Chiusure in spring.

Chiusure in Piazza in Primavera 24th – 25th April, 2010

How can such a tiny town put on such a big party?  The roads leading into the Tuscan town of Chiusure MAP were lined with parked cars of springtime party goers, which made finding a spot to park, a little adventure and finished with a nice walk into town amongst olive groves. Over a weekend in late April the town, of only seven hundred inhabitants, holds an annual springtime festival called Chiusure in Piazza in Primavera (Chiusure in the Square in Spring) and it really is a great get together. It was the first time we had seen an actual groovy affair attended by lots of down to earth, young, mature hipsters and not dominated by families trying to find a way to keep their children entertained.

Main street.

Today they are serving up the local Morellino Artichokes. Just like many other artichokes in Italy, these ones are peculiar because they grow in very specific conditions that are unique to their area. Chiusure is in an area known as Crete Senesi or Sienese Clays found south of Sienna where the soil is predominantly grey clay called Mattaione. In some areas, in particular around Chiusure, the clay is  a mixture of mattaione and a yellow sandy soil called tufo. This sandy componnent makes the terrain in this area erode dramatically causing formations in the land called Calanchi, more on that later.

The eroded calanchi of Chiusure.

This soil combination is what the locals claim ‘is in this artichoke’s DNA.’ Upon asking one of the locals about this particularity, he pointed to the building we were standing across from, and told me that through the ages, the yellow tufo has been used as a pigment for Siena yellow, which the area is so characteristically well known for.

Festival goers at the bottom end of town.

At this party, the artichoke was front and centre of the celebration. The organisers had kept the novice in mind and pinned up educational posters throughout the town streets where one could read fascinating little facts, quotes, poems and trivia about artichokes. They were also replicated in miniature and given away in a smart folder we could take home. I will post the whole collection as a  page on this blog for those of you interested in the  detail. Stay tuned.

Coming into Chiusure.

Being a small yielding crop, these artichokes are not cultivated commercially but grown within a handful of households in the area and strictly for local consumption. This is changing though, as some enthusiasts are interested in promoting the artichoke outside the immediate territory and push into being part of the local economy as it was in the distant past. I would guess most of the production is probably consumed at this feast and as one lady, assigned to peeling duty in the back garage told me, about 12,000 artichokes had to be prepared for frying, soups, pastas or to be consumed raw over this weekend. According to some inside information, the most popular way to eat them around here, is in Pinzimonio, just simply peel away leaf by leaf  while it’s still raw and dip into extra virgin olive oil, and chomp away at the tender end.

Top of the town.

Peeling 12,000 artichokes behind the scenes.

Apart from the the raw artichokes and Porchetta (roast pig), the menu was enough to satisfy the artichoke lover. Penne with tomato and artichokes, deep fried artichokes with a simple flour and water batter (the best so far) and zuppa di carciofi (artichoke soup). As usual, it’s quite hard to get the exact recipe from secretive individuals because apparently the soup was made from artichokes and water. No herbs, no onions, no bones… Pretty tasty soup but I don’t believe it’s just artichokes and water so I will do some more investigating for the specifics and get back with a full recipe

Happy with some pecorino, fried artichokes and soup.

Serving up some of the fried numbers.

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