Monthly Archives: October 2020

Raccolta 2020

Raccolta means “harvesting”. Raccolto, means “harvest”. We participated in the olive raccolta, yesterday. It happens like clockwork every October and November here. We were invited by our friends Joanne and Mark who have 75 trees of varying age.

It is hard to overstate how important…how much a part of the yearly cycle, the olive harvest is to Umbrian life. For people who live here it is a way of life. It is something to look forward to, something that brings people together to work, and after a days work they join together in a meal. It is tradition.

Last week you may have read we visited our local hardware store. At this time of year it is chock full of all things raccolto. Hand rakes, long rakes, beaters (battery powered implements to shake the olives down), nets, crates, and all manner of containers to store it. Everyone is excited, getting ready for the new oil. It is a happy time, lord knows we need some happiness nowadays! The frantoio, or olive mill, is a happy place. It processes the olives 24/7 with the farmers and olive grove owners looking on lovingly as the “green gold” comes out of the spigot after the processing.

The new oil is unfiltered, so it is cloudy. But it is bright, brilliant green. Much greener than the olive oil most of us use daily. And it is only this way for a short time. It must be savored atop bruschetta or tagliatelle during the short time each year we have it. We put it on something mild flavored so the oil is the star! The qualities of Umbrian oil are a grassiness, and a peppery taste in the back of the throat. It has a very strong aroma. There is nothing mild or reticent about the oil from Umbria. It is a brash and in your face oil 😋. I love it completely. I really hope everyone who loves Italy can visit Umbria during the raccolto so they get a chance to experience the new oil. It is spettacolare. Most restaurants showcase it during meals at this time of year.

Yesterday dawned gray and foggy as it does for most of the winter here. We left at nine and drove to our friends house up in the mountains between us and Lago Trasimeno. They have restored an old abandoned farmhouse over many years. They are now retired here. Their property has an olive grove. It seems most properties have a grove if you’ve got any land at all. So in the fall, it is hard NOT to be invited to help in the raccolta. We really love it. Open air, good honest work among friends. In these Covid days it is nice to be safely among friends.

On the drive up the twisty road into the mountains we were first in dense fog. But the higher we got, the brighter it got. Until suddenly, we popped out above the clouds which created the fog below. Are these not spectacular pictures!?

We arrived and got to work. The fog had not yet burned off at this elevation so it was still quite cool. We worked until after two and then lunch was served. I was famished. Most people were pretty tired. Luther and I went back out and finished the tree we were working on and then headed home. Here are some action pictures and pictures of the views.

The fog was just below where we were working. Spooky looking!
Tina and Joanne hard at work.
Carol and Heather.
There was some autumn color across the valley.
One person is using the “beater” . The nets are spread under the tree to catch the fruit.
Just 3 of the 25 boxes that were picked.

The 25 boxes went to the frantoio last night. I haven’t heard how many kilos we got nor how many liters were produced. I will include this in a future post.

It was fun as always to get outside with friends and do some honest work. To be able to participate in an Umbrian ritual that’s been going on almost the same for thousands of years is part of the reason we love living here.
Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Around town and beyond

We have been out and about a little the last few days. Saturday we had a long-standing date to have lunch with a couple we had not met in person. Virtual friends. Matt and Zeneba.

We met at one of our longtime favorite restaurants, La Grotta in Montepulciano. Unfortunately it was a rainy blustery day so I didn’t get any photos from along the way. The scenery, being Tuscany and the famed wine area of the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – the Noble wine of Montepulciano, was manicured. Many vineyards with pretty vines all in their autumnal yellows and reds. The grapes, long harvested, are in the process of turning into the beautiful wines of the area.

While stopped at a railroad crossing, I looked to my right at this pretty little terrace right on the road practically. I loved the still life of pumpkin and pretty gourds.

Here are the obligatory food pictures. But first the church across from La Grotta. San Biagio.

Sweetbreads with mushrooms.
Luthers lamb chops. Don’t you love the beans? 🙂
It is porcini season and they had them a few ways. Zeneba had them as an antipasto. I had this tagliatelle.
Dessert was pistachio gelato with chocolate cakes. Mmmm.

