The Threshing in Maremma

Massa Marittima
19 Dicembre 2018
Hiking in Maremma Tuscany. The Capo d’Uomo Ruins at Monte Argentario
5 Marzo 2017

It’s harvest time. The golden cornfields are ready to yield, finally completing their natural cycle.  Everywhere tractors, trailers and threshing machines are gathering, harvesting the precious seeds after a long year of relentless hard work, and a fear that the crops could be ruined by unexpected bad weather.

Back when our grandparents were young and technology was unavailable, men did everything with their own bare hands; reaping with a sickle, tying up the spikes called “balzi” that clustered in “cordelli”, before they were threshed by the stable threshing machine. The machine had a spark-ignited internal combustion engine which worked on petroleum and was moved from farm to farm by oxen.

trebbiatura in maremma toscana
 Momenti della trebbiatura (Foto Enrichetta Traditi)

The bundles of spikes or “balzi” were brought to the farmyard and placed on the ground in the shape of a rectangle with spikes pointing towards the inside. As the bundles were put on top of one another, that rectangle became a parallel pipe named a “barcone” at the end which all he bundles were then threshed.
The harvest was enormously important as the family economy depended on it.
Women helped in every conceivable way, using the sickle or any other tools, carrying beverages, breakfast, lunch and snacks, usually eaten in the fields.
The heat was stifling but the oak trees, intentionally planted in the middle of fields, gave some relief under their shadow

trebbiatura maremma toscana
All’opera (Foto Giuseppina Detti)

The poet Guelfo Civinini described the Maremma farm hands of all those decades, he writes:
“Pinched faces the colour of cooked apples, dried hands that looked like wood […] I still recall  their naked backs, straw hats stuffed with oak leaves, making it easier to resist the heat of the  sun; pieces of reeds protecting fingers against the dangers of the sickle, ox horns filled with water making it easier to sharpen the stones “
Nowadays everything is far less exhausting, however not less emotional when it comes to   reaching the goal and closing the loop. It’s almost like the end of a pregnancy… after nine months of hard work the hope is that the corn harvest will be “healthy, beautiful and abundant”.
Every year in Maremma, in different places, the threshing is recalled with celebrations and public performances so that the age old traditions and recollections of hard work under the burning sun are still kept alive.

trebbiatura maremma toscana
Trebbiando (Foto Barbara Frezza)

A legend is connected to the threshing and to Saint Anna.
When the farm yard sank… in Maremma celebrations to Saint Anna interrupted the threshing work.
The legend says that a farmer decided to work on the day consecrated to Saint Anna.
It is told that the circle crops traced by oxen treading on the spikes, became a vortex which suddenly sank swallowing the farm yard and everything in it.
In the end the hole was filled by water.
It is said that where the farm yard sank you can still hear the sound of oxen hoofs.
Someone says that the legend took place in the surround of Orbetello, some other believe it was near Massa Marittima, the Accesa Lake.
Giuseppina Detti