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, 27 March 2011

Mangiar la Foglia

About a week ago these posters appeared all over our village: "Mangiar la Foglia" - Eat the Leaf.  It announced a 2-day wildfood event orgnised by our local council.  Those of you who know me, will know that I immediately got very excited indeed.  Whilst I do know many of the wild edibles in our region there's always scope to learn some more.  And of course our helpXers currently with us also have an interest in free and wholesome food.

The event kicked off on Friday night with a talk and slideshow in the village sports centre.  The speaker introduced himself as an enthusiast rather than an expert, and he said he would restrict his lecture on seasonal greens found in our region only, thus excluding the whole field of fungi, which he reckoned merited a separate lecture.  He then proceeded in showing us slides of some 100 plants and told us about their uses and how to identify them.  Many examples were laid out on a table too for everyone to touch and ask about.  There was so much information crammed into the 2 hour talk, that it was impossible to take it all in and it bode well for the guided walk the next day.  80 people had turned up for the event (i.e. a third of the entire population, although a few people turned up from outside the village).

Saturday afternoon we all met up again down in the valley, where the whole crowd started off, initially in an orderly fashion with only occasional dives into the grassbanks...

...into the olive groves of a local landowner (with his express permission), where a true wild food gathering frenzy ensued...

The two accompanying experts were in constant demand:  "Can you eat this?"

"This is how you cut this"

Stephen, one of our helpers, proudly displaying a find.  The message being, anything that vaguely looks like dandelion is edible, although I forget what this one was called.

Amongst our more interesting finds were wild parsley (above and below).  Although it does not smell as intensly of parsley the taste is unmistakable.

This they simply called salvia / sage, but it doesn't resemble common sage in any way, neither in looks nor smell.  It must be different variety altogether although I haven't been able to find out what it is exactly:

The roots of this plant are very tender and tasty.  Someone named it Castracano, but I may have picked the name up incorrectly as I can't find anything under this name.  Anyone know what this is:

Of course Addie also enthusiastically joined in the fun.

Amongst other treasure we found were aspragine, navel's wort, we found that some of the aspargus we've been collecting wasn't asparagus at all, but hop shoots, which are just as edible.  After some exhausting foraging the owner of the olive groves served us all with a snack of testaroli (local type of pancake) with pesto and a glass or three of his wine.

The whole event finally wound up back at the village hall, where we had a dinner of wild asparagus risotto wild greens tart and a grilled meat platter accompanied by a mixture of wild greens.

It happened to be Stephen's birthday as well, so it was a memorable one for him.  Sadly Frances and Stephen were on their way again this morning heading south, but they promised to see us again on their way back up the Italian boot.  If you want to read what they have made out of the olive pruning and their other adventures check out their blog.  I'm pleased to say that not only have we benefitted from their help with the olives and the repair on our terraces, but have also gained a couple of new friends.  That is what helpX should all be about.  Thank you Frances and Stephen!

NB: I've just figured out that it's called aspraggine and in English known as Hawkweed Oxtongue.  It's what Stephen is holding up on the central picture.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Olive Pruning

The weather suddenly turned spring-like, giving us a chance to finish off the pruning of the olives. We had started looking after the olive grove last year. Before that the trees hadn't been touched for some 10 years, so major restorative pruning was called for. We never managed to finish all the trees last year, so we needed to take care of the remaining 15 odd trees, which had grown to a majestic height.

Thursday just Susan and I made a start, then Thursday evening reinforcements arrived out of the blue: two more helpXers arrived, Stephen and Frances from England. Even better they came with their own accomodation, as they are travelling around Europe in their camper van. The kitchen is already full with my cousin Bart and our other helpXer Addie. We immediately found we got on extremely well and they agreed to help us finish the pruning.

I climbed up into the trees with the chainsaw cutting off the big branches, Susan, Frances and Stephen cut the branches into smaller bits and dragged them up to the fireplace while Addie picked a bunch of nettles, sorrel and mallow to make a wild food soup which we then cooked on the embers of the fire.

Bart was in charge of the fire.

Last night we celebrated a job well done by downing numerous litres of vino. Today my head feels a bit delicate and we're enjoying a well deserved break. So thank you sooooooo much to our helpers, we wouldn't have been able to finish the job so quickly without you.

If my ramblings sound a little disjointed, it is because I still feel a bit disjointed...

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Of wild food and spring preparations

We've been having a little helper with us again, Addie from California, although we haven't quite agreed what we all call her so we don't confuse her with Eddie, the Beagle.  Here was one of those situations: "you talking to me or him?"

Addie has come here to learn more about wild foods, so we have been indulging in my favourite past time once again.  We've been eating wild asparagus 'til we were sick (literally in the case of Bart my cousin, who likes it so much here, we can't get rid of him any more...), we've made my Spring Tart, crystalised angelica stems, Everything we could find soup, gorse flower wine, wild salads, etc.  Everything really started growing now as the temperatures slowly creep up.  This week rain is threatening the bits we haven't secured yet, we'll still be busy with this for a while.

Of course we have been sowing the usual things inddors and outdoors, but I won't go into details.  Today we planted 2 new trees though, Franz, the Kaiser pear tree is to replace the pear tree which got washed down the hill by the landslides.  Unlike my other pear trees, this one is a late ripener.  We also planted a new olive tree, a 'Pendolino'.  I was going to christen it Edgar, after EdgarAllen Poe, because of the story The Pit and the Pendulum, but was outvoted by Addie, who wanted to name it after her best friend Bela.  So from now on it shall be introduced as "Bela, you can call him Edgar".

Addie refused to pose with him...

So far our latest update.  Adiie is out as we speak, hunting for some borage to make Ravioli al Boragine... Mmmh!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Signs of Life

This is both a sign that we are still alive as well as nature waking up to a new growing season.  Apologies for the long gap in posting, but I had to go to see my parents as they had some health problems and needed urgent help.  So I was out of the country for a bit, but luckily my cousin was still here to hold the fort together with Susan and Eddie, the Beagle.

During my absence they aparently didn't have the best of weather (I experienced snow and sub-zero temperatures while in Germany), but still managed to make some progress with supporting more damaged terraces.  Rains did cause some more minor damage on some terraces we hadn't secured yet, but all in all I came home to a general improvement.

They also planted the potatoes while I was away:

In other news the pak choi in the older coldframe is doing well:

and Al & Capone the almond trees are in flower:

Spring is on it's way!  We are expecting another helper this week who is particularly keen on wild foods, so soon we'll be gathering our wild asparagus and other spring greens.  It's still cold, but an end is in sight.  This year better be an improvement on last...