Alliances are made at the dining table, but can also be broken by one glass of wine too many, or an invitation accepted but never honoured. The people of the Murgia are used to being armed because of the continual dangers of raiding parties from the sea, and their traditions link history, legends and recipes together.
The most famous episode is the Challenge of Barletta. Old-fashioned chivalry meant that the Spanish winners and their Italian allies allowed some of the defeated French to attend a banquet at the tavern or home of the host Veleno. Spanish captain Don Diego di Mendoza praised the courage of the Italians who had contributed to the victory but was countered by Monsieur Charles de La Motte who called them “…faithless, cowardly soldiers and traitors”. This led to the Challenge on 13th February 1503, won by the Italians under the leadership of Ettore Fieramosca, and since then the wine which is now Rosso Barletta DOC (Controlled designation of origin) wine has outshone all others.
The story of the sospiri (“sighs”) cookies from nearby Bisceglie is more romantic and sensual. This sweet was invented to welcome the beautiful Lucrezia Borgia. In her honour, the Poor Clares prepared sponge cakes filled with confectioner’s cream and covered with icing. Sadly, the lovely duchess never arrived in Bisceglie and never tasted this sweet, created in a convent but with the unusual shape of a woman’s breast. The Bisceglie dignitaries sighed in disappointment (giving the cakes their name), while the poor people sighed in contentment after eating them. Go ahead and try them yourself!