It was a fun little trip and we enjoyed meeting new friends. We vowed to meet for lunch between us every so often. They live in Lazio, south of Orvieto. We have to wait a bit until our new restrictions ease up.
Tuesday – we decided to do a few errands. It was a crisp day. The colors stood out brilliantly clear in the bright sun. The sidewalk on our way, covered in leaves.

First we walked to our hardware store behind the train station called Emporio Casa. That sounds very fancy doesn’t it? But it is not at all. It is a long narrow building full to the brim with anything and everything you will ever need for around the house, yard or garden. You can’t browse anymore, due to Covid, but the men working there are very helpful. We got our necessaries and headed to our appliance store nearby.

The store is named Formica, I had always thought it funny to name a store for an insect — Ant. But someone clued me in that the name is the last name of the family who own it! Haha. We had ordered a new refrigerator a little over a week ago. They brought it to our house but it turned out we needed some carpentry modifications to make it work. Lucky for us they had brought a carpenter! They removed the cabinet doors and he did some measuring. Then they took out the old frig and put the new one inside the cabinet sans doors, so we’d have something to use. Last week the carpenter returned and changed out the hinges etc and it all looks great. So today, even though no one had asked us for any money yet, we decided to walk over and pay them. Would that happen in the US 🙂?

Next stop, the Tabacchi. These stores do many things, they sell the tax stamps we often need, tickets for the train or bus, lottery tickets, and you can pay your bills there. I paid my friends electric bill for her today. Along the way to the Tabacchi we passed the elementary school playground which was ablaze with beautifully colored trees.

Last stop, the Carrefour, our closest grocery store to our house. We picked up a couple things we needed and headed back home. It was a nice little jaunt which had the double goodness of getting a few things done. I love that we can do all of this sort of thing on foot within a few blocks of our house.

Have a beautiful day everyone, wherever you are. Enjoy the autumn day. And be Covid-careful as always.

New semi-lockdown in Italy

Italia in semi lockdown…
’New anti-Covid rules and regulations in force from midnight Sunday to 24 November.

  • Bars, pubs, restaurants and gelaterie and pasticcerie must close at 18.00.
  • Only four people to a table (except for groups from the same household).
  • Home delivery of food is allowed until 24.00. No food can be eaten in the street outside the take-away or nearby.
  • Going out of your Comune — ‘You are strongly recommended to stay in your Comune (using public or private transport) and not go into another Comune (or Region) where you are not resident or do not have a house. Exceptions to this are for work, study, health reasons or to carry out activities or use services not available in your Comune.
  • Receiving people in your home who are not part of your household — You are strongly advised not to have people in your home who are not part of your household. Exceptions to this are for work or particularly urgent situations that may occur and to wear a mask when people are in your home who are not part of your household.
  • No receptions or parties are allowed after religious ceremonies – No receptions and parties allowed either inside or outside after religious ceremonies such as weddings, communions and baptisms.
  • Cinemas, theatres, concert halls and betting parlours – closed – Cinemas, theatres, concert halls and betting parlours of all sorts are to stay closed.
  • Open air performances are not allowed.
  • Museums do not have to close. (ALWAYS check if they are open anyway, and you will probably have to book).
  • Swimming pools and gyms remain closed – Swimming pools, gyms, spas and wellness centres must close.
  • Amateur ‘contact’ sport continues to be banned.
  • Schools – The materna, elementare and medie schools remain open as before. In high schools, 75% of lessons will be ‘live’ in the school buildings and 25% online at home.
  • Closing specific piazzas – Mayors may decide to close piazzas where crowds are likely to form, after 21.00.
  • Live congresses, conferences, etc. are banned – Live congresses, conferences and similar are not allowed. Even local council meetings must take place online.

