Pascarosa on Foot
It began the way most Italian group activities begin. We met in a strategically located piazza, then followed one another, caravan style, in our cars to the start of the adventure. I’d gotten an invitation to join a Sunday group walk in the countryside near our olive grove, followed by an al fresco lunch in the fields. This was to be our first independent outing. We didn’t know anyone and had no idea what to expect.
Our group of about twenty was both diverse and like-minded at the same time. We were the only foreigners, but we were warmly embraced right from the start. From our 9:30 a.m. start time in Piazza d’Angio in Martina Franca, we proceeded to the village of Pascarosa, just a stone’s through from our land. Our guide, the peppy and exceptionally well-informed Maria Teresa, took up the lead as we began our trek, stopping occasionally to share history, local lore and food foraging tips. Since the participants were Italian, there was rarely a break in the conversation, with walking groups forming and disbanding throughout the day, punctuated by cries of delight when we came upon laden quince and persimmon trees, wild greens and other herbs.
We met a lovely young couple from the nearby town of Locorotondo who had participated in many such walks, giving me hope for the preservation of food traditions in Italy among the next generation. Then there was the countrywoman and her especially delightful sheep dog who was a font of knowledge about the healing properties of local herbs and flowers. Our favorites, though, were the elegant couple from the nearest big city, Taranto, who were frighteningly intellectual yet strikingly down to earth at the same time.
After a four-hour ramble, we came upon a field next to an abandoned trullo, one of the cone-shaped stone houses characteristic of this valley. We were met by the youngest members of a large Pascarosa family, the landowners of the tract we had just happily covered during the morning. Davide and Katia had placed large wooden electrical wire spools on their sides to serve as tables and covered them with local organic cheeses, cured meats, toasted Pugliese bread, foraged arugula, the last of the summer’s tomatoes, extraordinary organic olive oil and other condiments and a local organic primitivo wine to drink. This being Italy, there was a simple pasta al forno and filetto di manzo prepared for the two children who accompanied their parents on the trek.
We all fell upon the bounty as though we had been hiking for days. The graciousness of our hosts and the delightful food worked their magic, integrating our disparate group as though we’d know one another forever. And this was just the beginning. While we were gorging ourselves on the first course, we hadn’t anticipated what was to come. Grilled sausages, preserved vegetables and more bread, followed the antipasto. Then a ricotta and chocolate cheesecake emerged accompanied by locally made digestivi made from myrtle, absinthe, citrus and fennel.
By now, the sun was starting to set, casting a beautiful autumn glow over the fields. No one wanted to leave. Phone numbers and email addresses were happily exchanged as if to prolong the magic of the day. We stumbled our way to our car, then drove back to Martina Franca as the sun disappeared and the silver-tipped olive trees were enveloped in the velvety glow of twilight.