Category Archives: History

What I’m reading…

I am re-reading a book. This will be my third reading. There are only one or two books I have re-read in my life. This one is entitled “The Tuscan Year – life and food in an Italian valley” by Elizabeth Romer. It was written in 1984. It is still in print. I first read it a number of years before we even thought of moving here. I brought my copy along when we moved and re-read it after moving. It was only then that I realized I now live within just a few miles of where this takes place. The book is divided into the months of the year and chronicles the lives of a family of land owners in Tuscany. This farm was just near the border with Umbria. The way of life would have been the same in both regions. They were self sufficient. They grew all they needed, cured their own prosciutto, made their own pecorino cheese, raised wheat and milled it, and made bread in a communal oven, once a week. The life fascinates me.

“The only animal whose death the old Tuscan people really mourned was the ox, the beautiful white beast that drew the plough; they were mourned almost as if they were human because they too need nine months in the womb before they are ready to be born.” from the book.

Photo credit Agricultura.it

The author was an Egyptologist, British, and wanted a place between England and Egypt. She rented a house on the farm of the Cerottis. She made friends with Silvana, the wife and matriarch. By doing so she could sit and observe their way of life. There are recipes at the end of each chapter. For a cook and Italianophile it is a wonderful read.
~~~~~~
The first chapter, January, is all about the dead of winter; the chores that are done in this month – the butchering of the pigs and the making of prosciutti, salami and sausages. It is about how they cooked and were nourished when there was no garden to speak of. These were the bitter months when they didn’t work in the fields. The book says during this time their lives were very like their ancestors. These forbears would have spent the time making and repairing baskets for collection of olives and grapes. They would have made wooden sleds and carts to be drawn by the oxen. The women would have spun woolen cloth and embroidered their trousseaus. They decorated all their linen sheets and nightgowns with lace and embroidery. Nowadays the men repair farm equipment and tools. Silvana knits socks and shawls, using wool from their sheep. The book said she used two intertwined wools, one light, one dark so she could see in the firelight.

As I said there are many recipes in each chapter. This particular passage I loved:
“The Scottiglia is made with a mixture of meats and cooked with the odori, carrot, celery, and onion, then served on a slice of bread that has been toasted and rubbed with garlic. The dish originated in harder times when there was not much meat to be eaten and all the neighbors would crowd into one house for the evening, bringing with them whatever piece of meat they could obtain: a piece of rabbit or prosciutto, some chicken, a little veal or maybe some tripe, very often game of some description. Then the meat would all be cooked up together in the large cauldron and flavored with the usual vegetables and wine. The oldest recipes for this dish specify that absolutely no oil was to be used in the preparation of the stew, maybe because the meat was fattier in those times. While the meat was cooking what is known as the veglia would take place: the people, usually all from a small hamlet…would sit around the fire and give recitations of Dante and verses that the men had made up themselves. These would very often contain veiled references to the girl who had caught their eye, and in this way the cold evenings passed in a pleasant manner.”

Photo credit Arezzonotizie.it

The Scottiglia is served in a bowl with a toasted piece of bread on the bottom, rubbed with garlic. Juice is ladled on the bread and then a helping of meat.
~~~~~~
I think I may include an excerpt now and then, in this journal. This January chapter is so evocative of times gone by and cold, dark winters which we still endure but I am reminded it is nothing like they had to endure back then. Then, death was very near and if you weren’t prepared, you could die.

Autumnal Umbria & Rocco Ragni Cashmere

I cannot tell you how beautiful Umbria is in the fall. Breathtaking. These two were taken by Barbara Roy Chawk Skinner a virtual friend of mine who recently visited Umbria. They were taken from the Montefalco wine region. Exquisite.

Looks like it is not real. But it is!
Sagrantino grape vines turn bright red in the fall.

On Monday my friend Susan and I went to the Rocco Ragni outlet shop. Did you know Umbria is well known for the manufacture of quality Cashmere? Well it is. There are many high-end, as well as lesser known, manufacturers here.

I’ve always been curious as to why it is produced here in such quantity. The raw material comes from goats in Kashmir. It is the undercoat they produce to survive the very harsh winters there. Super fine stands with air pockets for insulation. I read it is called duvet! Hence the name of our warm covers!

At the end of the eighteenth century this material – thanks to the English and French trading companies and then to the subsequent textile revolution in the following century – took on an ever-increasing value. These were the times when cashmere shawls cost more than a horse carriage, when queens and empresses would confirm the noble qualities of this material by wearing large and rich cashmere capes and cloaks. So it became very profitable to produce. I still don’t know how Umbria started to produce this material.

Rocco Ragni is a famous producer. We happen to have one of his three boutiques in Umbertide. He also has an outlet store in Compresso. A little Borgo of 1,500 people. It is in an impressive old stone building and this is also where they produce these fine products. The family lives in Compresso, and the Headquarters is there. They also have a showroom in Milan. I will say, although their sweaters are not cheap, the prices here are not exorbitant like some of the more famous houses. This is where the outlet store is. Would you have guessed? Sometimes things are hard to find here!

