Category Archives: everyday life in Umbria

Another Sunday, another Sagra…

sedano_neroThis past Sunday we decided to visit Trevi, a hill town between Foligno and Spoleto. I had passed this pretty town perched way up on its hill many times but had never stopped. The occasion was their annual Sedano Nero festival. This means black celery. It is grown only between Borgo di Trevi and the Clitunno river on a small strip of land. It is not black but dark green and does not go through any processing, like whitening. It is planted and grown by strict traditions. The seeds are planted during a waning moon on the day before Easter. It has to be carefully supported as it grows. Most of the work is done by hand. It is one of the six Umbrian Slow Food specialties.

Trevi from above.
trevi

Trevi is also known as the Capital of Oil
olives

This is the very beginning of the olive harvest. I bought some of the new olive oil. See how cloudy it is. And incredibly green. It is unfiltered.
oil

The sedano nero was stacked like firewood everywhere!
sedano

It is a beautiful green. They say it is stringless. Not sure I’m buying that. So I bought some to bring home. I am here to say, it does have strings but less that normal celery has.
sedano2

Also on offer were lots of specialties. We tried lots of cured meats. Many specialties were, of course, celery based. For instance, celery jam and celery cream.

This stand had many types of cured meats and sausage.
cured_meats

A discerning nun.
discerning_nun

It was a very warm day so I felt for this man who was cooking up the sausages.
fire_walk_with_me

We decided to have lunch in Taverna del Sette. We sat in a pretty courtyard at the end of the short street. The sky was mesmerizingly blue.
sky

Luther went for the celery soup.
soup

And he tried the stuffed celery. It sure looks good.
stuffed_celery

I tried the cinghale ragu. Wild boar.
cinghale_ragu

After lunch we decided to make a short stop in Bevagna since our friend Jennifer had not ever been there. It was Sunday and there was a small flea market going on. But for me, the best thing was coming upon a group of men just finishing up lunch outside a restaurant. They performed an impromptu a capello melody. It was hauntingly beautiful, the voices blended seamlessly. I wished I had a way to record them.
acapella

Scenes in Bevagna. Such a beautiful town.
bevagna2 bevagna1

The old guys. Every town has its own cadre of old men. They sit together companionably on benches, or they gather to play Briscola, the national Italian card game.
old_men

The Sedano Nero festival was one of the better ones I’ve visited. Not too crowded but plenty lively. And Trevi is a beautiful town that few tourists visit. Too bad, their loss. It was a lovely outing made super by the dazzling day.

Unmistakably Autumn

Well, it’s official. It is suddenly Fall. Temperatures still rise to low 70s in the afternoon but as soon as the sun sets it is decidedly chilly. This is the time of year I have a hard time deciding what to wear. Inside the house is colder than outside so I tend to overdress. This is not a problem for Italians who dress to the calendar, not the temperature. So already they are wearing puffy winter coats and scarves. And I’m in a T-shirt.

And it is time to wrap up the corn saga. As you may recall, I planted corn in containers on my terrazzo and also in a friends garden. We had the hottest summer on record and consequently only a little of the corn plumped up and was edible. I believe I harvested 11 ears. And they were wonderful. The container corn was not a success at all. It tassled and had small ears that never matured. So here is our final goodbye to the 2017 corn project. Next year!

corn

And the foods in our markets are changing rapidly. Gone are the tomatoes…sniff. And the melons. But we still have mounds of just ripe peppers to include the picante types. And we still have zucchini. The sweet, tiny ripe grapes from the fields nearby have just come in. And the pumpkins and winter squash have arrived as well.

Recently I did an interview with a writer for International Living. She’s writing an article about retiring and the differences in prices people can expect between Umbria and the US. I was happy to oblige. One misconception is that we have to pay more to eat local and in season here. I remember visiting the farmers markets in Virginia and paying top dollar for the products. Not so here. If you buy seasonally, when the vegetables and fruits are at their peak and bountiful, you pay the least because there IS such bounty. And I am definitely a person who cooks and cares to eat good tasting food which is in season. I spend around 8€ ($9) for a big grocery bag of fresh produce.

Winter squash is so seasonal.
winter_squash1

Almost too pretty to eat. Looks like sculpture!
winter_squash

The citrus has arrived. It will get better as we go through the winter.
citrus2

citrus1

Last of the Borlotti beans and eggplant. The eggplant is scrawny.
fall_veg

And the pears are plentiful and luscious.
pears

The Wednesday market is very different than the Saturday one. The Wednesday market is mostly the big vendors who go from market to market in the different towns each day (for instance Città di Castello is Thursday, Gubbio is Tuesday). Their produce is not necessarily local. I believe they DO buy local when they have the chance but most of the food comes from the south of Italy and Sicily. Still local to this country but… And you can get things from them earlier than when they are coming into season here. You can also get tomatoes all year, from Sicily, but I don’t care for them. There are one or two locals who come to both Wednesday and Saturday markets. Now, the Saturday market is only very local products from nearby farms. Thus you really do eat only what is in in season nearby. Winter can be pretty sparse in this one.

