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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Sunday, 11 December 2011

December update and an award

I've won an award once again.  A while ago they seem to come along all the time, but then seemed to go a bit out of fashion.  I'm particularly pleased as this one was given to me by a relatively new bloger friend, Tanya from Lovely Greens.  Tanya is an American who somehow got stranded on the Isle of Man, that big blob between Britain and Ireland that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhail threw after his Scottish foe.  There she gardens, forages and makes things such as soap.  I don't know how much German she knows, but 'Liebster' in german means darling!  My wife is getting a little worried about these advances by strange women! ;)

Part of the award is that I am to pass it on to 5 other bloggers... I have recently not got around to following as many blogs as regularly as I'd like (partially due to my wife nagging me about spending so much time on the internet chatting to strange ladies...) well let's see, here we go:

  1. Top of the list has to be the blog by my adopted virtual sister at Ohiofarmgirl' Aventures in the good land.  Her stories about he she manages her menagery of farm animals make me laugh out loud without fail and never fail to cheer me up
  2. Jason at Zuchini Island in Australia has et himself a target of 80% food self sufficiency from a standing start.  I think he is finding it harder than he initially thought, but seems to have a lot of fun trying
  3. Next fellow Italian farmer and revolutionary blogging from Puglia in the south of Italy on olive farming, dry stone walling, many recipes etc: La Contadina's blog 
  4. Next a blog from the opposite end of Italy the far north at the foot of the Alps: L'Orto Orgoglioso, the proud garden, by Rowenna, a Hawaiian in Italy, I believe.  Her motto is: "You may not be reciting Dante in your dreams, but in the end, anyone can be the owner of a proud garden."  I like it!
  5. Finaly I would like to pass the award to Little Paradiso.  Not a gardening blog, but it describes the life of a Texan in Monterosso in the Cinque Terre.  She recently wrote a lot about the destruction caused by the recent rains and the efforts of the villagers to rebuild their homes.  Do visit her site and find out how to help these people in desperate need..
Right, awards out of way here's what's happening in our garden;  There's been a wee bit of rain in the last few days, but temperatures are still more like spring fooling many plants into sprouting lush greens in what should be winter.  On the land I planted out seedlings of pak choi, tak soi and kale:

This the seed packet described as 'Japanese spinach, but are clearly of the brassica family:

Swiss chard sowed itself out all over the place and is looking lush:

Even the litchi tomatoes is still producing:

The broad beans for next year have started off well:

Conspiracy Cousin is back helping out.  Here is in action picking wild autumn olive berries for making our Christmas jam.

Other than that we are slowly getting ready for Christmas, which we will be spending up in the mountains again.  We've baked mountains of biscuits / cookies, including kaki cookies.  The little rain in the last few days has brought up some interesting fungi again, so hopefully we'll find some edible varieties in the mountains:

Have a great pre-Christmas time everybody and don't yourselves too stressed, it's not worth it! :)

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Break in the mountains

As announced we have been spending a couple of weeks house- and dog-sitting for some friends in a small village 700m above sea level in the foothills of the Appenines above the pretty town of Pontremoli:

The village is only 6 km away from town as the fly crows... the cry flows...  the flow cries... but as the main road is closed due to a landslide it's a 20km drive.  The village itself is deserted during the winter, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves, us, Eddie, his 3 lovely girlfriends, a handful of cats, a chicken and a duck, plus plentiful wildlife such as badgers, foxes, deer, wild boar and a multitude of wildfowl, birds of prey and singing birds.

We didn't have much to do so we went on long walks around the woods with the dogs:

The weather was cold, but dry, which was good for going on walks, but unfortunately we didn't find any more fungi.

However near the house there was a beautiful field, where we took the dogs to frolick around every day, full of wild herbs...

... apple trees and lined with wild roses heavy with rosehips at their prime:

We made some rosehip jam and what was to be rosehip jelly and turned out rosehip syrup.  As for the jam, it was really more of a marmelade as we used whole oranges and lemons as well as a grated apple for pectin.  The taste and texture turned out be delicious, but what a lot of fiddly work to remove the seeds!

And the jelly... I don't like adding commercial pectin to my preserves, so I cooked up a similar mixture, saving myself having to remove the seeds, strained it through a muslin cloth and... it didn't set.  Might just dilute the result with spring water as a drink.  Also produced a batch of my infamous 'I can't believe it's not mango chutney' chutney made from some kaki / persimmon out of their garden.  It was nice having a bit of a break from everything and ponder on a few things.

Conspiracy Cousin Barti is returning to us this week and we'll slowly settle into winter.  The rain has finally arrived yesterday along with some cooler temperatures. 

...and finally... Eddie, the Beagle had a particularly good time in the mountains... :)

Friday, 25 November 2011

Interuption to usual services

Just a quicky to let you know that we are spending the rest of the month up on the mountains where the internet connection is painfully slow to non-existant.  So apologies for not reacting to your comments or commenting on your blogs.  We're just on a quick dash at home at the moment, enough to just let you know.  More when we come back on rosehip jams and such.

