Category Archives: everyday life in Umbria

Good deeds for those in need

In Umbertide, like most of Italy, there are needy people. Mostly immigrants. They are forever begging, or trying to sell trinkets like tissues, lighters or socks. Many are black Africans or Muslim. There seems to be almost an organized quality to them. The sellers usually seem to have the same things to sell. Are they going to distribution centers? And every grocery store in town has what seems to be its “assigned” person. Usually an African man. They are cheerful and try to be helpful. Many speak English. People tolerate them. They ask to take your basket back so they can get your one Euro deposit.

There is a government support system for immigrants. A place to stay and a stipend is provided. They must adhere to Italian values like religious freedom and gender equality which may not be the case in their own societies. They must send their girls to school. They must learn Italian, integrate into the community, volunteer. They will be put on job lists. And housing lists.

I’ve noticed shopkeepers in town are regularly hit upon to give them something. The same people go into, for instance Angelo’s Alimentari downstairs from us. Once a week or so he gives them something. They seem to be amicable to one another. Today, I was in Angelo’s and a woman came in with a baby. She was drawn and wan looking. She asked Angelo for something for her baby to eat. Cheerfully, he asked her what sort of pizza bread she would like. Pomodoro she said. He took a piece of tomato pizza bread and wrapped it and gave it to her. I gave her 2 euro. She gratefully accepted. She didn’t ask for anything for herself, just her little one.

Unfortunately not a rare occurrence. And good deeds don’t just happen at Christmas time.

L’Immacolata

Today is L’immacolata, a national holiday. The immaculate conception. Not being very sure about this day because I’m not Catholic I looked it up and discovered I was wrong about what it meant. Turns out it is the day that Mary was conceived to her mother. I had thought it was Jesus’ conception but was confused as it is only two weeks before his birthday.

Anyway, it is the day that ALLLL of Italy lights its Christmas trees. And St. Nicholas comes to the Piazza for the little kids. I actually managed to get pictures of the crowds outside before and after the tree was lit. And I heard the countdown and saw the tree lit for the first time. It is not my favorite tree so far, however. But as we all know from Charlie Browns tree that all trees are beautiful in their way.

We also visited Montone for lunch today. Tipico, our chosen restaurant was really crowded. Everyone was out for lunch on the holiday. A few pictures.

View from the walls. A beautiful, clear, and not too cold day.

Montone street dressed for Christmas. They are quite traditional there.

The Christmas tree. The Piazza was bright and the tree was not so the picture isn’t so good.

Tipico showcases two oils. One light and one stronger. The bread is always good there too.

Outside now, as I write this, the children are singing and the band is playing. There are little stands with things to sell. Happy Immaculata!

Olive Oil

I paid a visit to Ely at Calagrana to pick up the oil she was sharing with us after helping with the harvest. Brilliant green.

I visited the new lambs!

And we sat in a sunny spot with coffee and caught up a little.

I got to meet the newest addition to the family…Sparky…she arrived in the engine compartment of a workman’s car. Maybe she’s Sparky because of the spark plugs? Anyway she lives up to her name!

When I got home I put some of “our” oil on bruschetta. It was peppery and grassy…the way I love it, and why Umbrian oil is the BEST!

A dream come true! 🙂

On domenica I helped my friend Vera reach her dream!! Who would think I could ever do such a thing? But, when I tell you her dream it will be clearer. She told me her dream was to cook a whole turkey…tacchino in Italian. Last year I invited Vera and her family to a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. Her two girls were spellbound by the whole turkey. Turkey is eaten here but only in pieces. Like a drumstick, or a breast, or slices. And Italians are notoriously unwelcoming to the unknown. Vera and her immediate family are different. They welcome different things. So, her dream was to cook and serve a turkey to her more extended family. And she needed my help. Ahem.

It was quite an experience. I got up at 5am and got ready and arrived by 6am. It was soooo foggy! I had a hard time driving there. We prepped the turkey (guessing it was 16-17 lbs) with butter and layered pancetta and stuffed it with orange and onion. Salted it and toted it down to the forno (outside wood oven) which Vera had been fueling all night. This was also a new thing for me and I was none too sure how hot it was nor how long to cook the turkey of unknown weight! Oy. So when we approached the forno it was smoking like mad. She said “uh oh”. When she opened the door a blast of flame came out and she ducked! Wowsers! So we decided it had to wait till the oven cooled for her to put it in. I left her with it. Of course the suocera (mother-in-law) had to get involved later, adding oil and wine to the pan. It was OK really.

