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, 30 January 2010


No that isn't a polite way of saying I've had a sh.. day. We've only just collected some manure from our next door neighbour Pierro as every year. It's a lovely rich mix of donkey, wild boar and chicken poo. This gives me a perfect excuse to show this old photo of Pierro trying to convince one of his donkeys to come to a festa with him (he doesn't have a woman to take, you know). It was taken back in in summer of 2006.

A large part of the manure went to make a base in my newly constructed cold frame, topped up with some all purpose shop bought compost. The manure hasn't completely broken down and the final fermentation should create a bit of heat and turn the cold frame into more of a hot frame (well it's a bit draughty, so maybe a warm frame...).

The rest has been worked into various beds. On Monday we'll be off to get some more, there's only so much I get fit into the back of the car. It's taken on some interesting aromas already (the inside of the car that is).

The weather has remained fine and cool with just some rain last night. So preparation for sowing in a couple of weeks time with the waxing moon phase all in full swing.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Of living cash-less and wild food of the season

Sorry it's been a while since the last post, but the weather has been so good, we've been working hard. It's been dry since the last post, quite cold at times, but spring-like whenever the sun makes an appearance. We've dug over more beds in preparation for spring and continued pruning the olives at Popetto. The last few trees are turning into real hard work, but we're slowly getting there.

There are a couple of things I want to talk about today. Firstly I read this article in the Guardian about this guy who has given up cash for a year, and no I don't mean he is paying everything by credit card! Here's the link:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/green-living-blog/2009/oct/28/live-without-money. Now we're not a million miles away from what he is doing, rarely being in posession of any cash. Unfortunately we still have to pay for electricity and phone bills and can't quite do without a car.
Well this man set up a "freeconomy community", which I've just joined: http://www.justfortheloveofit.org/. On this people list their skills and equipment to offer for free to other community members. Unfortunately there's no one near me yet who has also joined, so all of you, whether you live near me or not, join! This is such a great idea.

Today I am starting an at least monthly series on wild foods of the season. Our short cold spell is over and herbs are growing everywhere again, sending us on forages. Of course each region will have different plants or they will be ready at different times of the year, but I'll give you a glimpse at what we collect and what you can do with it. There's not a month without some wild crop or other which can be harvested.
So here we go, wild food for January: the humble daisy

In fact it can be gathered any time of the year when the ground isn't covered by snow. Both the flowers and the ground hugging leaves are edible. Simply throw them into a salad to add a mild camomile flavour. The leaves can be boiled briefly together with other greens or stirred into a risotto or soup. They are said to have a cleansing, detox effect.

The other plant we have started gathering is common chicory.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicory. That photo is actually a cheat, as it is flowering radicchio, which is a close relation to the wild chicory. The leaves of wild chicory are a bit similar to dandelion (another relation and of course also edible), but less indented. As with dandelion the younger the leaves the less bitter they are. In fact at the moment the tender young leaves are more sweet than bitter. This is explained by the fact that they contain a high concentration of inulin, which is a good sugar substitute for diabetics.

All plants of the chicory family are hostile to intestinal parasites, so drive out any worms you may have. How to eat them? Well of course you can add them to your salad as well to give a bit of a bitter/sweet edge to it, but the most popular way it is used here in Italy by just blanching them in boiling water for 1/2 minute or so, drain and serve with a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil as side veg.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Cold Frame

Well finally the weather has cleared. It hasn't rained for a few days and the sun has even come out for the last 2-3 days. Just as well, as I was getting itchy feet to get started on preparations for the next growing season.

Yesterday and today I finally got around to building that cold frame from the old shower doors I found last week on a rubbish tip. Shame I can't show you a photo as I'm still camera-less. I'm rather proud of it! I'm not the greatest DIY man. You see when I was a lad my Dad fixed everything. He is very good with his hands. Anything he takes apart he puts back together. Believe me, he can take a nuclear power station apart and back together again! However, like many working people with little education, he is also not a good communicator. Whenever I asked him to show me how to fix my bike he'd very quickly loose patience and do it himself.

I have got better over the years, but results of any project I start a rather unpredictable. The coldframe project did come off satisfactorily though. Made entirely of recycled material: 4 old shower doors, some old wooden doors and other miscellaneous bits of discarded furniture and numerous old wooden poles previously used to support vines.

The whole thing is about 10 feet long, 3 feet wide and 2-3 feet deep (sloping) and seems to be holding together. I'm looking forward to filling it with compost and sowing my tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and all in there.

The land itself has benefitted from all that rain. The first lot of broad beans is flowering and getting over the damage inflicted by the winds. We're starting to pick Tuscan black cabbage and broccoli and everything is looking in good order. Roll on spring!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Trapped indoors

For over 4 days now we have been trapped indoors! It's not that it's pouring with rain, it's just one of those allround dampnesses. Sitting inside, you feel like in an inverted aquarium. You only dare venture out with goggles, a snorkel and flippers. The damp just pervades everything, the thick walls of our ancient palazzo seem to simply soak in moisture and expand in the process. Clothes hung up to dry inside get wetter as the days wear on. It's simply depressing! Give me our usual monsoon-like rainstorms for a few hours any time rather than this damp squib of a weather, this limp towel of a weather, this non-weather. Urrrgggh!!!!

Anyway, Susan made use of the time and entered a short story competition. I heard about it through Tessa's blog http://aerialarmadillo.blogspot.com/, that I have recently started following a bit. The competition is on http://clarityofnight.blogspot.com/. Susan's entry is #110. Go have a look at it and give her a comment, it'll make her very happy. She has also her own blog with some stories on it http://susan-stories.blogspot.com/ if you are at all interested.

