November 11th is the Festa di San Martino

Whilst November 11th is Armistice Day in the UK and much of northern Europe (in memory to end of WW1) here in my corner of Italy, it’s the Festa di San Martino.

San Martino is one of the more important harvest festivals… at least, it was the case many moons ago. It depends where you are as to the particular significance. In most parts of Italy, it signifies the end of the agricultural year and, more precisely, is when farm labourers would move from one employer onto the next. In other parts, it marks the exact date by which you should have finished sowing wheat for the next year.  The tradition here (in wine country) says that it’s on the day of San Martino that the recently harvested grape juice finishes the alcoholic fermentation and turns into wine.

The feast day of San Martino, a Catholic saint, was imposed upon an existing pagan holiday (as nearly all of them were) and for them, it was apparently New Year’s Eve. Nowadays, if you live in a large town or city, children may go round asking for treats (much like our Hallowe’en.) In Sicily, but also to a certain extent in my area (because we also make passito wines and have our own Vin Santo DOC), we raise a glass of sweet wine to honour San Martin. In Sicily, they dip anise-flavoured biscuits into the wine. Where I am, we make a special biscuits (or cookies, if you prefer American-English) supposedly depicting San Martino, fully armed for battle, on his white horse.

If you want to try making it for yourself, the a cut-out of the traditional form can be downloaded here.

dolce di san Martino a forma di cavaliere a cavallo, con confetti colorati
(Photo from the Comune di Venezia)

In other news, the cold has hit. The outside temperature is lingering around 6 degrees right now which means that I’ve picked up the pace of my walks around the vineyard with the dog. No time for dawdling.

The temperatures in the cellar have fallen so whilst the wines are progressing nicely, we’re babysitting a demijohn of Cantillon beer yeasts and a small steel tank of fermenting beer. They need warmer temperatures or the yeasts will slow down and eventually stop.

Warmth is a relative concept; because we’d anticipated moving into the new house before winter, we made the (with hindsight) foolish decision to remove the central heating of the place we’re currently in. That means we’re entirely reliant upon a wood fired stove – called a stufa –  in the living room. It’s not so bad but I wasn’t planning on camping out in this room for the next three or four months. Let’s hope this winter is a mild one!

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.

A Perfect Autumnal Plum Pie

pie

Mother Nature has changed direction. After the balmy summer nights of July and August, September has arrived. The crisp, damp mornings. Even though now it is accompanied by the sound of tractors heading off to the vineyards and the smell of wine fermenting in the town’s cooperative, it still vividly reminds me of pulling up my knee-length red socks and going off to school.

Right now, it’s only a subtle shift. We’re not even halfway through September yet but already you can spot a change in hue. The piercing sunshine of the summer months has been painted over with a wide brushstroke of grey. Even last night, on the way home from the pizzeria (did you read about my recent kitchen woes?) the fog phenomenon found in northern Italy, la nebbia, made its first appearance of the season. It’s remarkably early.  Continue reading “A Perfect Autumnal Plum Pie”