CHIUSDINO, Siena— We arrived at Spannocchia, what might be called a “modest” estate if you compare it to others in operation in the Middle Ages, for the last week of our month-long program in Italy. Estate and farm owner, Randall Stratton, took us back in time and explained how Spannocchia, now around 1100 acres or 1/10th of its original size, operated before modern times.
Mezzadria, directly translated as sharecropping, dates to the 12th century here. This way of life, where peasants split the production of their crops with the landlord in exchange for land and a place to live, greatly influenced Tuscan cuisine known for simplicity and regional ingredients. Ribollita , a traditional soup, for example, made with leftover vegetables and bread, was a common peasant dish that’s still popular today.
The practice of sharecropping ended after World War II and, according to Carole Counihan in Around the Tuscan Table, as many as six million Italians employed in agriculture fled to cities. And, as you may have guessed, they took their recipes with them.
So, if you were wondering where the term “peasant food” comes from or why Tuscan cuisine is known for being so simple, it all goes back to farms like Spannocchia and the century old practice of mezzadria.