Small, white beans that are only hand-picked grow in the fertile lava soils of the small Sicilian island of Ustica . They have been cultivated since ancient times, as shown by several archaeological finds: Pots containing pulse fossils were found in Peru in tombs from the pre-Inca period and other documents provide evidence that beans were used by the Ancient Egyptians as propitiatory gifts to the divinities in religious ceremonies.
Beans are cultivated in terraced seaside gardens at an altitude of 0-80 m asl. Cultivation takes place in Ustica’s fertile soil of volcanic origin. Its abundance of mineral salts gives the beans excellent organoleptic qualities.
The soil is prepared from September through February and involves ploughing and working the surface to prepare the sowing bed. Beans are sown in rows in March. Flowering occurs about 60 days after the seeds have been sown.
The seeds used are self-produced annually by the individual farmers, who carefully select integral seeds that correspond perfectly with the known ecotype and have been taken from the production areas with less risk of genetic contamination. The production of beans from Ustica does not involve fertilization. Moreover, the island’s volcanic soil is enriched with sufficient phosphorous and potassium for this cultivation.
The plant is dried in the second half of June and the pods are ready to be threshed.
Visitors in Ustica at the end of spring can sometimes still participate in the traditional manual threshing process ("spagliatura" in local dialect), where the plants are first threshed with large rocks dragged by donkeys and then thrown into the air using a pitchfork, to eliminate any straw.
Beans intended to be dried are picked when the plants are dry, before the pods open and the seed falls. They are uprooted by hand or scythed and then piled up and transported for threshing, which is carried out by hand or more commonly using a thresher in a fixed position.