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Monday, 15 March 2010

Of arm wrestling, nuts and bulbs

Just a quick update after a week's silence. Last week, the beginning particularly, winter and spring had their annual arm wrestle. Last year they had cancelled the event as winter never made a proper appearance last year. But this year, just as you thought spring had finally arrived, winter let's you know he is not going without one last showdown against spring.

So they stand there, facing each other. Spring in the south at the mouth of the river and over the Med, Winter on top of the mountains on the Appenines. So all of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, winter threw everything he could at spring: icy northern winds swept down the valley, dropping temperatures back to freezing, even some snowflakes drifted by! Springs arm was nearly on the table, but then... by Thursday she was starting to get at least on level terms. Friday winter threw a bit more wind back and some cold misty rain, but you could tell he was already weakening. Saturday, winter got up and left the table, heading back up north again to not to return until next year.

So the wild flowers are out in lovely balmy sunshine. I thought this might be echinacea, but on closer inspection don't think it is. Pretty though!

I'm pleased to say that my cold frame has been doing the job admirably. Even on Monday, when temperatures with windchill were below zero, inside we measured 15 C. And yesterday morning we measured this:

By early afternoon the mercury had climbed to 45C. Almost too hot for my gherkin seedlings, which I have had to transplant into pots already. The tomatoes and aubergines are also poking their heads out, only the peppers are still taking their time. Today is New Moon, so a break day for gardeners and the starting pistol for the next lot of spring sowing.

Something a bit different on my favourite subject, wild food. The other night I was reading a book in bed, Susan had already gone to sleep next to me. I was reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's an autobiographical book by an American woman who goes through something of an early mid-life crisis. In order to find herself she goes travelling for one year to Italy, India and Indonesia. I won't bore you with the details, it's not relevant for this story.

I was reading over this one bit, where she describes eating out in Rome and being served pickled wild hyacinth bulbs. You know me, I was hooked immediately. I gave Susan a violent shake: "Susan! Susan!!" - "Hmmpff..?" "you know those bulbs on our land we keep unearthing and throwing out?" - "t'll me t'mrrow...." - "but... but... you can eat them! Pickled!!!"

Needless to say I barely slept a wink that night with excitement! A search on the internet the next day confirmed it. They are known as lampascioni in Italy and are a particular speciality in Puglia in the south.

Then coming to think of it, surely I had seen them, just not knowing what they were. Today and yesterday was the St Joseph Day Festa (Happy St. Joe's Day Joe!), which involves a huge sprawling market in the city of Sarzana. And there was a stand selling olives, pickles and... Lampascioni. You can see them in the foreground.
So typically, we've done all of our major digging for the season and, not knowing what they were, I threw all the bulbs I found into the general countryside. Now that I was actually looking for some I could barely find a handful:

I shall try and pickle them or eat them some other way. Apparently they are rather bitter and should therefore be boiled and left in the cooking water overnight. I'll let you know of the results.

Finally a couple more images from the festa in Sarzana. St. Joe appears to be the patron saint of the hazelnut as they are a bit of theme around this particular festa. Necklaces made from hazelnuts were on sale everywhere as well as the ubiquitous porchetta, without which no festa in Italy is complete.


Mr. H. said...

You are a funny man Heiko and get excited about the same things I do. Our poor wifes. I have been forbidden to eat any more of my wifes flower bulbs lest I be tossed out the door.

We have a few hyacinth growing in our garden but I dare not sneak a taste as they are very expensive to buy here and I have not come across any growing in the wild...perhaps when she is not looking though...I'll blame it on you.:)

Kelly said...

Are you enjoying the book as a whole? I have almost purchased it so many times.

It is good to know should we ever become desperate I can dig up those hyacinth bulbs and have a feast!

Heiko said...

Go on Mr. H., be a devil! Have a wee nibble on some hyacinth bulbs...

Kelly, I'm not sure yet. It seems to be more of a girlie book, if you know what I mean. Susan enjoyed it immensely. It was the first full book she managed to finish in ages (she has memory problems and finds it difficult reading a book back to front).

Jan said...

Oh goodness, that was a happy coincidence - the bulbs I mean! Oh, by the way, I notice that you still have the link to my old blog Jans Espace on your sidebar... I shan't be writing any more on that one so I don't know if you want to delete it?

Ayak said...

You never fail to amaze me with the things you find to eat! I know what you mean about Spring fighting Winter. It's much the same here. Glorious sunshine at 8am...outside drinking my coffee and within 10 minutes a gale started blowing..now it's really cold!

Angela said...

With us, Spring hasn`t really made up its mind, but at least the snow is slowly melting. Funny what all you can eat. I hope you`ll find more next time you look. What about the dog decision? Maybe you can get a truffel dog? That one would quickly make you rich . oh, I forgot, money does not interest you. But rich with truffels!

Heiko said...

Spring definitely seems here to stay. Inside my cold frame it was close to 50C! I need to instal airconditioning in there.

Well the dog, Susan's stance is definitely softening. Whenever I say "when we ger the dog..." instead of "if...", she has stopped hitting me. We're definitely going to have a look at it to see is it has legs... Watch this space...

chaiselongue said...

Well done, finding some more free food! The festa looks fun, too. Here people say you should sow haricot beans on St Joseph's Day (19 March here), so we'll try it on Friday, I think, earlier than we did last year.

Kelly said...

I understand girlie, I would most likely enjoy it as Susan did....it must be frustrating to not enjoy books as she once probably had due to the memory problem.