After I bought three sweaters….😁…then I took some pictures of the outside scenery. This place is up in the Umbrian hills and quite remote, hard to find, but amidst very beautiful, perfectly Umbrian, landscapes.

Enjoy the season!

Lago Trasimeno

I love our big lake called Lago Trasimeno. It is the biggest lake on the peninsula, with a surface area of 49.4 sq miles, it is just slightly smaller than Lake Como. The lake’s water quality is very good. This is because of the small population living in its watershed, and a lack of large farms in the area. Trasimeno is shallow, muddy, and rich in fish, including pike, carp, and tench. During the last 10 years it has been 5 meters deep, on average. It has no outlets and only two minor streams feeding it. It is mostly reliant on rainfall, and fluctuates in depth because of that.

There are three islands in the lake — Isola Polvese, the largest — Isola Maggiore, the only island with year round residents (population 35) — and Isola Minore, a private island which once had a town with a population of 500. It was abandoned due to malaria.

Isola Polvese just off the coast of San Feliciano

I’ve always been fascinated with the fishing culture and history of the lake. Fishing is done only with nets, and many of the families on the lake have been fishing for generations. A fisherman’s life on this lake depends on the catch. If the morning catch is plentiful, they will sell their fish to the co-operative. Then they will clean their nets and go out again the next morning. If the morning catch is small, they will often go back out in the afternoon to try again.

Photo credit Cooperative Pescatore del Trasimeno

The inhabitants of the communes around Trasimeno and the Umbrian people have successfully protected their lake, whose waters are fit for swimming and whose surrounding valleys and islands are protected. In 1995 a natural park was established over the entire surface and the shores. A 50 km (31 mile) bicycle path was opened in 2003 around the lake that allows tourists to explore. There are also cross-country paths, especially over the hills on the eastern side. Inside these limits no motorized boats are allowed. They limit the length to 9 meters at the waterline, and they can be propelled only by oars or sails. This keeps loud, disruptive jet skis and motor boats away. For this reason Trasimeno is calm and beautiful. Perfect for enjoying nature and meditation.

The Trasimeno Fishermen Cooperative located in San Feliciano, was established on 23 September 1928 with the aim of improving the economic conditions and quality of life of the fishermen.

Photo credit Graham Hoffman

It is made up of a workforce of at least fifty people, it defines itself as the guardian of the natural environment of Lake Trasimeno; a fragile ecosystem in which the fishers live in harmony with their catch, protecting their balance through fully sustainable fishing.

Photo credit Cooperative Pescatore del Trasimeno

The Trasimeno Fishermen Cooperative has seen, in the last decade, an important generational change, which has reduced the average age of the fishermen from 75 to 40 years. This means the traditions will continue and prosper. It is one of the many things that I love about Umbria…Here, the traditions live on.

The Cooperative is helping preserve the profession of lake fishermen. The younger workers contribute to the income of the Cooperative by giving the fish to the Cooperative’s warehouse on a daily basis, guaranteeing the supply of fish, which is processed for the purposes of storage and distribution of the fresh and frozen lake fish to operators in the tourism-hospitality industry, and to individuals, in the two distribution points in San Feliciano and Sant’Arcangelo.

The Cooperative also offers fishing tourism activities: for instance, excursions on Lake Trasimeno — fishing trips with traditional techniques that allow you to discover the landscapes of the lake and to admire the pretty sunsets, accompanied on board by fishermen.

Photo credit Graham Hoffman.

Because we can, and because it is a gorgeous autumn day, we went to San Feliciano for lunch and some photo taking. Da Settimio and Osteria Rosso di Sera are our two favorite restaurants there. Both specialize in lake fish and seafood.

And now for the mandatory food pictures.

For another perspective on the lake, here is what it looks like from the mountains that ring it.

This is a spectacular view of the lake from a friends house up on the mountain above Tuoro. Incredible views.

In summertime it is a party place with lots of camp grounds, discos, restaurants, hiking, biking, boating and swimming. I think it is pretty much undiscovered except by Italians. It is a beautiful place.

Ciao, ciao, ciao.

Winery visit — La Palerna

Today my friend Elizabeth Wholey arranged a wine tasting and lunch for us. It was a pretty day and we took off north — way north. To the very top of Umbria. It meets up with Tuscany and to the east Le Marche. Three regions. This winery is not in a wine region. It is in an unlikely location. And they are focusing on the Pinot Noir — Pinot Nero — wine grape. Also an unlikely choice. The winery is called La Palerna. It is at an altitude of 650 meters. High above the upper Tiber valley. Owned by Luigi Merendelli and his wife Paola. They own a large packaging company called Vimer. Here is the view from the winery.