So I returned about 11am and we went to check the bird. I had an instant read thermometer. It was a little overdone but not bad. We took it upstairs to rest. Then I made the gravy from the drippings and the broth Vera had made from the turkey bits. Malia and Desiree, her daughters were mesmerized. I had brought the stuffing I made from home. And frozen-from-last-year cranberry sauce. And Vera had boiled potatoes which I mashed with milk and butter. She also had spinach and kale for veggies. And, just in case someone wouldn’t eat the tacchino she made cinghale ragu. She served it as a first course with pasta. It was wonderful!

In attendance there were Vera, her husband Graziano, and the two girls, Vera’s dad, Graziano’s brother and his wife with tiny baby and their other daughter, and la Nonna (grandmother). Il Nonno (grandfather) was hunting boar. Vera had said the wife of the brother wouldn’t eat the turkey. But she was pretty enthusiastic. She loved the turkey, dressing and the cranberry sauce. La Nonna brought a scrumptious dessert. I’ve had two of her desserts now and she is amazing! Sooo good. I could have eaten several pieces!😋

Such a fun time with our Italian friends and an American feast. Always an adventure.

Stock makin’s. I don’t think we’d have the feet in the US !

Turkey with pancetta covering. Ready for the oven.

Oven!!! Hot!!!

Cinghiale ragu on fresh pasta.

The finished tacchino

La famiglia with our pasta.

Serving all the traditional thanksgiving foods.

I had fun! I think most everyone had fun. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Visit to the frantoio!

Ely had an appointment at Frantoio Rossi at 7AM. She was second in line and good thing as it got crowded fast!!

Frontoio Rossi

The two vans were loaded full. They had 40 more cassetti of olives to process.

The unloading.

That’s a LOT of olives!

The hopper was full to the brim.

There is a turn screw at the bottom which feeds the olives out.

And they go up the ladder where a mighty wind blows off the leaves and twigs.

Next step the wash.

Calagrana had 880 kilograms of olives on this trip.

The olives go into these tanks where a really big screw type dasher swirls them round and round.

Watching the process.

Now we wait. It takes about 45 minutes to process the olives.

While we waited I took a few pictures of the process. This is the big dumpster where the sludge is collected. I was told it is made into animal food. The black heap is the sludge which falls from those three holes up by the ceiling.

The leaves are another left over thing. You think they don’t weigh much but they do add up!

This is the semi-chaotic scene about 40 minutes after we arrived.

Inside this is the master console and the big blue cylinder is one of the separators. It separates the water, sludge and oil.

Another byproduct.

This man is separating and weighing the oil into the tins.

Tins awaiting filling.

Finally our waiting has produced the results of a lot of labor. We helped just two days. Ely and Albie all by themselves worked the grove for four more full days. Ending up with 40 more cassetti coming in at 880 kilograms and 121 liters of oil!

Here it is!

Green gold.

All the work was worth it.

Calagrana will sell the oil under the lable of the Palazzo Bastia Creti, the estate where the olive grove is up above Calagrana. This is the new oil!

I will post again once I get some of this oil and taste it. Such a fun experience.

Olive Harvest 2018!!

In Umbria, olives are a way of life. The oil is amazing with grassy, peppery notes in your mouth. You drizzle it on bruschetta, meats, vegetables, soups and salads. Everyone in Umbria either has an olive grove or knows someone who has an olive grove who needs help with the harvest. It seems everyone gets involved. It is very inclusive and a real way of life here. The olives are all colors.

This is my second olive harvest. It’s been 3 years since my first one so I’m not a total newbie! There are about 70 trees spread out over the property which is beautiful, by the way. It is up above Calagrana, our friends Agriturismo.

The Appenine mountains poking up in the distance. A dreary day unfortunately so no sunshine.

View from the property down the valley.

