Life in Abruzzo shared Porta dei Parchi’s recipe for Shepherd Steak. We ate this wonderful cheese dish at the end of the transhumanza. It is a good way to use day old or dry bread. We were at the shepherd’s hut in the alta plano and ate Shepherd’s Steak and a stew with wild greens. This is truly one of the first times that I had mint and liked it! Maybe I am not allergic after all.
The third day of hiking was much like the the first in length and intensity. We started at Agriturismo Valle Scannese da Gregorio where many stayed for the night. Gregorio’s farm is close to Scanno and features a restaurant, retail shop, and rooms.
We ended the day at 1666 m. (5,466 ft.) at Stazzo Casone Chiarono. Literally this translates as the big sheepfold house of Chiarano. The shepherds will stay at this large shepherd hut with the sheep until the August transhumanza. Mountains and rocky outcroppings ring this high green plain. Brown ski slopes of Monte Pratello crisscross one mountain to the east.
We are treated to traditional shepherd’s steak (bread topped with cheese and mint and baked with milk) and a stew mixture made of a dandelion-like wild greens served over dry bread. After staying to watch the Romanian cheesemaker make fresh ricotta, we pile into his car for the ride back to Anversa. With loud Romanian folk music blasting, we drove down to the National park entrance, through valley towns and back to the restaurant for one more meal as a group.
While at the Shanti Centre, I found a trove of books on Abruzzo travel and some history books. I started to read Abruzzo Along the Shepherds’ Tracks and took some notes. Stephanie graciously offered the book to me since it was my history. I am especially grateful now that I cannot find it new, only used. A search online this morning turned up this abbreviated version online: http://www.abruzzomoliseheritagesociety.org/TRATTURIeTRANSUMANZA.pdf
The publisher of the book does have ABRUZZO. Guida Storico-Artista and advertises it as the guide selected by George Clooney for the film “The American”. I found an English version: Abruzzo. History and Art Guide.
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We hiked down a steep hill to Lake Scanno. This was not too vigorous. There was no way to get lost as long as you went down hill. The trick was to avoid branches in your face as you wound down thin paths. When we arrived at Lake Scanno, a band was playing music. Nunzio … Continue reading
From pre-Roman times until the late 1900’s all aspects of life in an Abruzzo hilltown were shaped by sheep-rearing and the wool industry. Because the pastures for large flocks were outside of the towns, villages became tightly knit houses and fortresses clinging to steep hillsides. Those who profited from the sheep, built beautiful homes in the villages and gave generously to the local churches. The majority of men lived away from the village for most of the year. The transhumanza was traditionally a way to feed the sheep during the long, harsh Abruzzo winters. Snow covered the ground all winter. So in September, the shepherds took the sheep south all the way to warmer Puglia where the grass flourished in the winter, but dried out in the summer. They returned along the same legislated trails or tratturi in May to take advantage of the lush pastures in the mountains. There were four major tratturi in the region. The shepherds from Anversa, Scanno, and Sulmona would take one of the inland routes. The shepherds from Calascio would head toward the Adriatic coast walking almost 250 kilometers on their way to Foggia, Puglia.
When the shepherds returned in May, they took the sheep to the higher pastures in the mountains of the region. The shepherds were given two days off of work every fifteen days during the summer. The shepherds were slaves. They may have owned five sheep of their own, but worked for the wealthy families. The wave of emmigration to the United States in the late 1800’s gave them a chance for freedom and broke the economic system of the wealthy families. The transhumanza was in jeopardy at the time as new laws in Puglia encouraged crop growing. Grazing land began to disappear as social and economic changes dismantled the system of sheep-rearing and craft production that sustained the region for many centuries. There are few to no Italian shepherds anymore. The shepherds on our transhumanza were Romanian.
The shepherds on our trek used a combination of whistles, sticks, dogs, and a mule to guide the sheep. The sheep seemed to follow the mule. The shepherds whistled signals to the mule, dogs, or sheep. I am not sure which. If a sheep started to stray or became lazy, the shepherd beat the ground near the slowpoke with his bastone. I would hear, “vai, vai, vai” and chants almost like football cheers, “Hey, hey”. Once in a while I understood a word like “pigra”, lazy. One older sheep gave up and a shepherd tied it to a horse for part of the trip. The white Abruzzo sheep dogs were gentle and circled around the edges of the herd when they were stopped to graze. They mingled easily with people in between working stints. Once in a while all the dogs would take off in one direction barking and running into the woods. Wolves are present in the Abruzzo parks and have taken a few of Nunzio’s sheep in recent weeks. I never found out, however, what the dogs were after on one of these escapades. They may have just been chasing something tasty to eat. There were about 20 dogs all told, some the white mastiffs and some black and white.
Following the sheep takes us to a shepherd’s chapel. The Catholic church maintained many of these during the height of the transhumanza. They were places of worship, rest, and sustenance. Then we headed to the village of Frattura Vecchia, 1,300m above sea level. This village was destroyed by an earthquake in 1915. The people fled and were forbidden to rebuild. In the Mussolini era, a new village was built on another hillside above Scanno Lake.The new Frattura has straight, ordered streets and many stairs. Without the more organic form, it definitely lacks some of the mystery of the old village.
The old Frattura was our lunch stop. Children played in the water and we had a tour of one rebuilt stone house. A local resident has restored one house for dinner parties. He does not live in the house, he only entertains there. The gable arches inside form a canopy over a large dining table. He installed a wood fired oven and a grill. Another house had a bolted doorway. We all laughed because the outer wall next to the door had a huge hole where the rocks used to form a wall.
The new Frattura had a Forestry building on the top road that became our camping area for the night. Pitched tents housed some families and the rest of us slept on air mattresses in a large room. Dinner was at 10 pm at a local bar. Nunzio and his kitchen team delivered and served the meal with all its Italian courses. I ducked out before dessert. We hiked over 15 km. thus far and have at more to go.