Strawberry Vinegar Shrub

There’s no point in denying it any longer. The evidence is all there on the top and middle shelves of my refrigerator: I’m a hipster. If you should have the misfortune to open my fridge, you’ll see them there as clear as day. Various containers in glass or plastic with a makeshift label.

Not only am I pickling courgettes (what else can I do when I have this glut from the garden?) but I’ve started making shrubs. Continue reading “Strawberry Vinegar Shrub”

Readying The Vegetable Patch

Progress on the house has been slow over the past month or two and so I’ve turned my attention to something that I can have direct control over, without waiting on a boiler pump, flooring tiles or – even worse – a bathroom contractor to show up.

I’ve wanted a vegetable patch for a while but didn’t think that an opportunity would present itself as quickly as it did. It’s a beautiful south-to-south-westerly facing plot which is almost entirely in full sunshine but with a little stretch of shade under the fig trees in the far end.

Whilst I’ve been day-dreaming about this “orto” (“vegetable patch” in Italian) I’m not going to hide that I’m also rather intimidated about the whole thing. Continue reading “Readying The Vegetable Patch”

The Olive Harvest

You would have thought that after two months of vendemmia (grape harvest) that the work would be coming to an end by now. It’s far from true!

Towards the end of October, in this area of the Veneto, all the local farmers stand on the side of the road, peering up into an olive tree. Yep, it’s olive oil season!


Hallowe’en is not a particularly big thing in Italy. You see orange and black decorations in the seasonal section of the big supermarkets and if you’re lucky you’ll come across a witch’s hat or a large pumpkin, but that’s about it.

Last night, we went to a friend’s house for a low-key dinner. I did some ghoulish make-up and the host put a pumpkin’s face on the cake but nobody dressed up.

Today, the 1st November is a bank/public holiday in Italy. It’s Ognisanti / All Saints’ Day. In reality, it just means that the shops have reduced opening hours and some restaurants will be shuttered up for the day, but for us, it’s business as usual.

Alessandro and his family have around 30 olive trees acting as borders to their vineyards. An olive tree is “un olivo” in Italian, or “una olivara” in my local dialect. “Una oliva” – feminine – is an olive. Anyway, for us, it’s a very small, sideline operation – some years, we don’t even bother picking the olives; this year, the crop is more abundant so it’s all hands on deck!

 


So how do you pick olives, you might be wondering?

Necessary precautions to stop the olives from rolling down the hill…

You wrap a large net around the trunk of the olive tree, much like how a Frenchman traditionally tucks his napkin around his neck. If you’re on a slope (when aren’t you?) secure the netting to make sure that the olives won’t roll off down the hill.

One person then climbs up the tree and lops off some branches while the other people stay on the ground and brush off the olives from each fallen branch using a wide tooth comb.

I’ve seen and heard of other people using an electric tool which shakes the tree and causes the olives to fall off of their own accord. I suggest that it might be less labour-intensive but Alessandro raises and eyebrow and simply shrugs, “we’d need a bigger net.”

Spot Alessandro!

The olives fall into the netting and when the tree has been more or less relieved of its crop, we jiggle the netting until all the olives are in one selected corner. From there, they’ll be put into plastic boxes (which, when full, weighs about 12-13 kg) and brought home.

A decent yield.

On average, this year, we’re getting 2 boxes of olives from each tree. It’s not much for such painstakingly tedious work but it’s pleasant being outside in the sunshine and knowing that you’ll be tasting the fruits of this labour shortly enough.

As I’m writing this, the brothers are outside gradually feeding the olives into a machine which removes any left-over leaves and cleans off some of the dust. Tomorrow morning, we take the olives down to the frantoia to be pressed and made into oil.

Projects: To Grow, To Make and To Cook.

At risk of sounding like a snob, I don’t like going out to restaurants for mediocre food.

If we leave, having paid upwards of 50 or 60 euros (for two) for a dinner that I feel that I could have cooked myself, I am disappointed. I would rather go out once and be faced with a bill of 100 euros for an exceptionally good meal and a memorable experience than go out twice for sub-standard offering.

I choose to go to places which offer food that I can’t or don’t want to cook at home. For example, unless it’s so fantastic that it will knock my socks off (a very English expression!) I will rarely order a pasta dish in a restaurant. We have pasta for lunch nearly every day. Pizza, however, is a completely different kettle of fish because pizza costs between 6 and 9 euros and is cooked at temperatures that my home oven (even with a pizza stone) cannot rival. Similarly, I will happily order fish (well, probably not on a Monday) because when I cook a beautiful salmon or bouillabaisse at home, the smell remains with us for two more days at least. Am I the only one like this? Continue reading “Projects: To Grow, To Make and To Cook.”