orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Sh*t, Sh*t, Glorious Sh*t ♫

Sorry I forgot children read these pages… Well, but tha’s what we spread on our land today. Out next door neighbour Piero has a whole menagerie of animals on his plot of land, namely 4 donkeys, numerous chickens, 32 hunting dogs, uncountable cats and 3 wild boar. The produce of the donkey was what interested me today, a whole pile of, nicely rotted down. I filled the car to capacity (filling the manure into bags first of course) and drove it down to Arcola.

There we used it as a foundation for a couple of trees we also planted today, a cherry tree, to replace the one we had to chop down recently and a pomegranate tree. I’m looking forward to finding out what all you can do with this fruit, can’t say I have used it much before. The weather was good for working today. It has continued to be mostly sunny, but rather cold with night frosts. Nothing as bad though as I have been hearing from other parts of Europe.

The recent rains though have resulted in a number of land slides. As you can see above, the rear end of one of our terraces had collapsed, which was one of the less serious cases though. The main along the main road to Borghetto Vara the Via Aurelia, one side of the road had slid into the river, causing night time closures to repair the damage. After Taking Susan to her class up there we had to take a scenic route over some little mountains road to get back home, nothing as bad as our rally driving the other week though.

Around Arcola a couple of roads have collapsed too, causing us various detours to get to and from our land. Anyway, one terrace is now nicely fertilized and I can have more manure any time, including chicken poo and wild boar droppings. Piero himself doesn’t need any of it as he doesn’t grow any veg himself. He says he’s got enough to do with his animals and they’d ruin his crops anyway. Incidentally, each of his many animals has a name! How he remembers them all I have no idea, but I have noticed before that he has a remarkable memory. Every time I introduce him to any visiting friends or relations just once, he will remember their name for years to come and occasionally asks you how a particular person is that you haven’t seen since that visit yourself.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Potato & Onion Pie

Talking about recipes the other day, here’s one I came up with tonight. I thought I’ll write it down before I forget how I did it myself.

Potato & Onion Flan

For the pastry:
250g wholemeal flour
½ tsp salt
1 sachet dried yeast
½ tsp sugar
100 ml water
50g butter
For the topping:
3 large potatoes
100g stoned olives
100g ricotta cheese
1 sprig of rosemary
3 large onions, sliced into rings
Some mild cheese grated, Gruyere would do well
Some extra olive oil

for the pastry combine the flour with the salt. Form a mould in the middle, add the sugar, yeast and water into the centre and stir to a thick consistency. Cover with some of the flour from the outside and a tea towel and leave to rise at a warm place for some 15-30 minutes.
add the butter cut into small pieces and knead the whole thing into a soft dough. Add more water or flour if necessary. Cover again and leave for at least 1 hour.
In the meantime boil the potatoes until cooked, then set aside. Combine the olives, ricotta cheese and rosemary in a food processor and puree to an even consistency. If necessary add a drizzle of olive oil.
Lightly grease a deep baking tray. Roll out the pastry thinly to the size of the baking tray. Prick all over with a fork. Leave for another ¼ hour in a warm place while heating up the oven to 250˚C. Spread the olive paste evenly over the pastry, scatter the onion rings over it, then the sliced boiled potatoes. Grate black pepper over it and another drizzle of olive oil and finally top with the grated cheese. Bake in the hot oven for some 15 minutes and serve with the wild salad from yesterdays post.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

gorse season is kissing season

“Whenever the gorse flower is blooming, it is then designated as kissing season.” Paul Peacock in his book A Good Life attributed this quote to John Seymour, author of the Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency. The fact that gorse flowers every month of the year even in more northern climes obviously makes kissing a very popular past time for the man. It seemed appropriate therefore to go out today on St. Valentines Day and pick some gorse flowers to make John’s favourite drink, gorse flower wine.

Whilst others indulge in buying there beloveds bouquets of flowers, Belgian chocolates and Chinese kitsch and send each other cards with cheesy messages, we took advantage of the beautiful weather and gathered these delicate flowers. The weather has been clear and sunny since the last post, albeit a bit colder with some light night frosts. Here is how to make gorse wine:

4.5 litre of water
1.8 kg of sugar
A handful of chopped raisins
Juice of 3 or 4 lemons
½ cup strong tea
A couple of handfuls of honey
4.5 litres of gorse flowers
1 sachet of dried yeast

Heat the water with sugar until dissolved. Leave to cool. Add the rest of the ingredients in a covered bucket and leave at warm place. After a week or so strain the liquid into a 5 litre demijohn with an airlock and finish fermenting until all sugar has been turned to alcohol and the bubbles have seized to come through the airlock. Rack the wine into a clean 5 litre demijohn, adding some white wine to top it up. Leave to clear for a few weeks and bottle. This is my way anyway. John Seymour instructs to pour the boiling water over the flowers, but I believe you loose a lot of aromatic components of the flowers that way.

Yesterday we cycled to Arcola to dig over one of the higher terraces in preparation for a long row of sweet corn. As our land is roughly triangular in shape the higher terraces are wider, this one being about 20 metres long. Susan started one end and me the other, meeting in the middle somewhere.

