One of the most beautiful images of the autumn and winter cuisine of Langa and Roero is that of pears with Nebbiolo wine, cinnamon and a veil of sugar, cooked in the oven or on the griddle of some last romantic “potagé” (the heater). Photogenic and elegant, ancient and very modern, they bring natural aromas, flavors and colors to the table, together with the interesting story that links Martìn sec pears to Madernassa.

The beginnings of the story have mythical contours: mentioned in France since the sixteenth century and indicated as originating from the Champagne region, the Martìn Sec comes from Count Giorgio Gallesio (Pomona Italiana, 1839) linked to the Piedmontese Alpine slopes and indicated widely with various synonyms. The name derives from the late harvest period, between the end of October and Saint Martin (11 November), the New Year of the peasant agricultural calendar. Small, with a rusty-bronze skin and sweet pulp, the ancient cultivar is highly appreciated for its rusticity and shelf life (maturation from the end of December to March), as well as for its unrivaled use in cooked cuisine or for preserves and syrups .

If the “rusonenti pears” (red pears) documented in 1701 in Vezza allow only hypotheses of synonymy, the letters of the farmer of Cavour from Grinzane are explicit, recording on 14 November 1847 the homage of a “cavagna peri martine ed uva, with a woodcock” (a basket of Martin pears and grapes, with a woodcock). In another letter dated 1 October 1848 the “peri vergoles and peri martin” (Virgolosa Pears and Martin Pears) are mentioned, attesting to the cultivation attention that places the Grinzane castle at the center of agricultural progress. A beautiful photograph of the nineteenth-century viticultural landscape, with pear trees as a precious decoration of the vineyards.

After large successes, in the mid-twentieth century the Martin sec was abandoned by fruit growers due to its sensitivity to scab. Home cooking is precisely what protects its survival, an emblematic example of the role that the civilization of the table plays in the defense of biodiversity.

Replacing it in the favor of farmers is the Madernassa pear, a native variety that takes its name from the homonymous hamlet of Vezza d’Alba. There is a photo of the mother plant, cut down in 1914 at the venerable age of 130 years: a historical document of extraordinary charm and very rare in the history of agriculture. It was a true giant, with a trunk with a circumference of 2.60 m “surmounted by broad and unadorned foliage, because two of the main branches had been struck by lightning.”

The first scientific description of Madernassa is ascribed to Cavazza (1908), who praises its rusticity, productivity and longevity. Characteristics exalted by peasant culture with the statement “that I have never seen a Madernassa plant die of old age or no longer produce”. The authoritative scholar, based on the characteristics of the tree and the fruit, believes that this cultivar derives from a natural cross between the Martin Sec and the wild variety. “In fact – he writes – there are few differences… Madernassa only has a greater brevity of style; the lenticels are somewhat more oblong and the fruit is more beautiful, yellowish-green in colour, sometimes tinged with red, tastier in pulp, if eaten fresh, and more voluminous.” However, it was only in the first decades of the twentieth century that this cultivar came to general attention, thanks – as mentioned – to the sensitivity of the glorious Martin sec to cryptogamic diseases.

The table culture of Langa and Roero has made Martin Sec and Madernassa the cornerstones of autumn and winter cuisine (but modern preservation systems make them available all year round), enhancing both the traditional contents and the slightly modern taste tannic. Present both in the tavern and in the starred cuisine and in the home versions of the mustard or “cognà*”, they have the great advantage of their ability to tell a story, crossing paths between Champagne and Piedmont, between Langa and Roero. With interesting wine pairings.

*congnà: Halfway between a sauce and a jam, it is essentially a preparation based on grape must and other ingredients which may include renette/golden apples, hazelnuts, madernassa pears, quinces, dried or fresh figs, dried apricots, cloves, cinnamon, dried fruit (almonds, walnuts) and a little sugar.

by Maestro Luciano Bertello