Source for translation Il Sole 24 Ore and Conte’s press conference at lunchtime Sunday.
I can’t help but be annoyed by this. After all we went through in the spring. I lay this right at the feet of the Italians who all went on vacation and partied like the Virus was on vacation too. But most of all, the Authorities allowed too many visitors into Italy from other countries who were not doing enough to slow the virus in their OWN country to come here with absolutely no quarantine or restrictions. Now, because of their laxity we have to pay, yet again, the price and try to slow the Virus. 😡

Foraging for mushrooms

An unplanned excursion popped up early this morning. An invitation to go on a hunt for mushrooms. A friend here in town who has lived in this area for 35+ years had posted a picture of the mushrooms she had found and I had chimed in that someday I would love to come along. Well, that someday was today! She called and asked, and I said yes, It is something I’ve always wanted to do so I couldn’t say no could I?

I walked over to her house. It was cold and very foggy. Off we went up into the nearby mountains. As we drove I got a lesson on the types of funghi that grow around here and what types are edible. We drove up and up through the fog and suddenly, we burst out into brilliant sunshine. We were above the fog! Up there, it was a beautiful day.

Monte Acuto Is the tallest pointy mountain. Acuto means acute in Italian. And it is an acute angle.

We parked and started up a steep hill on a dirt road. Jill told me anyone is allowed to forage for the mushrooms, and you can go anywhere even on private property and right into peoples gardens. Unless they are fenced. Foraging is something people around here do routinely. They seem to enjoy the hunt and they use what they find. In spring it’s the wild asparagus they go for, fall it’s chestnuts and mushrooms.

We found a few inedible mushrooms. We saw lots and lots of evidence that the wild boar had gotten there ahead of us. They love mushrooms and truffles and root up the ground in their search. There were also a surprising number of other cars parked along the roads. Hunters of animals, and hunters of mushrooms. Sunday morning is a popular time. Here are the first ones we got. And some that we left alone.

We decided to change our venue and Jill called a friend, Sally who lives up another mountain road. She’s the last house so we could set off directly from there. Along the way we watched the sides of the road and I spotted a few large mushrooms. We stopped and Jill said they are Porcini mushrooms but poisonous.

We met Sally and went into some much better woodland. We ran into another man and his dog searching for truffles. Sally said this area is noted for its golden truffles. I had not heard of them before. The sun was trying to break through the mist and I got a couple of nice photos.

And finally, my fellow mushroom hunters.

I really enjoyed my outing. I may go out and try on my own one day but I won’t trust myself to have any idea if they are ok to eat! I can always show Jill. After I got home, coincidentally my friend Vera sent photos of the mushrooms her mother-in-law found. What a haul!

Buona domenica everyone! Stay safe!

Former Fulling Mill

Umbertide is not on any tourist itinerary. It is never mentioned when people make films showcasing Umbria. It is a nothing burger of a town. But, it grows on a person. I am very attached to it and it has its charms if you look for them. It goes to show even the most mundane town has its secrets and they are fun to dig up.

I have a couple of books about Umbertide and it’s history. It was an Etruscan town before the Romans. Later, it was a Roman town then called Pitulum Mergens. From Wikipedia: In its present incarnation, Umbertide was founded in the 8th or 10th century, depending on the scholar; its original name was Fratta, and it received its present name in 1863 in honor of then Crown Prince Umberto and of Uberto or Umberto, margrave of Tuscany, whose four sons, Adalberto, Ingilberto, Benedetto and Bonifacio, according to tradition, rebuilt the town in 796 on the ruins of Pitulum Mergens.

I will write more about this in another post. Right now I am focusing on the Piazza San Francesco neighborhood.

Piazza San Francesco is one of the prettiest piazze in town (my opinion 🙂). The books show the buildings ringing the Piazza and what they were originally and when they were built. There is also a gate there Porta Di San Francesco also known as la Porta del Borgo Basso (Gate of the lower village) built in 1612. You can see the remains of a fresco on the top of the gate. Most of the buildings in this Piazza were built in 1612.

Just before you get to the bottom of the hill to the gate on the right you can see the arch that let light into the fulling mill that was here then. Because it was just next to the river there was plenty of fresh water. Fulling was when the newly woven cloth was washed and beaten until it shrunk 15-20%, making it ready for use.

Just outside of this gate were the public washrooms. There were pools that collected the fresh water and the women of the town brought their laundry here to wash. There was a large stone arch which let in plenty of light. On my recent walk I am pretty sure I have found the washrooms. The remains of the old arch to let in the natural light remain embedded in the re-purposed walls of the now-garage.

