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The Traianus Decius apple of Modena 🍎

Attila, king of the Huns, may have been an undisputed symbol of atrocity, ‘earthquake and traccetia‘, but even he had to beat a retreat against the magister militum Aetius, in command of a fierce troop of Goths and Germans, in the mid-fifth century in the bloody battle where Theodoric I, king of the Visigoths, also lost his life. I like to think that in the Roman encampments in Gaul, inside the contuberni (tents) where the milites shared meals and war plans, there were also jars full of Decie apples. red, sour, fragrant, and as hardy as the soldiers of the Imperium. Perhaps they too kept them ripening on straw, in the sun.

The theory that the Decian apple came from this great general (the ‘Aetius’ apple) does not seem to be the most quoted one, however. There are scattered sources documenting the presence of this apple in the Ravenna capital area almost one hundred and fifty years earlier, during the rule of Decius. In any case, we are talking about a variety of fruit that would be at least 1600 years old, although probably many more, and already present on the tables of the Romans before the fall of the Western Empire in the midst of the military anarchy that would later be calmed by Diocletian.

The Villa of Livia, wife of Augustus

Freakishly hardy and resistant to both stress ( we imagine transport) and various pathogens, the Decius has, like many other varieties debased by those of greater commercial value in recent decades, enjoyed great popularity up to the turn of the century. Count Gallesio, which we will certainly discuss in later posts, mentions Decio as one of the most widespread varieties in the House of Este breathing zone north of the Apennines, between Ferrara, Modena and Reggio Emilia. It spread as far as the Veneto region, where it is still considered indigenous and guarded by a group of courageous farmers in the province of Verona. It is not dissimilar in shape and ripening methods to the campanina, with which it also shares the characteristic ‘double’ bell-like fruit (so much so that it is sometimes also called Decio Campanino). Fragrant and excellent when cooked, the next time you taste it, think that it is the same flavour and aroma that the Romans of the Empire also smelled.


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