One phrase I hear a lot when taking clients around to view properties is, “I’d love a house built with local stone.’’ Rarely are people saying this because of its appearance and natural beauty, it’s largely down to their concept of temperature. Many times I hear them say, “Stone houses are cooler in the summer,” or “Stone buildings are warmer in the winter.” This is one of the popular misconceptions people have, so I’ll set the record straight here in a short blog entry cataloguing my experience of living in a house made of stone.
Stone built houses are not cooler in summer, in fact they can be oppressively hot. During the day the stones are warmed by the sun and at night release that heat like Satan’s storage heaters. The only way to keep an Italian stone house cooler in summer is to have smaller windows and the shutters or blinds closed during the day and one of the best things we ever invested in was an air-conditioning unit. Tiled floors rather than carpet are good for giving your bare feet respite from the heat.
The opposite happens in the winter, the stones have cooled and are now cold. the frigidity seeps through the plaster making the walls cold. This is where the next best investment kicks in, the wood burner. Granted, once the room and walls are warmed by the fire the thickness of the stone helps to insulate the property and keep the temperature up. However over night when the fire has gone out the chill sets in once again.
And those cold tiled floors are not friends to bare feet in winter.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
It’s November. The clocks have gone back and the nights are darker sooner. We’ve seen pumpkin heads on gateposts with candles flickering inside to accentuate the ghoulish grimaces. All the components to make up autumn, but wait, has no one had a word with the sun?
So far summer has continued to hang around here in middle Italy. The temperatures at night have dropped, but it’s still clement enough to have a window open while you sleep; meanwhile, the daytime is another matter, temperatures are still climbing into the mid-twenties. I can’t believe it is November and I still have to open the car’s windows first thing in the morning to prevent it from becoming an oven on wheels should I need to go anywhere in it.
I have mentioned this good weather to friends back in the UK: I know, what a mean thing to do. So today I decided to show them and took a couple of pictures of the view from our garden on this lovely sunny day.
Normally by now the temperature has started to dip but according to the weather forecasts we’re in for a warm autumn, a short winter with no snow predicted until the new year. How awful is that…