where hundreds of civil society and agri-food activists discuss how to repair our food system to recreate Good Food Good Farming. La Pera Signora answers correctly and Europe rewards her for “good practices”, including support for rural communities and natural resources.

A love story, this between the Pear Lady with the wild and silent Sinni, which could have inspired Isabella Morra herself, a poet from Valsinni, who in the 16th century wrote: “Guide Hymenaeus with such courteous affections / … / that only one alma hold up our breasts ». And if the hearts are those of the Lady and the Perastro, it is a love story in which they all lived happily ever after.

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