To my American friends: happy belated Thanksgiving.  I was reminded by my lovely 'sister' over at Ohio Farm Girl. Other news will include Eddie and his multiple girlfriends up in the mountains.  So plenty to look forward to.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

November Update

Well, what's been happening I hear you ask, in fact some of you DID ask!  Nature has thrown another storm at us, this time a bit further north, hitting Genoa badly.  Both storms within a week of each other were described as the worst in over a century.  In our vicinity 80 cars in the town of Aulla were scrapped, numerous businesses have been destroyed as well as a school.  The pretty village of Vernazza as well as Monterosso in the world famous Cinque Terre have been devastated, but we only suffered minor damage, which we repaired yesterday in the glorious sunshine:

The barrier we had put up after last years landslides had broken apart, which was just as well as it was made from asbstos, which I didn't like to have lying around anyway.  I still don't know how to get rid of it though...  There's Eddie testing the new construction for strength.

The material used were a bunch of old tyres as the base and an old wardrobe we found on the skip complete with mirror door.

It was also time to turn the compost and start a new one:

...and the reason why you haven't heard so much from us...? Twofold really: one is that we're spending much of November and part of December up in the mountains where we are looking after the house and dogs of some friends.  It's beautiful up there and a true wild food paradise.  The chestnuts have not been affected by the chestnuts gall wasp yet as they have around us and are still abundant.  The woods are full of fungi including parasols, blewits and porcini.  There's a beautiful field full of wild herbs, crab apples and rosehips.  So as you can imagine, I'm in heaven up there taking 4 dogs for endless walks foraging.

The other reason is that these two weather events have got me thinking and doubting.  We are just scraping a meagre living from our impossibly steep piece of land and everytime it rains I have sleepless nights wondering if we have anything to come back to.  So we have started considering some other options including maybe leaving Italy in search of some like-minded people to join a community.  Nothing is certain yet and I'm determined to keep my feet on the ground and live in the present.  It is easy to get side-tracked and neglecting your current situation by dreaming of a future.  I have long thought that with Italy  we have finally 'arrived', but we haven't reached as far as I would have liked on the Path of Self Sufficiency.  So we are considering Portugal or Greece or maybe somewhere else.

If anyone out there is thinking along similar lines of setting up a community and wants to join us or knows of an interesting project we should consider, please let us know.  We may of course stay put, but this is something that is going around in our heads at the moment.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A narrow escape...

First of all thank you all those sending messages phoning or trying to phone and asking after us.  We were 48 hours off line and we have received a deluge of messages.  We are fine and the land has suffered no significant damage is the good news first

For those of you who haven't heard, although it has made the international news in Europe, our area has officially been declared a disaster zone.  Six people died and at least another six are still missing as we suffered what I have heard described as an inland tsunami.  We just escaped the worst of it by being just off the eye of the storm.  The first we knew of the disaster was when concerned relatives phoned me on my mobile phone. 

Yes it had rained most of Tuesday and during the night to Wednesday at times pretty hard.  The really bad bit didn't seem to last for more than 2 or 3 hours though, so we weren't all that worried.  It wasn't like last year, when it rained for weeks on end and then a 24 hour downpour on top of that.  This year we'd had hardly any rain, so we were in fact quite happy to get some.

However what nature threw at this region this time was something quite unprecedented.  Within these 2-3 hours almost half a metre of rain fell!  Half metre deep that is, not wide!  This caused a huge tidal wave down two river valleys, the Vara and the Magra, taking everything with it in its wake as well as causing massive destruction in the world famed Cinque Terre region, cutting the it off from the outside world.  To give you an idea of the geography and how close we came to disaster ourselves I made this little map, which shows the main eye of the storm as far as I understand it.

The blue stripes show roughly the eye of the storm.  The red circles are the worst effected areas.  The green circle is where we live and where our land is.  I highlighted the two rivers.  As you can see they come together just upriver from us.  The combined wave then surged down to the sea where it destroyed the last bridge before the mouth of the river. 

Today I took the bike across the valley to see if everything was ok on the land, which as I say it was.  Here are some of the scenes I saw on the way over:

The normally paved road to the river is under a foot of mud.  On the left is an olive grove, not a rice paddy.

Even some olive trees got uprooted...

Many cars just got swept along by the floods and dumped on top of each other.

Horses normally graze there.  And that boat wasn't there last week... This is 500 metres from the river!  The stables in the background are ruined.

Shipping containers scattered like toy bricks...

Locals were quick to blame authorities for not doing enough to clean up the river.  Debris, like the tree trunks, quickly get stuck on obstacles like bridges, diverting the water from it's usual course and into built-up areas.

Our thoughts go out to those of our near neighbours who have lost property or worse loved ones.  I understand that most of the victims were elderly people who drowned in their own houses as flood waters rose with 10 minutes, leaving the frail no time to escape.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Of Roots

It's Blog Action Day once again.  Some of you may remember I participated last year talking about water.  This year's theme is food.  Now I racked my brain long and hard what to write about, because essentially this is what this blog is all about, food.  I write about it all the time, about growing it, foraging for it, preparing it, sometimes even eating it.  So how do I get a new angle on it.