Greens are what is growing around here.
rapette

And cauliflower…
cauliflower

And Cabbage…
cabbage

And I thought I would plant some fall things this year. I got a few lettuce plants and four petunias. I think the petunias may last the winter. And we shall see how the lettuce does.
flowers_lettuce

petunia

lettuce

i primi d’Italia – festival in Foligno

It was Sunday and we had plans to visit a fest devoted solely to first plates, or antipasti – appetizers in English.  It is the only festival of its kind in Italy. The weather was not so good. Spitting rain. But not too bad and we had been wanting to go to this since we came. So, not letting the weather stop us, we set off to Foligno. This town lies 25 miles south of Perugia and north of Spoleto. As we looked around I thought to myself maybe it should have been on my list when we thought about Umbria. It is flat, has a nice big Centro Storico, and is on the main train line from Rome to Ancona on the Adriatic. Very walkable.

Main Piazza with Duomo.
fest2

Foligno is host to two big jousting tournaments held in June, called 1st challenge, and September, (called counter-challenge) . The contest is called Giostra della Quintana and is named after the Roman 5th road where the soldiers were trained in jousting. Believe it or not they have had this festival since 1448 (!) It has been held uninterrupted since then. The contest is between the ten “neighborhoods” of the city. Each neighborhood is represented by a Knight. They gallop on horseback trying to catch three rings, each smaller than the previous one. I must go see it sometime.

Note the flags on either side of the street. These are two of the Neighborhoods.
fest1

Another Neighborhood with pink flags.
flags

Anyway, back to the Primi Piatti. The fest is four days long.  Their were 14 booths all over town, each specializing in an area of Italy, or a type of food, like pasta. Some were kind of like restaurants where you paid 3 to 8 Euro for tastes. We walked all over town. In the main Piazza they had cooking demonstrations. There were random bands and lots of music. We visited the Sicily tent. It was very crowded we could barely make any progress. Then went to the Jewish food one. It was really just a restaurant with tastes and we didn’t want to do that. Next we went to the Pasta piazza with people selling all shapes and kinds of pasta. Then we visited the Street Food one which had Hamburgers, hot dogs, fried Olives, mozzarella balls and beer. Lots of beer. Finally we visited the area dedicated to local Umbrian foods. Cheeses, wines, olive oils, honey, confitures. It was a fun time. Next time we’ll go earlier and have lunch.

Marching band.band

People enjoying the food.
crowds

The Booths

First booth was billed as Sicilian. A lot of the things in there were not from Sicily. This first cheese is a lovely oozing Gorgonzola which I had a taste of.
oozing_gorgonzola

This is Mortadella, from Emilia-Romagna.
mortadella

Big booth of alllll sweets!
sweets

Next up were what they were billing as “Street Foods”.
streetfood2

streetfood1

This one was too funny not to take a picture of!
beer_pump

And all the beers on tap in this pub, called Beer on the Road, were American micro-brews.
american_beer

Next up was the Pasta Booth. This packet seemed to have many different shapes all together. I’d never seen that before.pasta

And I couldn’t resist these beautiful pomegranates. They grow everywhere here.
pomegranits

Last booth we visited was dedicated to Umbrian specialties, like these cheeses…
local4

Famous onions of Cannara!
local3

Local Montefalco Sagrantino.
local2

Norcia meats and sausages. This is from the area hard hit by the earthquakes last year. Norcia was heavily damaged.
local1

And finally I started fixating on the very inappropriate, in my opinion, shoes some women wear who will be walking uneven streets for hours.
shoes1

shoes2

shoes3

Here is my idea of appropriate footwear! Not…these guys clacked along loudly with wooden sandals.
sandal_guys

Hope you enjoyed the Festa pictures!