Now when I say her own blog, Susan doesn't actually do computers. At all! She doesn't know how to switch one on or off or anything, so I lend a hand at times. She wrote this little story in half an hour in the old time-honoured fashion of pen on paper, with lots of scribbling out bits and little asterisks to insert a word or phrase here and there. At least she does know how to type, because I couldn't read what she's written. So I just have to open Word and let her get on with the final version.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Of Liqueurs

Well the holiday season is over and everyday life has reclaimed us. We've seen friends for meals, talked to family and friends on the phone and from some it was simply the annual Christmas card. Good to hear from everyone, see everyone etc.

In 2009 we must clearly have been naughty though. Not only did Santa miss our chimney during the storms on Christmas eve, no also the Epiphany witch, "la Befana" didn't call to see us this year. I don't know what happened! Normally she comes and see us on the 6th riding one of our neghbour's donkeys accompanied by Mauro playing the bagpipes and brings us some oranges and nuts. Last year we must have been particularly good, because she brought us a calendar with photos of the village, but this year...

Well never mind. The weather for the most part has continued to be rotten. Lat week we had some more snow, which didn't hang around this time though. Yesterday we found some old glass shower doors deposited at a rubbish tip near us, ideal for building a cold frame to start seeds off in. Today I was hoping to construct it, but it's been pissing it down again all day, so no can do.

So on these long, dark and cold evenings we sit by the fire and enjoy some of the fruits of our labours, particularly some of the liqueurs I've started experimenting with this year. I thought I'll let you partake in the results of these experiments.

Some of these liqueurs take quite some time before they are ready, but they are well worth the effort. The best thing is that many are made from ingredients which otherwise land directly on the compost. Here is what we've made so far.

Digestivo della Nonna (Granny's Digestif)

No this isn't actually my granny, but the Epiphany Witch, when she passed by last year. The drink's ingredients are Lemon balm, lemon zest and coffee steeped in alcohol and cut with sugar and water (nb. when I talk of alcohol, in Italy you can buy 95% potable alcohol for liqueur making. Inhabitants of more northern climes will be surprised to hear that this not the favourite tipple of the local tramp population). It is drinkable after 6 months and this was soooo good, Susan declared it her favourite of them all and hence it didn't last very long. So success!!!

Next we tried a Rosemary Liqueur

This strictly speaking wasn't a liqueur at all, but mor a fortified wine in the style of a dry Martini. Rosemary is steeped in alcohol for a few days which is than added to dry white wine coming out at about 17% AbV. Well chilled it made a good apperitif, but not suitable for long term storage.

I made two recipes involving cherries: Wild Cherry Ratafia and Cherry Stone Liqueur.

The former invloves steeping some cherries together with cherry leaves, cinnamon and cloves in Grappa and sugar on a sunny window sill. It comes out at about 30% AbV with a beautiful bright red colour. The spices and cherry worked really well together, it's realively quick to make, but alas I didn't make nearly enough of it!

The other cherry recipe involved using the stones, steeped in alcohol for a few months and the cut down with sugar and water. This surprisingly tastes really almondy, almost like marzipan! I suppose cherries and almonds are related plants. We're still enjoying that.

Another herbal concoction was Sage Grappa.

Simple steep a handful of sage in grappa for a few days, than add some honey to sweeten it. This is not too sweet and probably a great cure, or prevention, for colds (not that we ever get any).

Most recipes up to this point I had taken from a recipe book. My first venture in creating my own mix was a 25 herb liqueur. Needless to say that the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret handed down from generation to generation since last Friday, however I can tell you that I steeped every herb I could find both on our land and wild at the end of July, plus a few preserved seeds from earlier in the season, such as angelica seed, coriander. The resulting brew was (yes alas was...) bright green and not unlike Chartreuse, the recipe of which has been a secret of some French monks since... well at least the Friday before last.

A few days ago I declared my Melon Liqueur ready.

This is made by steeping the rind of the melons in alcohol. It is pleasantly delicate in flavour, with just a slight bitter edge balancing the sweetness.
Another nice one which was (and still is) particularly nice over the festive season, Spiced Blackberry Liqueur

Blackberries together with cloves and cinnamon bark is steeped in alcohol, than cut down to about 43%AbV. It turns out the colour of a well known 1970's Beat combo and the spicyness went really well with my spicy Christmas biscuits.
Another one turning a similar colour is Elderberry Grappa.
I know they are elderflowers on the picture, but I didn't have a photo of elderberries handy. Anyway, the berries get steeped in grappa for 40 days. The resulting brew is only lightly sweetened. Another great flu preventative. Had we not had this, I'm sure we would have come down with swine flu!
Another of my own creations was a hop liqueur (sorry no photo). There are loads of wild hops growing around us and I kept wondering what to do with them. Last year I attempted brewing a trial batch of maize beer flavoured with hops. It didn't turn out a success. So I thought the bitterness and aroma of hops might work well as a liqueur, balancing the sweetness. I'm quite happy with the result, but next year I think I need to cut the strength a bit more, it's come out at approximately 51%AbV.
Some liqueurs take longer than others, so 2 of my creations won't be ready for drinking until next summer: a traditional Nocino, walnut liqueur, which is made from green walnuts in june and turns a thick, murky greeny black and a Gineprino, juniper liqueur, a bit like a sweet gin (saves you having to add your tonic water).
Because the ingredients are quite expensive, namely the alcohol, we've only made quite small quantities of these drinks. Anyone wanting to buy any of those concotions of me, put your "en primeur" offers in now for next year. :-)