I have this week learned about one of the younger followers of this blog, 13 year old Markus from Augsburg, who visits the International School there. Apparently he is interested in all things to do with nature and the environment. He particularly enjoys the recipes that I occasionally throw in. So here especially for Markus something we’ve been eating a couple of times recently, a wildfood salad. It’s not so much a recipe as a hint on how many edible plants there actually are. I took a couple of the suggestions of a calendar I got from our local hardware shop, which has all sorts of gardening tips as well as a monthly feature on edible wild plants.

Daisies – both the leaves and flowers are edible. They have a delicate flavour somewhere in-between fennel and camomile.
Primroses – again both flowers and leaves are edible, although I haven’t found any just yet.
Dandelion – if you pick the young leaves early in the season, they add a slight bitter edge to your salad. The older leaves are too bitter though.
Wild onions – Make sure they are onions by smelling and tasting them. They can either be eaten whole like spring onions or you just snip of the green bit off the top like chives.
Salad burnett – Pimpinelle in German. This plant has very fine, small leaves with a faint cucumbery flavour. It grows everywhere around here, all year around, but I’ve known nobody who actually uses this plant.
Lemon balm – looks like stingy nettles, but has a delicious lemony smell and flavour.
Borage – again a bit early in the season, but both the pretty blue flowers and the hairy leaves can be eaten and also taste of cucumber.
Rocket / rucola – Not strictly a wild plant, but once you have sowed out some somewhere in your garden it will sow itself out again year after year. We are never without it, and I enjoy it’s peppery flavour.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over it and hey presto! If you ever fancy coming over helping us on the land and picking up a few cooking tips, just get your parents to put you on plane and we’ll pick you up the other end.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

of Dante, the weather and rally driving

“Mars brings exhalations from Valdimagra,
Which is encircled with dark clouds;
And with impetuous and bitter storm”
(Dante, Inferno XXIV, 145-148)
I thinks Dante may have been talking about a war there, but this quote gives you a good idea of the weather here recently. One of those impetuous and bitter storms brought down our telephone line yet again at the weekend, delaying this post by a few days. There were a few sunny days, notably the last 4 days of January and yesterday, but other than that I’ve had a lot of time to read, so hence the Dante quote. I am currently reading the Divine Comedy (in English translation, mind), which is supposed to be one of the greatest works of literature from the Middle Ages.

This is another nice description of recent weather conditions:

“I was in the third circle [of hell], where it rains
Eternally, icily and implacably;
Weight and direction are invariable.

Great hailstones, muddy waters, mixed with snow,
Fall through the darkened air without respite”
(Dante – Inferno VI, 7-11)

Apparently ending up in the third circle of hell is the punishment for gluttony. Now I can’t remember being guilty of that. Maybe I had too many Christmas biscuits and I’m now punished for it! I feel like another nice quote:

“In that part of the year when the sun
Tempers her hair under Aquarius
And the nights are already giving way to the noon,

When the frost copies upon the ground
The picture of her pale sister the snow,
But the coldness of her pen does not last long;

The farmer who has nothing left in store,
Gets up and looks, and sees the countryside
White everywhere, and hits himself with rage;

Goes back to the house and grumbles round the place
Like a poor devil who doesn’t know what to do;
Then out again, and suddenly takes hope,

Seeing that the face of the world has changed
In next to no time, and he seizes his stick
And chases his young sheep out to pasture”
(Dante, Inferno XXIV, 1-15)

We are in the sign of Aquarius now, and I would have chased out my sheep yesterday if I had any, but would have gathered them in again today. Yesterday was pleasantly sunny and even quite warm during the day, so we decided to go out to Villa to prune the vines and chop some more firewood. As Susan has her classes in Brugnato on Sunday evenings, I had looked out a nice direct route to get there after working on the land. Villa lies up the Magra valley in the shadow of the almost 1,200 metre Monte Cornoviglio. Brugnato on the other hand lies up along the Vara valley, the Vara entering the Magra some 20 km downstream from Villa. So I thought there must be a shortcut over the mountains rather than driving down one valley and back up the other.

Now I knew from previous expeditions around these mountains that maps are rarely accurate. I also knew part of the route and I knew it to be a rough, narrow, bendy road littered with crater-like potholes. However the part I knew was sort of paved all the way and the road on from there looked on the map a better and straighter road. Little did I know! I hasten to add, we do not drive a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but a quite low-lying Honda Civic, front-wheel drive. As we climbed to near the peak of the above mentioned Monte Cornoviglio the paved road became a rough track through some woods. We carried on through narrower and narrower paths with huge boulders, fallen trees and other debris across it, which I only just managed to manoeuvre through.

Finally we glimpsed a couple of proper blue road signs through the trees: to the right Mulazzo 10km, to the left Rochetta Vara 15km. The latter was exactly on our route. Encouraged by the signs we thought things were bound to improve. However, the ‘road’ (note the use of inverted commas) became worse and worse. At this altitude there was still snow, which was melting into a slithery mud. The track narrowed to something like 4 feet, to the right some thorny shrubs, to the left a sheer drop of several hundred feet. I had to keep some speed up too, to make sure we weren’t going to be stuck in the mud. All that without proper grip underfoot. Just as well as we both are not too worried about heights! Miraculously we did come out the other end at again at the bosom of civilization. The car looked like we’d been through a rally. I shan’t try that route again by car.