Just beside this old building are gardens that are lush with produce in the summer. And the town Bay Laurel tree is here. They don’t sell bay leaves in the stores in Italy so everyone picks them from a tree. This one seems to be the one that many neighbourhood people use. Note the bottom leaves and branches have been picked. I found this quite by accident on a walk when we first came and I get my bay leaves here whenever I run low.

A reminder that autumn is definitely underway.

Pretty! Stai attenti everyone! Wear your masks.

We Voted..with a little help from our friends!

This year, being an election year. Oh, you hadn’t heard? Yes, it is a big and very important election for the USA. We had received our ballots via email last month. We decided to send our ballots back via UPS to make sure they got there fast, safe and trackable. We did NOT trust either the Poste Italiene nor the USPS (sadly). To be doubly sure, we addressed the envelop to Luthers brother and his wife who live in our Precinct. We even got definitive proof! So, YES we voted with some help from our…relatives!

Thank you Mike and Anne…you know who we voted for 😁! Now we wait…

Covid resurgence

Unfortunately for the human race, Covid-19 is making a resurgence. Here in Italy we had almost 7,500 new positives yesterday. We aren’t as bad as France, Germany, UK. Czech Republic, and Spain, many of whom are taking drastic measures to try to slow the disease.

The figures below come from The Local website.
Italy’s health authorities on Wednesday reported 7,332 new cases within the past 24 hours, a figure that exceeds the record high of 6,557 seen on March 21st. Italy is testing a lot (between Tuesday and Wednesday there were 152,196 tests) but this is still concerning. The percentage of swabs coming back positive has also risen, to 8.4%. (The figure on Tuesday was 5.4%)

Earlier on Wednesday a leading Italian virologist warned that a second lockdown could be needed over Christmas, saying it would allow Italy to “reset the system, lower the transmission of the virus and boost contact tracing.”

US Covid news from The Washington Post:

In many places where case counts are rising, political leaders are reluctant to impose new lockdowns, because the public is tired of them. But that creates something of a Catch-22: The most reliable way to reverse big outbreaks of this virus has been through strict crackdowns. In the U.S.: The virus is spreading in every region, with the highest case counts in the South and Midwest.

On a lighter note. A couple of days ago I went for a walk. I drove a short way to a path I had been seeing ever since we moved here and I had always wanted to walk it. It was a glorious fall day. The late afternoon sun was slanting as it only does in the Fall when the sun is low in the sky. Here are a few pictures.

The path.
The tobacco in the fields is turning yellow. Ready for harvest.
Someone’s ready for winter.
Partially harvest tobacco field.

Everyone stay safe. We will probably start staying away from restaurants etc. since it is all inside dining here now. 🌈 Andrà tutto bene.

New computer, new software

I’ve been having fun setting up my new IMac. Cost a pretty penny here. Apple products are expensive in the US. Here we have to add a 22% tax. This makes them REALLY expensive. My last computer was a MacBook Air. It was probably 10 years old. I had had it from well before I retired. I’d kept up with the operating system upgrades but it had started showing signs of its age lately.

So, I bit the bullet and sprang for the new IMac. Beautiful machine. I’ve been a Mac user since the very first Macs back in 1980. I’m not about to give up on them now. I’ve gotten this one set up, melded it with the Air and brought over most of my files. My Air had very old Adobe Creative Suite software from back before I retired. Nowadays you can’t buy it, you must subscribe to it. None of my old programs came over. Nor my music. Sad. Again I bit the bullet and bought the Creative Suite. So I am set.

Now I am taking pictures when I go on my walks. I would like to develop a portfolio of photos. I plan to frame them and hang them for myself and maybe I could get them displayed somewhere. No matter. I am having fun fooling with them. My focus is on Umbertide. All of my photos will be of Umbertide and the surrounding area. I love it in the fog and nowadays we have heavy fog in the morning. I have been converting them to black and white. For some of them I go back and highlight some parts of the photo. Like allowing the colors to come through the black and white. Here is an example. Autumn corn ready for harvest and wild flowers.

