Summer Out of Season

“Would you like a cup of home made spicy butternut and tomato soup?” I asked my friend a week ago on a damp and dismal January morning. “Yes please,” she replied. then went on to enquire from which shop I obtained the butternut from. “You grew them yourself?” she asked after I told her that they had come from my orto. She blew across the surface of her mug of soup and took a sip before saying, “Wow, this tastes just like summer.”

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In my work I visit many properties and I’ve seen many Italian pantries stocked with jars of blood red passata and others filled to the brim with dried beans. I’ve been inside cool cantine with home made salumi* hanging from the ceiling and inside airy sheds where tobacco hangs drying in the air. Italian’s are ingenious when it comes to getting the most out of their orto and they have an almost religious devotion to processing and storing produce for the leaner months. I’ve adopted this attitude and when the weather’s bad it’s very satisfying to make a meal using an ingredient that months ago was basking in the summer sun.

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My neighbour’s cantina

I was talking about this with my friend who told me she’s not organised enough to do this and doesn’t have a cantina to store things in. So I showed her the contents of my freezer where I have saved the taste of summer for the colder seasons.

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I explained that if you roast and mash the butternut or pumpkin it’s easy to store flat in freezer bags. I then showed her my 2 person portions of frozen passata that line the bottom of every freezer draw and the pots of ready made soups from when there was a glut of one or another veggie in the orto.

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Not only is it about storing what you grow but also making use of everything, I often use the bones or chicken carcass after a roast dinner to make stock, which is stored away in the freezer along with frozen basil and parsley butter. I came here a novice to preserving food and now it’s quite normal to find me making up jars of chilli jam when the plants are aflame or apple and peach chutney.

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“So what’s next?” my friend asks. I explain that this year I dried out my own French beans and have several jars of the tiny black pulses, sat on a shelf alongside sun-dried oregano. “This year,” I tell her, “I’m going to have a go at sun-dried tomatoes.

* Salumi is the Italian word for processed meats like hams, salami and most meats you’ll find in the delicatessen.

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Red Arrows

A couple of Sunday’s ago, after our rain washed road had been repaired, I was sitting outside enjoying the May sunshine and a glass of chilled prosecco. The stillness of the afternoon was broken by the sound of Abruzzese dialect being called out over the chug chug of a tractor. Being nosey, I rose from my chair and looked down the lane and saw a rather large young man astride the tractor and two skinny men walking behind it. One man was spraying red arrows on the road whilst the other fastened red and white plastic; the kind that ropes off road works, in the hedgerow. From where I was standing I wondered if it they were marking the road for further repairs.

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I watched as they continued up the lane and then they veered off up a dirt track, the two skinny men striding and working as the rotund one steered the orange tractor and barked instructions. When they disappeared from view I put down my prosecco and went to investigate. It soon turned out that these markings had nothing to do with road repairs, as some of the arrows disappear into fields with others emerging from dirt tracks. The man who was painting the arrows had sprayed the letters FISE onto a lamp post, so I’m assuming the marks indicate a forthcoming race of some kind.

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The following Sunday at 07.00, I’m woken by the sound of motorbikes. I dress and see young people coursing across fields on what I assume are trials bikes, they squeal around the bends in the road and then quickly vanish up the dirt track opposite our place, and the sound becomes muffled before this itself vanishes. “Oh well, that’s it,” I tell myself and saunter into the kitchen to make coffee and turn on the iPod, releasing a burst of Hurts, with Blood Tears and Gold, from their, Happiness album.

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After breakfast there’s more commotion in the lane, this time it’s men in lycra, on what I again assume, are bicycles designed for multiple terrain. They pedal furiously down the dirt track, onto the road, travelling in the opposite direction of the motorbikes, until they too can be heard and seen no more. “What’s next,” I ask myself, “Horses?” Which daft as it sounds could happen, after all this is Italy. The only thing I’m left thinking about is, will the three men and the tractor come to remove all the ribbons out of the hedgerows. I doubt it, this is Italy.

I don’t care how long you’ve been…

It’s been very remiss of me to neglect my blog this past week and I can only really offer one excuse, I’ve been having too much fun. I did actually pitch six articles to various editors in the UK last week so I’ve not been completely lazy. Like all writers I do make notes as things that interest me occur, thus storing up potential blog entries or magazine features for the future. Today’s is a previous incident that I’d overlooked, so rather than leaving the notes lying dormant like bed-sheets in a cupboard, I’ll take them out and give them an airing.

A few weeks back we were working downstairs on the house, which meant we couldn’t hear any traffic passing in the lane. The post-lady, a young girl in her twenties always peeps her horn to let us know we have mail. (For mail read, bills.) So imagine our surprise when we emerge from downstairs to discover an old guy next to his ape forking garden waste over the wall. I quickly lose all Italian vocabulary and use that accepted English phrase to gain someone’s attention. “Oi.” The old guy looks around and sees me, “Yes, you.” I say walking up towards him, my sleeves are already rolled up so I’m unable to roll them as I walk to add to the menace in my voice. I reach him and he says, “What.” Obviously in Italian, then continues lifting forkfuls of weeds up and tossing them over the wall.

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By now the builder has arrived to ask him what he’s doing, explaining that we now live here and he can’t come and tip his garden waste on our land. The old guys response is, “I’ve been tipping it here for about fifteen years, no one has ever complained before.” Our builder does his best to explain that no one’s complained because the house has been empty for twenty-five years. I understand a little of the conversation, and add my two-penneth, “I don’t care how long you’ve been…” You get the gist, not that it’s of any help whatsoever.

The old guy then points out that we have dumped lots of rubble on the land, “So it’s the same.” We explain that it’s not the same as the rubble is ours and so is the land. Our builder reiterates by telling him that the garden waste belongs to him, but the land doesn’t. The old man then asks what can he do with the waste from his orto now. I’m about to be facetious, but the builder throws me a glance before the words can leave my mouth, and more diplomatically says, “You can leave the rubbish here this time, but don’t come back again.”

The old man leaves and our builder returns downstairs, and I’m left alone in the lane waving a fist in the air and proclaiming to the wind, “Come back again old man, and I’ll show you where you can stick your rubbish.”

Apologies for the less than entertaining photographs.100_6457