Vendemmia 2017 Festa in Montefalco

Sunday was the last day for the Montefalco Wine Harvest festival. It’s a four day event to celebrate the harvest of the famed Sagrantino grapes among others. We had made reservations for lunch in L’Alchemista for lunch and invited new friends to join us. The weather was perfect. Very fall-like, a bit cool at lunch as we were seated next to a downward tiny street up which a strong, cool breeze was blowing. montefalco_street

Lunch at L’Alchemista was good, as always. They were packed so service was a bit slow. As we sat there crowds started gathering in the piazza and announcements were made from an upper balcony on the Comune building. And a group of costumed women sang folk songs. There was to be a parade of floats pulled by tractors. I love stuff like this. No pretensions.montefalco1

Down the main street we found the building where they were holding the wine tastings. This was our main reason for going. You pay 10 Euro per person and you get a glass and a little bag to wear around your neck to hold it. Then you can do unlimited tastings. There were a LOT of tables with a LOT of wine. One of our friends concentrated on the Sagrantino while I tried the Montefalco Rosso as well as the Sagrantino and a white made from Grechetto, Vigonier, and Chardonnay. All were very good. The Sagrantini were very dry to the point you felt all your saliva disappear.

wine1 wine2

Once we’d gotten our fill we headed back up the hill to the piazza where the parade was in full swing. They drive the tractors up another street into the piazza and park them around the edges. The floats, of course are wine oriented and lots of fun to see. Here are some pictures.

I love how this guy had put a yoke and harness on the front of his tractor, like it’s a horse…I guess it is, more or less.
parade1

And these folks are sitting on the float “a tavola” enjoying wine and a repast! parade2

Loved this giatantic wine bottle on one float.
parade3
parade4
parade5

It was one of the best Sagre I’ve ever been too. I’d go back!

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Storms over Umbertide

A couple of pictures of the major storms we woke up to on Saturday morning. The storms here generally come from the west. Our view is West/Northwest. These storms relentlessly moved from left to right and ever so slowly got closer and closer. Finally they got here but we were spared the brunt of the rain. Later in the day I noticed the Tiber river was swollen with rainwater and brown with mud. All came from up-stream where these massive storms must have dumped copious water!

Pigeons fighting the winds.
pigeons
storm_castle
storm

Patron Saint Day in Umbertide

Yesterday was a holiday in Umbertide. All the stores were closed. It was the patron saint day. Madonna Del Riga. They had a procession through town Thursday night. All day Friday at intermittent times the big bells pealed. I imagined masses at the churches. And on Friday the Umbertidese band and orchestra serenaded us all.

We went down to watch. Snagged a table at Bar Mary and watched the goings on. The entire piazza was full of tables spread out from Bar Mary. Also in front of the orchestra was seating. The band consists of people ages 7 to 70 as a friend said to us. This ensures the band will live on and on. They have a pretty good tenor who sings opera snippets. They play everything from the New World Symphony to the Dating Game Theme! Herb Alpert is a favorite. We had glasses of wine and then a half carafe so our over-worked ladies wouldn’t have to keep waiting on us. After that Luther had a grappa. I went to pay…10€ – good deal!

We headed upstairs and I sat in the living room to enjoy the rest of the concert from here. We don’t do this as often as we used to when we first moved here. But I’m thinking we need to start again. It is good to be part of the community.

Otto Cento…the finish

I went out Sunday morning to see what mayhem had ensued overnight. There was cannon fire and rifle fire echoing all around the town and I went to see what was going on.

The first thing I ran into was the Briganti flag in the piazza. When they take over during the night they always hoist their flag and remove the Italian banner. It may look messy, and it is, but it’s intentional. Disregard the scaffolding on the Comune building. the red fencing is normal in Italy around construction work. So is the hand road sign. There is a briganti on the hand sign. And there is a yellow ATTENZIONE LAVORI IN CORSO or Caution, Men at work sign.
briganti_flag

Next we see a close up of the yellow sign. Maybe now you get the meaning?men_at_work

And, in keeping with the theme, here is a work notice that they post at all construction sites here. The briganti is at the top. The name of Umbertide used to be La Fratta. And note the date: February 30, 1861. A date that doesn’t exist! Hah! work_notice

So I went off to see what all the shooting was about. I came upon a bivouac. Apparently the soldiers had camped under the Rocca and were now shooting at another group up on the ramparts. One group wore black uniforms, the ones up top wore red. I am woefully uninformed about who these groups are. I will need to ask Angelo. He may know.
battle1

They had muzzleloader rifles which definitely slowed the action down a LOT.
muzzle_loaders

They brought their horses too.horse

And here are some of the costumed re-enactors. costumes1

Over the door it says 8th Bersaglieri. This means the 8th battalion of riflemen or sharpshooters.costume2

So ends another Otto Cento. A fun time was had by all!

My fourth Otto Cento!

It is September 2nd. What a long HOT summer we have endured. Yesterday we had our first rain since April – over 100 days with nary a drop! It is so dry. Many trees are already dropping their leaves. The Umbrian grape harvest is predicted to be down 40%. But they do say the vintage will be epic quality. When I got up this morning I heard the sound of gunfire from all around. Then I realized the beginning of the hunting season starts in September. Signs of autumn.  It is clear and cool today after our storms.

