Fassolia Gigantes-Elefantes Kastorias

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Fasolia Gigantes — Elefantes Kastorias

Fasolia Gigantes — Elefantes Kastorias

Fasolia Gigantes — Elefantes Kastorias (giant / elephant beans of Kastoria) are PGE Greek dried beans from annual climbing plants with long slender stems and compound leaves reaching a final height of more than two metres. They belong to the Papilionaceae family (legumes). The Phaseolus genus contains 250 species. The varieties grown in the Prefecture of Kastoria belong to the species Phaseolus coccineus (multiflorus). The stem is slender, pliant and cylindrical and twines continuously from left to right.

— The compound leaves consist of three leaflets.

— The flowers comprise a five-part calyx, a five-part white corolla, ten stamens and a pistil. They are produced in large auxiliary clusters opening successively from the base to the tip of the plant.

— The beans are cross-pollinated plants.

— The fruit is a white kidney-shaped pod. A legume of large size, it is consumed cooked in the oven or stewed with added plant products (oil, onion, tomato, celery, carrot) that complete the ‘Mediterranean character’ of the dish.

— Nutritional value is very high, an excellent source of protein, starch, iron, etc., and has a low fat content.

The beans should be whole, ripe, of a natural colour, not shrivelled, without holes caused by insects, free of insects, free of dangerous diseases, not showing any deterioration or increase in temperature; they must be cleaned by sieving or hand-sorted; they may not contain other grades of bean; they must be practically free of foreign matter; their macroscopic and organoleptic characteristics must be characteristic of each kind and must comply with the requirements of healthy keeping and handling in general; they may not have a moisture content of more than 14 %.

The beans shall be graded according to their shape, weight per thousand beans or the percentage which pass through a sieve of a specific gauge for each type and grade as follows:

(a) elephant beans: weight per 1 000 beans; at least 1 800 g or 90 % of beans do not pass through a sieve with round holes 13 mm in diameter;

(b) giant beans: weight per 1 000 beans; between 1 200 and 1 800 g or 90 % of beans do not pass through a sieve with round holes 12 mm in diameter.

In pre-packaged beans, the following tolerances apply:

(a) broken beans: less than half the whole bean in size: up to 2 %;

(b) shrivelled/discoloured beans: up to 0,5 %;

(c) foreign matter: up to 0,05 % (maximum earth 0,02 %).

Bean cultivation is in the Prefecture of Kastoria is located on the banks of the River Aliakmonas and its tributaries, and in areas where land consolidation has occurred that have organised irrigation networks guaranteeing supply of the abundant water that cultivation requires. Of secondary importance is cultivation on the banks of Lake Kastoria. About 900 ha of ground within the cultivation zone is used to grow the beans. The zone's altitude ranges from 630 to 900 metres. The soils are alluvial, light, free draining and on the whole slightly acid. The climate of the cultivation zone is continental with cool summers owing to its altitude and proximity to the waters of Lake Kastoria and the River Aliakmonas. In addition the presence of the lake conduces to a mild spring. An average annual rainfall of around 600 mm completes the requirements of the water-loving bean plant.

The ‘special’ climate that conduces to the excellence of the product is however in large measure due to an exceptional phenomenon. The whole area is an extensive plateau protected by the Vitsi and Grammos mountain ranges. It is a basin in which, even when there are winds, they are always light..

The beans originated in Southern Mexico and Central America. According to radioactive carbon studies Phaseolus coccineus (multiflorus) was domesticated in Mexico around 2000 B.C. It is believed that beans were brought to Europe in the middle of the sixteenth century, first to England and Spain, and reached Greece at the end of that century. They first appeared around lowland urban centres but, given their physiology, cultivation quickly spread to remote upland areas. One of these is the Prefecture of Kastoria, where ideal soil, ideal climate and excellent cultivation techniques cooperate in the creation of varieties and a product that wins the markets. It is a product that on account of the Greeks' partiality for it and its special place in their diet has been described as a ‘national food’.

Harvesting of the pods by hand starts at the beginning of September and lasts for up to three months. A crop is taken from the plant up to three times, since ripening of the pods is progressive from the base of the plant to the tip. The pods are spread out on floors for natural drying in the sun to the stage when they separate easily from the seeds on being beaten with pliant rods. The separated seeds are, if necessary, spread out in the sun until they reach the desirable moisture content of around 12 %. They are then sorted through by hand for removal of foreign bodies, broken and damaged seeds and seeds foreign to the variety, put into sacks and stored under hygienic conditions without any particular problem owing to their durable nature.

The soil and climate of the area contribute decisively to production of the exceptional elephant/giant beans of Kastoria. The medium-textured slightly acid soil with excellent drainage and the ‘Mediterranean-continental’ climate of the area are harmoniously collaborating factors in production of the beans that have been part of the life of the inhabitants of the area for 300 years. The cultivation technique applied is a tradition handed down from generation to generation. To grow a product of such excellent quality is not a matter of expedients but of longstanding experience put into practice by growers using their ‘eye’ and their own hands. In this area bean cultivation is part of the economy and its importance is reflected in tradition, customs and festivals.

— Annual bean fair at Lakkomata. — Dish of beans served to the guests at the festival on the anniversary of the death of the Macedonian freedom fighter Pavlos Melas at the place bearing his name.

Bean festivals at various locations at harvest time with associated local cultural and folklore events.

These events show the inhabitants' historical and social links with the product.

Reference The European Commission

To buy and cook Fasolia Gigantes — Elefantes Kastorias

The beans can be bought online in the UK from Odysea

To cook the beans, either:

  • Soak overnight in cold water for 8-10 hours, or
  • Boil in salted water for 10 minutes, then leave for 1 hour to soak

then simmer in fresh water until tender - about 2-3 hours

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