We did the bottom field first. We started out being 12 people but by the end we were 9. A couple of the trees were definite overachievers. Just loaded with olives! It is a really full day of work. We help them set the nets under the trees, dragging them about and putting supports at the bottoms to keep the olives from rolling off. Then we use little rakes to rake the olives off the branches reaching as high as we can. Meanwhile someone works the “basher” which beats the upper branches to shake the olives down. Then you have to lift the nets and roll all the olives together and put them into plastic crates called cassetti. Physical labor all on hillsides so lots of up and down walking. I am proud to say I did it! For two full days! Not bad for an old broad.

Setting the nets

Working the basher

The cassetti of olives. All colors!

When you participate in an olive harvest, there’s no telling what will happen. Our group started singing Mary Poppins songs. Turns out several of us knew all the words!! Chimchimanee, I Love to Laugh, Feed the Birds… fun!

Lunch!

Lunch break

By the end of the first day we had harvested less than half the trees and had 43 boxes of olives. A bountiful harvest! We had run out of boxes, and it was getting dark so the end of a productive day. Plan is to take the boxes to the Frantoio, or olive mill, and press them and return Monday for a final pass at the trees. There are some totally loaded trees on the upper slopes. Then they will take the rest to the mill for pressing. A real bumper crop this year.

43 cassetti

We had a lovely after harvest dinner. Albi had prepared chili con carne for us all. Excellent and the perfect thing to fill our empty stomachs after a hard days work.

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Monday we worked a second full day in the olive grove. Ely will pick again tomorrow and Wednesday. There are so many trees still to do. She went to the mill this morning with Saturday’s harvest which weighed in at 950 kilos and yielded 132 liters of oil and she says it is really good. Peppery and grassy. Just the way I like it 😋 This day we picked half again as many (with only 5 people) so should get another 60 liters and whatever else she does back to the mill. I took a tumble as did little Olie as the nets were wet and on a very steep slop. My feet would slide downhill. I could get no purchase. SO I decided to take a couple pictures of this amazing property. Autumn colors.

Ely

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I’m going to the mill to take pictures Thursday with Ely for the final press. Second blog to come on that.

Halloween, Italian style

Halloween is starting to catch on here but it isn’t like our US holiday. Just about dark the kids come out dressed in costumes. Mostly witches, princesses and super heroes. The difference is that they don’t ring doorbells at houses but go into the little merchant shops and bars along the streets. The proprietors are prepared with candy.

I could hear the laughter from our house and went and took some pictures, most of which didn’t come out very good but here are a couple.

Porcini freshci!

Only in the fall can you find porcini freschi or fresh, not dried, porcini mushrooms. And only sometimes! At the Wednesday market I found them and bought three. Not cheap at about €15 for the three. I let the woman pick them for me; firm with the earth still on the bottoms. I need to change my dinner plans, I thought to myself, as they do not keep. Eat the day you find, or buy them. Porcini are loved everywhere, called Steinpilzen in Germany and Cepes in France they are usually foraged in the woods, never cultivated. Here they are!

Luther is not a mushroom fan but he must indulge me sometimes. Last night I made these beauties into a lovely pasta. Quite easy and I wish I’d thought to take more pictures.

I sautéed pancetta (bacon can be substituted) and minced a couple of garlic cloves which I added with the sliced porcini to sauté. The mushrooms give up their liquid and cook down. I added a little white wine to deglaze the pan and then a dollop of cream 🙂 . I cooked the fettuccini until almost al dente and added to the sauce to finish. Sprinkle with pecorino romana. Mmmm mmmmm good! A wonder in the autumn.🍁

Another autumnal favorite – chestnuts! You will see them roasting in the piazza most Sunday evenings. My friend Angela gave me a basketful. They will be roasted but scoring them with a knife is a difficult process! Maybe they will go into stuffing eventually.

Great visit with recent guests!

We had been anticipating our upcoming guests, Chuck and Terry. Chuck is Luther’s cousin and Terry is his wife. They live in Knoxville. I had only met Chuck once or twice and very long ago. We had a superb time with them. It is always a pleasure to have guests who so obviously enjoy everything we show them and are always up for anything.

We went to Montone the evening they arrived for a dinner at Antica Osteria. It was good as always. The next day we had planned to go to Assisi which is always the top site to see in Umbria. Terry bought a pretty purse at Michaelangelo Leather shop right in the main piazza. I also was interested to look at the briefcases they had which were quite plentiful. I have a friend coming soon who will be looking for this item.