Thursday marked the begining of our annual Otto Cento festival. It will be our fourth. They moved it up into late August this year. Until now it has been on the third weekend in September. We went out last night for dinner with friends. During the festa all the regular restaurants change over to set menus. Last night we had four courses, water, vino and coffee for 25 Euro a head. There are also around 15 or 20 pop-up restaurants along with numerous stands selling specialty things and drinks. The stilt walkers were back. So ethereal and graceful. There was a puppet show for the kids going on.

After dinner we walked around the town and looked at all the action. There were millions of people out and about. Umbertide has seen a decline in summer activities this year so I think everyone was ready for the party now. Here are some pictures of the festival scenes.

One of the pop up venues. Notice the costumed folks over on the right. There were lots of people in costume this year.
street3

The Rocca – our fortress.larocca2

One of the busy street scenes.street_scene1

Moon over la Rocca. A beautiful evening for the celebration.
laRocca

As we headed back home we decided to pay a call on our Briganti. They are the bad-boys always up to no good but really the most fun place. Here is a group of the Briganti musicians.
briganti_band

He is my favorite Brigand. He has a great smile.
fav_briganti

And of course, the bad boys and girls must have the brothel with the Ladies of the Night.
night_ladies

I will check back on the Briganti during the night Saturday when they take over the town. It is all part of the reenactment of the events in the late 1800s forming the Italian country. Usually the Briganti do something naughty to shock everyone. You can look back at past September posts to see previous years. Hopefully, I can get pictures on Sunday morning of the mayhem wreaked on Saturday night and early Sunday before the authorities remove it.

We stopped by to see my friend Angelo who owns the Alimentari downstairs from us. He was is a great mood. He had transformed his shop for the festival.angelo

And, of course, we paid a brief visit to Bar Mary to find Mary manning the bar. They also serve snacks during the festival.mary

A final observation. I have NEVER met an Italian who did not love to have his or her picture taken. They are cute.

CORN!!!

Oh my god…we have harvested our first corn. It was AMAZING. After four corn-less years it was heaven on earth. I am so happy  we got some corn this year from our shared garden with Angela.

We have a guest so we went together to check the corn and I deemed it ready to harvest. We picked 5 ears for our test run.

corn1

Shucking.
corn2

All ready for the pot. within three hours of picking will ensure a mighty sweet ear.
corn3

um um good. Buttered and salted and peppered. Soooo good!
corn5

Alas, all gone. Going back tomorrow for more. 🙂
corn6

My unfortunate timing means we are gone on our Croatia cruise next week so I will not enjoy it as much as I would have liked. We will see what is left when we return.

Observations

Ciao a tutti! I am passing along some observations I’ve made about products here in Italy. They are just little, everyday type things that I’ve noticed. My point today…everything here is flimsier than the same product I am used to in the US. Here are just a few things that I’ve noticed.

Cardboard boxes of wraps…like Saran Wrap, aluminum foil, etc. are very flimsy. The box itself is made of the thinnest cardboard. This makes it nearly impossible to tear off the wrap. You end up crushing the box in the process. I have an American Glad Wrap box that I just put the Italian product in. It has held up for two years! (I guess it is getting a little worn out, still better than the Italian box)
gladwrap

Then there is the wrap itself. Aluminum foil is the worst. You can’t put it in a pan without poking a hole through it! And don’t ever try to wrap anything in it. This is one of the items I bring from the US when I go back. Good old Reynolds foil.

Note the thinness of the foil and the flimsiness of the box.
aluminumfoil

Plastic water bottles are made of such thin plastic that you can crush them into a ball with no effort. I’ve tried with water bottles in the States and couldn’t do that. In fact all plastic bottles are this way here. My lime juice bottle is permanently crushed from squeezing. My sunflower oil bottle has dimples from just holding it. Maybe this is environmentally friendly because less plastic is used?
water_bottles
lime

You know those little twist ties you close bags with? Well, the ones here have such a small filament of wire in them that they won’t even stay bent. They are useless. I save my old ones and use them over and over. The white one is the Italian one. The black is one I brought along from the US.
twistties

Something else I use over and over. Ziplock bags. I wash them and hang to dry and reuse. This is because we can’t get them here. Also, it is ecologically friendly.

Just little differences I thought would be fun to mention!

Corn – part 3

Well folks. I am the proud grower of my first ear of corn on the terrace!!! Whohoo!!

It’s just a baby but my mouth is watering!
ear

My two pots are producing radically different size plants. One, tall and thin, on the right, the other short and sturdy. They get the same sun, food and water. The only difference is the soil I guess. Our experiment continues.
rows

And a report from my “corn partner” Angela. She reports the first few rows on the left have about 20 ears!!! The plants on the right have not tasseled. I did get a fast and a slow maturation mix so I imagine that’s the reason.