Pebre bord de tap de cortí : recovering the local paprika
Until decades ago, the pepper “tap de cortí” was the source of the local paprika (pebre bord), an essential ingredient in our gastronomic icon the “sobrasada”.
Behind the seed of this pepper was a farmer, behind its harvest was a master paprika maker, and hosting them all is the local Mediterranean landscape. Many village streets would cover with blood red garlands as thousands of peppers dried in the sun. But today, most of the paprika consumed on the island comes from varieties imported from mainland Spain, Perú or China. In our quest for local food sovereignty, in January 2009 we began a project to recover this fabolous ingredient, which has led to an agricultural and gastronomic revival.
The campaign kicked off with free distribution of 16,000 seedlings amongst a group of young organic farmers who are committed to participate in the conservation of local seed and vegetable varieties. They were aware of the fact that their coming together as a heterogenous group of gastronomists offered a great opportunity to bring back to the market this variety that was on the edge of extinction.
The traditional process to produce this paprika is complex. It involves drying the peppers out in the sun so that they do not lose their natural antioxidants and thus their capacity to preserve food. With this aim, the peppers are strung in “enfilalls” which are hung from the facades drying slowly over three to four weeks. Next, a quick hit in a wood-burning oven gets rid of the last traces of humidity, and they can be milled in a stone mill. The miller is key to this process, and the loss of this figure is a symbol of the breakdown of the agricultural and artisan production chain, which is also the cause of the disappearance of hundreds of local varieties on our islands.
Having made a diagnosis, we started to restore the broken links in the chain. We found a receptive and sensitive help in four groups at risk of social exclusion, who understood the issues of food dependency at once and volunteered to join the cause: inmates from the local prison, the Local Volunteer Agency, a drug-recovery project and a group of OAPs from the village of Santa María del Camí, where local paprika was once produced.
The final aim of the project was to communicate to society that the local, artisan paprika was returning thanks to farmers assisted by marginalized collectives. In less than one week, 950 strings were strung with 2 tonnes of peppers, which then covered the walls of the future agroecology museum Ca S'Apotecari in September 2009. The village where it took place, Santa María del Camí, had not seen this image for 35 years, and the neighbours took the opportunity to show the village youngsters how to string the peppers.
In only twelve months, the market trend has been inverted, and farmers have been able to sell their own paprika: locally produced, organic, stone-milled and hand-treated. They have produced and transformed the product themselves, with the added advantage of being able to sell their product progressively, avoiding the problems of over-production during the season.
In 2010 began the second phase of the project, with four main aims:
-Development of the product. This pepper is little known and less appreciated, but it has multiple gastronomic uses. It is the local “piquillo”, which can be sold fresh or in conserve, as well as be used as a natural preservative for the “sobrasada” or as a cooking condiment.
-Parallel activities. The enfilalls were hung on the outside walls of Ca S'Apotecari, in Santa Maria del Camí, and also in Son Boter, Pilar i Joan Miró Foundation, a 17th century historical house which was the study of artist Joan Miró, framing our second campaign to promote and raise awareness amongst citizens and consumers. This project needs to be seen as artwork and understood deeply: “The earth, the earth, nothing but the earth. It's the earth, the earth. It's stronger than I am”, Joan Miró.
Uniting our efforts and working with volunteers, a small pepper has become the connecting thread in the recovery of new values in gastronomy that lead to linking food with biodiversity, local seeds, traditional agriculture, popular culture, art and landscape, with local fair trade, giving the farmer a central key role in a new gastronomy, with the aim of “bringing back this valuable food and agricultural heritage to our landscapes, our markets and our plates”.