After MARATEA (meals discussed in another thread) we drove to AZIENDA GIUSEPPE PENNELLA, a major producer of the prized, sweet red peppers grown in this region around the town of Senise. I had visited this farm before and although they consider themselves a wholesaler, if you manage to make your way (not so easy using online maps) to the farm, you will be rewarded, as I certainly was.
This is a minute account of our time there last month, clipped from another forum, devoted to travel:
<<<<Yesterday we packed up what has now become a caravan of suitcases and bags stuffed with FAR too many clothes and all kinds of assorted foods. It was an easy drive along mostly SS roads to the Azienda Giuseppe Pennella outside Senise, ground zero for my beloved Senise peppers. We had visited him 11 years ago (I shudder when I look at photos of us then, and now, although Giuseppe looks the same!). (see if you can fine the article about the peppers written by Francine Prose for SAVEUR magazine; it no longer appears to be accessible online)
We had an appointment at 2pm. It was sunny. It was HOT. We waited. And waited. About 45 minutes after arriving, an older man driving a battered tractor pulled up and I asked him where I could find Signor Pennella, obviously his boss. Mind you, lots of people here speak in dialect that is not easy to understand!!! Well this fellow did not have his boss’ phone number but after some fumbling around, he found it someplace. Called someone, told me their man in question was at home and would arrive soon. Waited some more. Very hot. Very sunny. Finally, a man pulls up in a battered car. But no, this man is not Sr. Pennella, he is coming to MEET with Sr. Pennella!!! I implore him to phone Sr, Pennella. By this time it is way past 3pm. And did I mention the heat??
More waiting and by about 3:45 Sr. Pennella pulls up. But wait…he cannot attend to us now, he has to leave and meet someone else. Takes off in his car after speaking a few minutes with the battered car man (not the tractor man). Promises to return “pronto.” More waiting and by now partner is getting very cranky.
Finally, St. Pennella returns and we begin the pepper discussion. He shows me the hangars piled with peppers in various stages of drying. In between I learn about his son in school in Tirana and his mother in Taeranova di Pollino, and many, many other things, of which I understand maybe 30% if that. I did understand that he loved Pollino park since had none of the rush and stress of Senise (!!??). Tell that to a New Yorker! Again we got ann invitation to come with him to his farm in Pollino and next time will surely do this!!
And then, I kid you not, he has to take off again cause he has an appointment but willl be back again, pronto!!!
He did come back in about 10 minutes and from then on, there was MUCh more discussion of Senise peppers of which partner understood nothing and could care even less by this time. VERY cranky. And HOT.
I asked GP if he gets any visitors from America and he tells me he is a wholesaler and does not sell to visitors who pop in.
This chapter of trie trip is going on as long as the pepper afternoon so I will just conclude with saying that I bought 4 “serte” (long strands attached with string) and a few jars of already fried and salted peppers for snacking. My friend who owns a small farm wanted me to bring back seeds but for some reason that could not happen (long explanation of which I understood only “impossible.”)
The selections made, it was time for the packing up of the purchases. But first they all have to be cleaned with some kind of apparatus like a dentist would use when they shoot air into your mouth. Then he examines every single pepper and pulls out the ones that are not good…he shows me the good and the bad and I cannot tell the difference. Apparently it is int he smell and the feel of the pepper. And the color…some have a slightly yellow tinge. Those get yanked off the string.
He then encases the serte of perfect peppers in plastic and seals the top with heat and the bottom with staples. Then threads them through a long cardboard tunnel. I try and mess it all up. Failed the interview for the position!
Now the discussion begins on how best to pack them for the plane: Long discussion. We decide upon a cardboard box, the same one he had used just that morning to send peppers to a wholesaler in California. He also tells me he sells to Buon Italia in New York ;now he tells me this!!! And the he can mail peppers to me anytime!!! Thanks goodness partner did not understand all this…
SO; He selects a box that looks very very small to hold all these peppers, plus the gifts of oregano branches (two types) and pulverized pepper that I should use in soup or atop a pasta dish. The mound of peppers is sky high, but slowly, slowly, he manages to press them down and yes, they fit into the box, which he tapes up and makes a handle.