The Covid cases are really going up here. Not as bad as Germany, UK, France and Spain. And a LOT less than in the US. But still, the cases are growing. Unsettling. The government here extended the Emergency decree until January 31. Thankfully, it allows the flexibility to make mandates as it deems necessary. The latest mandate is masks, inside and outside except for solitary exercise. The police are out enforcing the new rules. Fines of €400- €1000 for not complying. Also restrictions on bars and sporting events. Hoping this will slow this new growth. If not I fear a new lockdown is in our future.

The ban on travel to Italy for tourism from the US remains in force indefinitely. We plan no travel now for the foreseeable future.

Be safe everyone. 🌈 Andrà tutto bene!

Tartufi Bianconi

As you may remember, we are in the midst of many chores. I mentioned to Elizabeth I still needed to send our ballots and she volunteered to take me to Mailboxes Etc. She had something to mail as well. We drove to Citta di Castello and in the industral outskirts found the shop. Formerly it had been in the city. This is much more convenient with parking right out front. Ca-Ching! Sent our ballots UPS, should be there in two days.

While we were out Luther was running errands too. All told, between the two of us we got the ballots mailed, duplicate trash can keys made and more floor polish for Vera.

But life is not all about errands! Elizabeth and I went on to visit a ceramics place I’ve had on my list For-ever to visit. It is called Bizzirri. And wow. It is a great place. Beautiful and very different from Deruta ceramics. I would bring guests here. Very nice. I bought, in their giant seconds room, a little yellow bowl, and I got a nice trivet, which I’ve been on the lookout for.

After that we headed for a farm which specializes in truffles. As you probably know, truffles can’t be cultivated so they don’t “grow” the truffles, rather they search out and harvest the truffles with specially trained dogs who sniff out the fungi. But Tartufi Bianconi is much more than that! They host truffle hunts for people who are interested, they offer cooking classes, and they process and sell their own products, along with other artisanal products from the area in their shop. They even have a truffle museum! Among some of the famous people who have come and participated in a hunt here is Gwyneth Paltrow.

Sadly, the Corona Virus has severely affected their business. They are struggling to keep their six employees paid. They hope maybe 2021 is a better year. I do too.

When we walked into their little shop, we were inundated with the earthy aroma of truffles. It is such a heady smell. I often think the truffles smell better than they taste! In the museum, I learned a few things about the truffle seasons in Umbria. Umbria is famous for both its summer truffles (black) and its winter truffles (white). The best IMO are the winter white ones. They have just begun to come in for this season and will be better in November and December. White truffles can be sold for €2,000 a kilo. Bianconi also exports to the famous Alba truffle market in the Piedmonte.

A chart of the different truffles and their seasons.

Below are some of their products.

Here are some of the gigantic fresh white truffles they have found. WOW.

This is Gabriella.

I am thinking this is a bucket list thing…yes! Go on a truffle hunt. I hope some of my readers may want to do this as well in the future. Please keep Tartufi Bianconi in mind.

Ristorante Caldaro

Sunday is the traditional day for lunch out in Italy. Families and friends go to the country and in town places. It is imperative to book. We were going with our friend, Elizabeth to Ristorante Caldaro. A nearby place that always slips my mind when I’m mentally thinking of dining possibilities. Not sure why, since it is one of the nicer and better places around.

Downside was it was very crowded. There seemed to be a celebration of some kind on the first floor. There was an enormous table. We were upstairs and it was full. The tables are not as far apart as I have seen in most places and not conducive to feelings of well being. Now we’re heading into winter and we’ll be eating inside more often. We have cut our dining out to once a week or less. This, is to try to limit our proximity to people. And also because we are watching our calories right now.

We three enjoy eating and we are all wine afficionados. We had two courses each, plus shared dessert, and we shared two bottles of wine. One white, a Lungarotti Torre di Gianno vigna il Pino, and one red, La Spinetta Vigneto Gallina Barbera d’Alba. Both lovely. Here are pictures of some of the food.

Eggs with truffles.
Grilled octopus with burrata on mashed potatoes.
Beautiful dessert we shared.

A fun time with good company, good food and wine…how can that be wrong? 💕