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

To book an informative and fun wine tasting whilst holidaying in Italy or arrange for a wild food walk in your area contact me on tuscanytipple at libero dot it or check out my Facebook page

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Saturday, 26 September 2009

The ongoing saga of my arm

It's vendemmia time, the grape harvest. The air everywhere is pregnant with the smell of fermenting wine. With the hot and dry summer and spring the grapes have ripened early this year. Some growers picked before the arrival of last weeks rain, others, like our friends Graham and Anna of Il Bardine in Cesarano in the Lunigiana have used the warm period after the rains. We went out on Tuesday to give them a hand harvesting their 1/2 hectar or so of Vermentino and a mixture of red varieties. The whites already showed sign of botrytis and a drop in acidity, but the red grapes came in nice and healthy. Here is Susan in action.

There were a whole group of us and became hot during the day. It took us most of the day to pick and we finished off with a jolly BBQ. If you ever fancy staying on a vineyard / fruit orchard for your holidays, Graham and Anna let out a couple of flats: www.ilbardine.com.
This was the first major physical test for my arm after my injury. However in the morning before I started I found a strange and slightly painful hard lump on the opposite side of where I skewered my arm some 5 weeks ago. And shortly before the end of our work I had to capitulate again. Thursday I went to see my doctor about it and it turns out that I still have a piece of bamboo inside my arm which is now trying to get out on the other side!
Next Friday I will be operated on that arm in Sarzana hospital to have it removed, which no doubt is going to result in me being out of action for a further couple of weeks. Porca miseria!Susan has been in Belfast this week, so I've been keeping myself busy not straining my arm too much.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

of rain and grapes and poetry

It's been quite an eventful week. The long awaited 'proper rain' has at last arrived. We've had some real downpours at the beginning of the week, marking the end of this year's watering period. We harvested most of the remaining tomatoes, before rot can set in, making some more tomato sauce and green tomato jam with rum. I was going to pass on the recipe, but there's so much more that happened this week.

Today in particular we were torn between two festas. One was in our village, the 25th Cesare Orsini Poetry Prize. Some may remember that last year the event got practically rained off. The concert piano that had to be shifted up to our little piazza with great care, stayed under cover and we simply invited the pianist and 2 Swedish tourists in to our kitchen for a glass of wine. This year, the same pianist was there, but brought a handier electric piano with him and a soprano singer.

Rain did arrive again, so we all took refuge in our next door neighbour's living room, where the poetry readings took place as well as a small concert. When I say living room, they don't actually spend much time in there and it's more a small private museum. It's in the other half of the palazzo of which we inhabit the former servants quarters.

The music was mostly Puccini. Now I must admit I'm a bit ignorant when it comes to opera and always found it a bit of an overblown art form, sort of artificial if you know what I mean. However I've never stood 5 feet from a soprano in full voice in somebodies living room. I must say you start to realise how physically fit these singers have to be, and on full blast she'd compete with a small rock band in volume. It really goes right under your skin. No doubt this little video won't give it justice, but it'll give you a flavour

In addition there's been a small craft's market, a photo exhibition and and exhibition of old farm machinery, antiques and old motorbikes. The other festa we had been wanting to see for some time was the Festa dell'Uva in Vezzano Ligure. I have mentioned the merits of this village before and maybe I should shut up about it.

It beats me why tens of thousands flock to Siena and San Gimignano to see the palio and get ripped off in tacky tourist shops, when there is this beautiful place with probably the best view in all of Italy. It's always nice to visit, but the grape festival is the highlight of the year. The whole town is decorated in grapes.
Vezzano is quite a widely spread village/town with many quarters known as Rione. The inhabitants then indulge in various competions against each other, including a vintner's race and a procession in fancy dress. Each Rione has it's specific theme, which may be:



or even cross dressing!!!

There was dancing in the streets...

...but it was all a bit much for some...

Saturday, 12 September 2009

of fish & figs

First of all thank you for all your enquiries about my arm. It's slowly on the mend. I have taken over cooking duties again. A couple of days ago I got on my bike again, although that may have been a bit premature, it aggrevated the pain again. Give it a few more days and I'll be back digging potatoes.

The other day we had to go to the post office and we took the scenic route back along the river Magra. It was a beautiful day and there were hundreds of fish visible in the clear water: trouts the size of small sharks, as well as a fish called pumkin seed and many smaller fish. Below you see a view towards Vezzano Ligure.

Unfortunately I don't have a UV filter for my cheapo digital camera, so couldn't penetrate the surface to show you the giant trout, but spot the little fish next to my foot.

The weather has continued to be warm and dry and we continue to pick plenty of crops, amongst them figs. Today I thought it must be possible to use some by making a cake. When we got home with a bucket of figs I looked for a recipe. First in my books, then on the internet, but found nothing that took my fancy. Either it was too complicated or I didn't have half the ingredients. So I made up my own recipe and I thought I'll write it down here before I forget how I did it. Unfortunately I didn't weigh anything, so quantities are estimates, but as you can see the cake was so good that we had eaten half before I got around taking a picture of it. It has a lovely moist consistency. Here it goes anyway:


  • 100g soft butter
  • 150g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla flavoured sugar or better the inside of half a vanilla pod
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 70g ground hazelnuts
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 16 figs, peeled
  • 250g wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder


  1. Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together until creamy. Add the eggs and keep beating, next the nuts and keep beating. Finally beat in the lemon.
  2. Puree 10 of the figs in a food processor and add to your mixture.
  3. Mix the flour with the baking powder and stir into your mixture until it becomes a thick, smooth batter.
  4. Pour the mixture into a greased round cake tin. Cut the remaining figs open and lay them on top, pressing them lightly into the batter.
  5. Bake for about 35-40 minutes at 175 C.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Autumn in the air

Spot on time at the end of the Italian holiday season, the weather is starting to change. Not that it's getting cold mind, but fresher. Thursday and Friday we had some much needed rain, although not enough to really soak the ground, and we were out watering again today. The rains have brought a cooler northerly wind with a lovely crispness in the air and the odd fluffy cloud over our village.

My arm is slowly on the mend, but whenever I get over-confident and try doing too much, I get a stabbing pain. So although we need to prune the peach, plum and cherry trees and need to do some digging over for the winter crops, I haven't been able to do much yet.

So in my boredom, we've been out for a wild food foraging walk, but found we were too ealy for juniper berries and almost too late for blackberries. However we did find some which need to be turned into jam, but we still are short of jars. We filled some with pears and peaches in syrup, made more fig sauce, not to mention litres and litres of tomato sauce. We have piles of aubergines, which we preserve under oil, but only short term in plastic containers in the fridge. It looks a good year for chestnuts this year, so looking forward to starting to pick these next month.

Incidentally, this is also the time of year, when our birthdays come up (Susan on the 29th September, me 17th November) as well as Christmas coming closer. I don't want to be presumptious, but if anyone would like to give us something I have made a wish list on www.amazon.co.uk. They don't only stock books and music, but also gardening tools and kitchen equipment. Useful things include a grain mill, so we can grind our corn to polenta or chestnuts into chestnut flower, a juicer (at the moment we'd be drinking gallons of tomato juice!), some decent gardening tools rather than some of our antiquated equipment, a pasta maker as well as various books and music. The link to it if you feel so inclined is http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/registry/wishlist/36GU4M3JTSSJB/ref=cm_wl_sortbar_o_page_1?ie=UTF8&page=1.