Now it’s time for the discussion of when we will return and go with him and his family to his house near Terranova di Pollino where his parents stay.
Apparently it is “serene” and peaceful there (as opposed to bustling Senise !?!?!). And the mountain air is so fresh and healthy. We must return for a minimum of three nights. Then more talk of family, and the festivals held in the fall in Terranova. Shows me a book with photos of Terrnova, signed by a famous French photographer named “Guy something.”
By now it is almost 6pm. Partner is now audibly sighing and making faces at me!!
Giuseppe gets a phone call and tells the caller that he cannot talk because he is hanging out with his “old friends from America.” (I hope he means “old” in the sense I prefer!)
Many hugs and promises to return and we are off on the half hour drive to Tursi, to our b&B in the Ratana, the quarter first settled in the 5th century! Many abandoned stone houses, steep streets, a few pretty cats lounging around–all whit by the way.
As arranged, we meet our host, Martine, originally from London, at the Moda Car Wash, and she leads us deep into the Rabatana and helps us with our bags (left the big one in the trunk with her approval).
Martine bought this place about 20 years ago, along with three others I Tursi. Had a devilish time having them renovated and she has wrought a lost charming and unusual lodging space oozing with character.>>>>>
Photos from AZIENDA GIUSEPPE PENNELLA, off the main road from Senise to Francavilla di Sinni…GPS not reliable. Driving from the town of Senise, look on the right side of the road; the unpaved entrance road is not market but about clock in, there is a sign announcing the name of the farm. You MUST call ahead for an appointment. No English is spoken and to take the owner’s time, I would suggest that you plan to buy at least 4 to 5 entire serte (“strings” in dialect, of the peppers, along with any other pepper products that interest you. We bought a few jars of already fried and salted “peperoni cruschi” as well as ground Senise peppers (SlowFood Ark of Taste) and a few brraches of dried oregano grown on the farm in the nearby Pollino park (Calabria) from where Sr. Pennella and his family hail. That is among the many reasons for the breath of excellent foods in this region, as they draw not only from Basilicata, but due to the political lines drawn as Italy was formed, from Calabria and, as we saw in Maratea, from Campania as well. And even, as we saw in nearby Tursi, the Arab influence is found at table in the use of oranges and other fruits in both savory and sweet dishes.
Some pics of the Senise pepper farm of Sr. Pennella:
It is not a simply a matter of packing some peppers into a bag…to process my selection for cleaning took over one hour, even before selecting a box and fitting the selections into this cardboard box!!! Thankfully, all made it home through the US airport and now hand in my pantry closet!
Also note, the peppers are at the peak and ready for sale after the fall harvest. I would not travel there after the New Year and anytime I hoped to visit, I would concur with Sr. Pennella well beforehand and even then, allow plenty of time around the scheduled appointment. As a person not buying commercially, you will not be ahead of others on the day’s agenda. For me, waiting time was well worth it and part of the experience!
And from there, we has a brief drive to our next overnight, in the oldest quarter of the historic town of TURSI, the more-than-one-thousand years-old RABATANNA.
Tursi is pretty far off the tourist trail for North Americans, except perhaps with those with antecedents coming from this area. During our admittedly brief, overnight stay, we heard no languages other than dialect and Italian.
The modern small town of Tursi has gown up around the ancient quarter on a hill, above. We chose, as I mentioned to spend the night at a B&B impeccably run by a native Londoner, Martine, who has lived in Tursi for at least two decades and has had a hand in revitalizing a few of the abandoned properties, turning at least two, into eccentric and charming and exceedingly comfortable lodgings. She instructed us to meet up at the car wash at the entrance to the Rabatanna and then guided us and assisted with the luggage to our overnight accommodation which including a full kitchen as well as a large bed under the stars, within the gated property. (we left the large albatorrs suitacse in the car on the street, as Mrtine assured us it woule be safe there)
I wish we had had more time to spend exploring Tursi itself and the surrounding area (Both Matera, our next destination, and Craccco and Piscticci, which we visited before, are within an easy drive and the room had glorious view of the calanques that typify the landscape of this part of Basilicata and which won my heart so long ago on our first trip).
Dinner that night with details to follow ranks among the best meals we had in three weeks of travel and I would return to Tursi just to dine here one more time!!