We were greeted by Rosanna. She has worked for the Vimer industries and the family in different capacities for a long time. She is Swedish born but was raised in Luxembourg. She married and moved to the Upper Tiber Valley with her husband who is from here. Now she is in charge of sales and marketing of the Palerna winery.

We toured the property with the permission of Paola to include their beautiful grounds.

Rosanna took us around the property. We saw some of the vines and also the orto, or vegetable garden.

Orto, well fenced in to protect from the animals
Sangiovese leaf.
Pinot Noir leaf
Vine, Pinot Noir, has red stems
Sangiovese has green stems. See the baby grapes?

Next we toured inside the winery. These are the methode champenoise bottles. They are turned a quarter turn every week and slightly tipped higher. It encourages the sediment to slide into the neck where it can be popped out before corking.

Rosanna provided us with a lovely antipasti to complement the wines we tasted. They are very proud of their Methode Champenoise sparkling wine. Nudo di Palerna. 100% Pinot Noir.

She sources her food locally. We had a big platter of toasted bread drizzled with their oil.

We had the Mozzarella di Bufala from la Fattoria Montelupo. I buy mozarella often. I am a huge fan of the cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo. It is famed from down south in Campania. I’ve had it a number of times and am always blown away by the rich creaminess. It is NOTHING like common mozzarella. Well, I am here to tell you this is the real deal. Made from the milk of water buffaloes just north of us. The fat in both the olive oil and the cheese is cut by the sparkling wine which is why it’s paired. A marriage not to be beat!

Next we tried their Rosatto. Or Rose to us. Made from Pinot Noir and Sangiovese grapes.

She paired this one with meats. Salami and cured ham or proscuitto. Also from a local producer – Azienda Agricola Pigolotti. Along with a plate of bruschetta with pomodori…tomatoes.

Next we had. This was an everyday quaffing wine. Only €8.00. This is a normal price for decent but not fancy wine. We had this one with two local cheeses. Both pecorino.

Then, the prized Pinot Nero. This is not a normal grape here. We have only seen it at one other place near Orvieto. Sr. Merendelli fell in love with the French Pinot Noir and decided to dedicate much of his vineyard to this grape.

And finally Cospaia1441. It is made from Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It is nice with a lot of fruit and boldness. But the best part is where it got it’s name. It seems the border between Tuscany and the Papal State of Umbria was not fixed. There was constant fighting. So, finally, in 1441 the two agreed the small river running from the Marche down to the Tiber river would be the border. The north would be owned by Tuscany and the south would remain a Papal state. Due to a technical error, they seemed to not mention an island in the river. So it was neither Tuscany, nor Umbria, but a free and independent republic for almost 400 years! The label has a floating island on it held up by balloons. The motto of the land was “perpetua et firma libertas” — “firm and perpetual liberty”.

Here are Rosanna and my friend Elizabeth.

An excellent excursion. Other than a bit of haze it was a beautiful day. Let it be the first of many more!

Etruscans been here

I have been meaning to write about the purported Etruscan building up the river from us. The only mention I could find about it was in Wikipedia. “The nineteenth‑century archaeologist Mariano Guardabassi attributed this small building in the settlement of Lame, about 1 km from the center of the modern town, to the Etruscans although this is by no means certain.” I’ve been intrigued by the building since I first walked past it. Now seems like a good time to write a post about it, since not much is happening around here right now.

The earliest evidence of a culture that is definately Etruscan dates from about 900 BC. The people we call Etruscans called themselves Rasenna. The Romans called them Etrusci or Tusci. The Tivere (Tiber) river was the dividing line in ancient times, between the Rasenna/Etruscans to the west of the river and over to the Mediterranean, and the Umbras to the east. But there was an expansion in around 500 BC which crossed the river over to the foothills of the Apennine mountains. Our little building is on the east side of the river near the water.

Here is a picture of the Etruscan arch in Perugia. Perugia was originally settled by Etruscans and was one of their main cities. They have an amazing well, the arch, and a very good museum. I’m sure there’s more. The photo of the arch below is attributed to Wiki Media Commons.

Now for the picture I took of the little building near Umbertide. I took a series of photos of this building last fall and I’m going to have them printed and framed. This one is of the front of the oddly shaped building. I think it has five sides. Maybe six. None are equal. And I think the only part that is Etruscan is the center and the arch. You can see the different stones. I guess it’s been repurposed over time. It sits on a farm. Anyway, I just love this building and wanted to share.

Italian sentences for today…”Oggi ho fatto commissioni. Sono andato a fare la spesa. Mi sono tagliato i capelli” in English “I ran errands today. I went grocery shopping. I got my hair cut”. Pronounced oh-gee oh fah-toe com-miss-see-oh-nee. So-no ahn-dah-toe ah fah-ray lah spey-sah. Me so-no tah-glee-ah-toe eee cap-ell-lee.
~~~~~~~
Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