The day was amazing. The mornings in Umbertide are always very foggy starting in about September. It is like clockwork every year! It burns off in an hour or so. The sky was brilliant blue. Here are some Assisi pictures.

The Rose Window on the Basilica of San Francesco.

The lower church in the Basilica. It is made up of the upper church, built on top of the older, lower church, which is above the crypt where St. Francis’ remains are interred.

Street. I like the blur in the background on this one.

I was captivated by the dog who looked to be chained beside this window on the first floor.

Fortress above Assisi. See that sky!?

In the main Piazza is this fountain. The water droplets were shining in the sun. I had never noticed the top tier on this is a mushroom.

One of my favorite stories is about St. Francis and the Wolf. The legend took place in Gubbio. St. Francis also is known for preaching to the birds. 

After all that sightseeing we took a break for lunch. We ate at Piazetta dell’Erbe as we almost always do. My favorite restaurant there. I had the octopus and the black gnocci with truffles and parmesan cream.

After lunch we visited Deruta where Chuck and Terry bought a beautiful bowl for her table. I hope they got it home safe and sound.

On Wednesday we were expecting the Stufa serviceman so we had to stick close. But then, it is market day with plenty to do right in town. I introduced Chuck and Terry to the Porchetta Panini. Makes a decent breakfast. We wandered the stalls and afterward we went to Patrick’s Enoteca for lunch.

That evening we had my World Famous Bolognese sauce on Strangozzi. 🙂 Everyone seemed to like it.

Thursday we thought we’d go wine tasting. It was overcast and showered on and off but not too bad. First we visited DeFilippo Winery. They are Bio-dynamic and use natural pest control…geese! and horses to plow.

We had time for one more winery and ended up at Pardi in Montefalco. This winery, where we’ve been once before, is owned by a pair of brothers. They are trying interesting things with wine.

Next was…what else? Lunch! We had a reservation at L’Alchimista in Montefalco. We did sit outside despite the sprinkles which we had to shift a couple of times to avoid under the Umbrella.

The visit passed too fast but we did get in three full days with them and we hope they come back to visit us soon. They are always welcome.

While they were packing up to go I was making a gazpacho with a bunch of itty bitty vegetables that my friend Angela had given me. All kinds of things and only a little of each so I though they would work well for a Gazpacho. It did smell wonderful while cooking and nearly got Chuck and Terry to stay a while longer…

Raw ingredients…

Finished product!

Faccio la zuppa!!

Ottobre is upon us. Morning fog lies in the valley. Cool nights. Still mostly sunny days.

It is so funny how ready I am to make soups and stews as soon as the weather turns. Today, it being Wednesday, was market day in Umbertide. Many of the fall vegetables are now abundant. I had a left over chicken carcass from last night so decided to make stock. Since I was doing that I decided to get ingredients for soup. Borlotti beans are everywhere. In English they are cranberry beans I think. So pretty. Red and white inside and out. Sadly the cooked beans lose their color. But they taste great. Into the soup pot they will go.

I also wanted to showcase an ingredient unique to Umbria and central Italy. Cicerchie. Prononced Chee-cher-key-ay. They are only available dried and I always keep a stock of them in the pantry.

I thought they would go well with the beans. These legumes must be soaked for 24 hours and the soaking water discarded because it contains a neurotoxin. After soaking most of the toxin is removed, but they are not to be eaten often. Only as a special treat. We just have them occasionally. In the past, when peasants in this area had nothing else to eat they ate these everyday. They will grow anywhere and withstand all manner of weather. So oftentimes it was the only thing thing they had. Because of that people got a condition called Lathyrus.

Soaked on the left, dry on the right.

Once my cicerchie are soaked I will precook for about 30 minutes. Then they will go into the soup with the borlotti beans. First I’ll sauté the soffritto in olive oil. It’s the holy trinity of celery, onion and carrot. It is also called mirepoix in French. I think every country has their version. In the grocery store you can buy containers of these three ingredients in the produce section, all ready for soup, stew or pasta.

Into the pot will go garlic, a can of whole tomatoes chopped, parsley and some sliced cabbage (or any green leafy vegetable). Then the beans, cicerchie and the chicken stock. Cook for 45 minutes or so and then add in a handful of pasta and cook until done. Any shape will do. Salt, pepper, drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese if you want.

Welcome to autumn!