Well two current news got me on roots, both literally and figuratively.  Unfortunately I appear to have mislaid my camera, so the images today have been nicked, apologies to anyone claiming copyright to these pics...

As one of the new things I have experimented with this year in the garden is a root vegetable known by it's Italian name of scorzanera.  I don't normally do well with root crops so I set aside a deep pot filled with quite a rich turf in it and sowed a few plants.  I didn't know what the end result would look or taste like.  Well as for looks (I did have a photo on my disappeared camera...):

This is it.  They are very slow growing.  I sowed them back in April I think and only just now harvested them.  
Once peeled I seemed to remember my Mum trying to feed me these things unsuccesfully.  However that doesn't mean much, because I was the world's fussiest eater as a kid.  (Incidentally this just shows you it's all in the mind, because as I grew up I became the world's unfussiest eater.)  Anyway, I seemed to remember my Mum cooking them in a creamy sauce, so that's what I  did, and I as I didn't have a huge amount I threw a handful of chicory leaves in with it and served the lot over some cooked potatoes.  Very nice and I shall try growing some more next year.

The other root story is quite an embarrassing one, I know you will laugh out loud about this Mr. H
My blogger friend Mr. H in Idaho has often mentioned growing Jerusalem artichokes on his land, or as he prefers to call them, sun roots.  He's asked me if I had ever tried growing them, as they are a very easy to grow root crop.  I told him, that I had never seen the tubers to start the plants of with for sale in Italy and didn't think they were known to Italians.

Now currently we have a helpXer staying with us, who incidentally is not exactly from Jerusalem, but from Israel.  As we went on a walk with the dog the day before yesterday, showing her some of the wild foods growing around here, she pointed at these tall yellow flowers asking me whether they were sunflowers or Jerusalem artichokes:

I said I was sure they weren't sunflowers, and I didn't think they were Jerusalem artichokes as they grew wild everywhere including on a wilder corner of our land.  She said it did look like the latter though, and if we did have some on our land, we should dig for the roots and have a look.  And lo and behold... this is what we dug up:

I peeled a bit there and then and tasted it... Hmmm!  Really juicy and tasty even raw.  So here we go, Mr.H, no need to send me any tubers I just cultivate some of the wild stuff that grows abundantly all over the place!  I now understand too why you call them sunroots.  I don't think you have ever shown us a picture of the pretty flowers.

A quick word about food in general and roots in the figurative sense.  We should all go back to our cultural roots eating in season and re-learning to find and use the wild foods that nature gives us so abundantly for free both for the good of our planet and for our own health.  Now wasn't that all beautifully summed up and brought to a conclusion, (if I say so myself... ;)).

PS: I now found my camera and replaced the above images with my own,,,

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Solution

I better tell you about the solution of last weeks 'wild food quizzzzzzzzz'
Greater plaintain.  Edible, but not very tasty.  Mostly used as a medicinal herb for a variety of maladies including liver cleansing.
 Colts Foot: Leaves can be cooked and eaten, but contain a liver damaging alkaloid and should therefore only be consumed in moderation.  The yellow flowers appear before the leaves and disappear again before the leaves come out.  A tea made from the flowers and leaves relieves coughs
Ribwort plantain, or as I call it, pointy-leafed plantain.  Used the same way as greater plantain.
Golden Rod.  An aromatic herb, a tea made from the flowers and leaves helps with various maladies of the water system, i.e. cistytis, kidney trouble etc.
Oak.  Acorns themselves are edible, but need repeated boiling to reduce the bitterness so are not really an option.  Young leaves are edible though and a palatable wine can be made from them
Comfrey.  Again not recommended for those with liver trouble and should be consumed in moderation.  My favourite way of eating comfrey leaves is covered in a tempura batter dipped in soya sauce.  The health benefits of this plant probably outweigh potential harm caused by alkaloids.
Wild strawberry.  Also the leaves are edible and go into my spring tart alongside primroses and sweet violets.
Some kind of mint.  Could be catnip.
Stingy nettles.  They don't need much an introduction

Fennel.  Easily confused with dill if you only see the picture.
...and....(drum roll...), well done Tanya, butcher's broom.  The berries aren't poisonous as such, but will give you the runs.  Young shoots are edible like asparagus.  The seeds can be made into a coffee substitute.  But the main function is medicinal.  The roots used internally and externally are a cure for varicose veins and hemorhoids.
 Nobody got the bonus plant, but hey, maybe it's just a useless weed, although there aren't many of them...  Well done to those who had a go.  Tanya, Mr.H and Ruth all managed 11 right!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Wild food season

We went on a photo safari the other day for the book I'm writing, the guide to edible and medicinal wild plants for pilgrims.  Within a relatively short walk we found all these:

Who can tell me what these all are?  Go on have a go.  You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

For a bonus point, what is this one?

I haven't identified it myself yet.  The flowers are actually yellow.  Looks like it should be medicinal.

Finally on a separate excursion we visited some friends in the mountains and came away with tons of chestnuts (the woods around us have been badly affected by the chestnut gall wasp), crab apples and one lovely porcini mushroom: