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Miscellaneous

The garden is in full bloom. It’s Spring in the northern hemisphere and everywhere around flowers are blossoming and foliages are greener than ever.

Il giardino è in fiore. E’ primavera nell’emisfero nord e dappertutto i fiori stanno sbocciando e i fogliami sono più verdi che mai.

Our garden in bloom

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We’ve finally made it! Here’s the English version of Lapo’s book. Pappapoppa has become Yummytummy and Mamma Mu, well, is just Mommy-Moo.

I want to thank all of my foodie friends for their contribution and their help with the names for the English version, especially Raymund from Ang Sarap (yes, we used two of your names, Cheddar the Mouse and Hopper the Rabbit).

I hope you enjoy it! Let me know if you like it, though you can preview only few pages on blurb.com.

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At last. We made it. Me and my friend Christina, I mean. We managed to finish the book for Lapo’s first birthday (yuppie!!!). The little calf Pappapoppa and his friend the baby chick Giosuè have finally come to life. Come to life but not come to our hands, yet, because we placed the order yesterday on blurb.com and we’re waiting for it to arrive. In time for Lapo’s birthday, of course (May, 5). Yes, I know that Lapo won’t be able to read it for – well, some years – but we do hope to give him for his birthday all the same.

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Some of you may think I’ve vanished from the blogosphere, some others that I quitted cooking for ever: well, none of the kind. I’ve just been busy. With life. What does that mean? Oh, nothing special. The fact is that after having spent three months at my parents’, I’ve just come back home. My home. Well, with hubs and baby, of course. For those who still don’t know, I broke my leg and we all had to move to my parents’ for a while. That is till I was perfectly recovered. Not that I’m perfectly recovered now, but I dare say I’m ok. I walk!

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I thought it was time to have a break from food and recipes to show you something I’m really proud of.  This is a pretty odd post for the Culinary Taste, I know, but it holds a special place in my heart. In May my baby will turn 1! Yes, a year’s almost gone (already?!) and I wanted to celebrate this event with something unique.

A book.

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Yes. The first blogger award we ever received is a matter of style: the Stylish Blogger Award. I must thank Lauren and Chrissy from From the Little Yellow Kitchen for thinking of and nominate us. Thank you so much, girls! You’ve added a little of your zest to what we do best (at least, to what we try to do best…)!

Here’s what an awarded blogger needs to do to deserve this amazing award:

1.  Make a post & link back to the person who awarded you this award.
2.  Share 7 things about yourself.
3.  Award 10 recently discovered great bloggers.
4.  Contact these bloggers and tell them they’ve won!

7 things you may want to know about the ones behind the Culinary Taste (aka Rita & Mario)

1. Rita planted a quince tree in the garden only and exclusively because she wanted to make quince jam. However, it turned out to be a beautiful tree, also.

2. Mario’s favourite author is Isaac Asimov; Rita’s is Jane Austen; but we both have a crush on the Harry Potter saga.

3. Mario, who is an engeneer, taught Rita how to use a computer (before meeting him, she hated computers and anything dealing with technology); Rita, who is a conservator and the artistic side of the family, taught Mario to love and appreciate arts.

4. We never had a proper honeymoon, that is we never went on a trip to one of those fantastic places where newlyweds go to, simply because we had no more money (we spent all we had for the wedding and the house…). We just stayed at home, but it was the loveliest honeymoon we could ever had.

5. Rita’s birthday is on October 9th, the day John Lennon was born and Che Guevara died (in different years, of course); Mario’s birthday is on August 26th, the day the Mongolfier brothers were born; our son’s birthday is on May 5th, the day Napoleon died.

6. The very first time we met, Mario’s head was completely shaved (??), while Rita was blond (????) and was talking on the phone hidden under the table in a restaurant (?????). How we fell in love is still a mistery… if you consider that on our first date out, Rita knocked over the glass of coke twice and spilt the content on poor Mario (well, he kept calling Rita by his ex-girlfriend’s name…).

7. Rita says that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and Mario totally agrees…

And now, here’s the list of Rita’s favourite 10 recently discovered bloggers (ok, not all are recently discovered…). And the nominees are…

Bake Cupcakes
bouffe délicieuse
Fresh and Foodie
Lamb’s Ears and Honey
Melting Butter
My Salty & Sweet Kitchen
Okie Dokie Artichokie
The Complete Cook Book Blog
The only Cin
The Year in Food

Please, be so kind to stop by these blogs: to leave a comment or simply to have a look. They will surprise you as they surprised me.

Una questione di stile: il nostro primo premio blogger

Già. Il nostro primo premio blogger è una questione di stile: lo Stylish Blogger Award. Devo ringraziare Lauren and Chrissy di From the Little Yellow Kitchen per averci pensato e nominato. Grazie mille, ragazze! Avete aggiunto un po’ di gusto a ciò che facciamo meglio (o cerchiamo di fare meglio…)!

Ecco cosa deve fare il blogger premiato per meritarsi questo fantastico premio:

1.  Fare un post e linkare la persona che vi ha premiato.
2.  Condividere 7 cose su voi stessi.
3.  Premiare 10 fantastici blogger che avete scoperto di recente.
4.  Contattare questi blogger e dire loro che hanno vinto!

7 cose che potreste voler saper su coloro che stanno dietro a the Culinary Taste (cioè Rita & Mario)

1. Rita ha piantato un cotogno in giardino solo ed esclusivamente perché voleva fare la marmellata di mele cotogne. Ad ogni modo è risultato essere anche un bell’albero.

2. L’autore preferito di Mario è Isaac Asimov; quella di Rita è Jane Austen; ma tutti e due siamo pazzi per la saga di Harry Potter.

3. Mario, che è ingegnere, ha insegnato a Rita ad usare il computer (prima di conoscere Mario, odiava i computer e tutto quello che ci aveva a che fare); Rita, che è una restauratrice e il lato artistico della famiglia, ha insegnato a Mario ad amare e apprezzare l’arte.

4. Non abbiamo mai avuto una vera e propria luna di miele, nel senso che non siamo mai andati in viaggio in uno di quei posti fantastici dove di solito vanno gli sposini, semplicemente perché avevamo finito i soldi (li avevamo spesi tutti per il matrimonio e la casa…). Siamo rimasti a casina, ma è stata la luna di miele più bella che potessimo avere.

5. Il compleanno di Rita è il 9 ottobre, il giorno in cui è nato John Lennon ed è morto Che Guevara (in anni diversi, ovviamente); il compleanno di Mario è il 26 agosto, il giorno in cui sono nati i fratelli Mongolfier; il compleanno del nostro bimbo è il 5 maggio, il giorno in cui è morto Napoleone.

6. La prima volta che ci siamo incontrati, Mario era rasato a zero (??), mentre Rita era bionda (????) e stava parlando al telefono da sotto il tavolo in un ristorante (?????). Come ci siamo innamorati rimane ancora un mistero… se considerate che al primo appuntamento Rita ha rovesciato due volte il bicchiere della coca cola addosso al povero Mario (beh, lui chiamava Rita con il nome della sua ex-fidanzata…).

7. Rita dice che la strada per il cuore di un uomo passa attraverso la gola e Mario è d’accordo in pieno…

E adesso, ecco la lista dei 10 blogger preferiti da Rita e scoperti di recente (ok, non tutti sono stati scoperti di recente…). E i nominati sono…

Bake Cupcakes
bouffe délicieuse
Fresh and Foodie
Lamb’s Ears and Honey
Melting Butter
My Salty & Sweet Kitchen
Okie Dokie Artichokie
The Complete Cook Book Blog
The only Cin
The Year in Food

Per favore, se potete andate su questi blog, per lasciare un commento o solo per dare un’occhiata. Vi sorprenderanno come hanno sorpreso me.

‘The tree to which you stretched out
your tiny hand,
the green pomegranate tree
with beautiful vermillion flowers’

Giosuè Carducci, Pianto Antico (Ancient Lament), 1871

Thus Giosuè Carducci wrote in memory of his 3-year-old child Dante, who died in November, 1870. In this tormenting, passionate lyric, all the beauty of the tree (that still exists in Carducci’s old garden in Bologna) and the love of a desperate father mingle to create one of the most touching poetical composition. The pomegranate tree – with which Carducci’s son played – is one of the more ancient trees known to man. Its large, round fruits full of juicy red seeds are permeated by deep, religious symbolism in almost every culture, from Ancient Greece to Arabs.

According to the Greek myth, Persephone, daughter of the goddess of the harvest Demeter, was kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld, who gave her six pomegranate seeds to eat. Eating those seeds, Persephone was doomed to spend six months of the year in the underworld and the remaining six months with her mother Demeter on the earth: in that period, Demeter – happy of having her child by her side – made the earth fertile and in bloom, thus explaining the origin of seasons.

In the Middle East pomegranates represented fertility, and according to the Quran pomegranate trees grow in the gardens of paradise (“In them will be Fruits, and dates and pomegranates”, Quran 55:068).

Pomegranates are mentioned in many books of the Bible. In Deuteronomy 8:8, when the Hebrews look for the Promised Land, they find a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey”. Pomegranates also decorated with embroideries the ephod worn by the High Priest (And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around”, Exodus 28:33) and the two pillars of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem (“The capitals which were on top of the pillars in the hall were in the shape of lilies, four cubits. The capitals on the two pillars also had pomegranates above, by the convex surface which was next to the network; and there were two hundred such pomegranates in rows on each of the capitals all around”, 1 King 7:19-20).

In the Christian tradition, the myriad of ruby seeds became the symbol of the drops of Jesus’ blood. This is why many Renaissance painters, like Sandro Botticelli, represented the Virgin with Child holding a pomegranate fruit in their hands. Due to their high symbolism, pomegranates are also one of the commonest motifs decorating textiles, both Islamic and of Renaissance Italy, such as velvets and lampasses.

With this rich imagery, the pomegranate tree is a superbly fascinating plant which should grow in every garden. With its bright red flowers followed by globe-shaped fruits is an incomparable charming vegetable element.  What a wonderful view from my kitchen window! It always rises my spirit up, even now that it’s completely bare and its yellow leaves are sleeping at its foot.

Maybe not everyone likes pomegranates: the seeds are a bit sour and the difficulty in deseeding makes the fruit little appreciated. All the same, it’s so delightful especially when the house is full of the smell of the jelly cooking on the heat. A magical ancient fruit with a glorious past: a little bit of mythology ready to taste.

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna della Melagrana, 1487, Firenze, Galleria degli Uffizi

Il verde melograno dai bei vermigli fior

‘L’albero a cui tendevi
la pargoletta mano,
il verde melograno
da’ bei vermigli fior’

Giosuè Carducci, Pianto Antico, 1871

Così Giosuè Carducci scriveva in memoria del figlioletto Dante, morto all’età di tre anni nel novembre del 1870. In questa lirica tormentata e appassionata, tutta la bellezza dell’albero (che ancora esiste nel giardino di Casa Carducci a Bologna) e l’amore di un padre disperato si fondono per dare vita ad una delle più toccanti composizioni poetiche. Il melograno – con cui giocava il figlio di Carducci – è uno degli alberi più antichi noti all’uomo. I suoi grandi frutti carichi di semi rossi e succosi sono permeate da un profondo simbolismo religioso praticamente in ogni cultura, dall’antica Greci agli Arabi

Secondo il mito Greco, Persefone, figlia di Demetra, la dea del raccolto, fu rapita da Ade, il re degli inferi, che le dette da mangiare sei chicchi di melagrana. Mangiandone i semi, Persefone fu condannata a passare negli inferi per sei mesi l’anno e gli altri sei mesi con la madre Demetra sulla terra: in quel periodo Demetra – felice di avere la figlia con sé – rendeva la terra fertile, spiegando così l’origine delle stagioni.

Nel Medio Oriente, le melagrane rappresentano la fertilità e, secondo il Corano, melograni crescono nei giardini del Paradiso (“In entrambi ci saranno frutti, datteri e melograni”, Corano 55:068).

Le melagrane sono citate in molti libri della Bibbia. In Deuteronomio 8:8, quando gli ebrei sono alla ricerca della Terra Promessa, trovano “un paese di frumento, d’orzo, di vigne, di fichi e di melograni; un paese di ulivi e di miele”. Ricami a forma di melagrane decoravano anche l’ephod indossato dal Grande Sacerdote (“Farai sul suo lembo melagrane di porpora viola, di porpora rossa e di scarlatto, intorno al suo lembo, e in mezzo porrai sonagli d’oro”) e le due colonne del Tempio di Salomone a Gerusalemme (“Fece melagrane su due file intorno al reticolato per coprire i capitelli sopra le colonne; allo stesso modo fece per il secondo capitello. I capitelli sopra le colonne erano a forma di giglio. C’erano capitelli sopra le colonne, applicati alla sporgenza che era al di là del reticolato; essi contenevano duecento melagrane in fila intorno a ogni capitello.”, Primo Libro dei Re, 7:18-20).

Secondo la tradizione cristiana, la miriade di semi rossi rappresentano le gocce del sangue di Cristo. Ecco perché numerosi artisti del Rinascimento, quali Sandro Botticelli, hanno dipinto la Madonna col Bambino con in mano un frutto di melagrana. Grazie al loro simbolismo, le melagrane adornano anche molti tessuti islamici e rinascimentali italiani, quali velluti e lampassi.

Con il suo ricco carico di immagini, il melograno è una pianta affascinante che dovrebbe adornare ogni giardino. Con i suoi fiori rosso brillante seguiti da frutti globosi, è un elemento dalla bellezza incomparabile. Che vista superba dalla finestra della mia cucina! Mi tira sempre su, anche adesso che è completamente spoglio e le foglie gialle dormono ai suoi piedi.

Forse non a tutti piacciono le melagrane: i semi sono un po’ aspri e la difficoltà nello schiccarli rende il frutto poco apprezzato. Lo stesso, è così delizioso, specialmente quando la casa si riempie del profumo della gelatina sul fuoco. Un frutto antico con un glorioso passato: un pezzo di mitologia da assaporare.

Let the palings of her bed
Be quince and box-wood overlaid
With the scented bark of yew.

Hilda Doolittle, Hymen

Walking about some old country routes on an autumn day, one of those winding through the perched little villages that still exist in the Italian countryside, you’ll probably run across, peeping out from the high-walled orchards surrounding stone-walled aged cottages, a beautiful, oval-leaved twist-branched tree bearing golden pear-shaped fruits. If you look close, you’ll see that those fruits, covered with a soft, velvety, cotton-like fleece, while halfway between a pear and an apple, are still something unexpected, something new, though as probably ancient as the country itself. It’s the quince tree, the tree of the Greeks and the Romans, of the Persians and the Turkish.

Cydonia oblonga – this is its scientific name – is a small deciduous tree of the Rosaceae family which produces between October and November apple-like pomes characterized by a thin coat of velvety down that disappears with the ripening of the fruit. It is one of the most ancient fruits known to man, since it was already cultivated by the Greeks – who held the fruit sacred to Venus and believed it to be of good omen to newly-weds – and in the Near- and Middle-East. Quince is also believed to be the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, as Dianne Onstad pointed out in her book Whole Food Companion (1996). And a quince was probably the fruit given by Paris to Helen. Surely, its name shows a Greek origin. The word quince is actually the modern plural form of the 14th century term quoyn that comes from the Old French cooin, which in return derives from Latin cotoneum malum (a variant of cydoneum malum, through Ancient Greek kydonium malum or κυδώνιον μήλον, that is “apple of Kydonia”, an ancient Cretan city). The Italian name (melo cotogno) reveals this origin, too, with a particular accent to the cotton-like fleece of the pomes.

Quinces are usually associated with jams and jellies. Due to their hard flesh, they actually can’t be eaten raw, but need to cooked before-hand (though a guy once told me that in his native Albania, they used to eat them raw as well). The common way to consume them is to make jams: it’s not a case that the term “marmalade” derives from Portuguese word for quince, that is marmelo (from Latin melimelum and from Ancient Greek melímelon or μελίμελον, that is “honey apple”). Quince jam is actually believed to be one of the first – if not the first – jam ever produced. The perfume and delicate sweetness of this fruit make it perfect to be cooked alone or to be added to other jams or pies to enhance the flavor.

Quinces are usually harvested in mid-autumn but, just like apples, can be stored for a long time, typically several months. Thanks to their longevity and extraordinary fragrance, they were used in old times to perfume wardrobes. When quince trees were frequent in people’s gardens – like pomegranate trees or persimmon trees – our grandmothers used to put a quince among linens, just as they did with lavender flowers. It’s in fact an undemanding plant: it’s resistant to frost and it’s self-fertile. After the ripening of the fruits, leaves fall and the tree is bare until early spring when a cloud of pale five-petal flowers bloom soon after the new leaves. Fruits are generally green and covered with a light and soft down which slowly disappears as the fruit ripens and becomes golden yellow. Quinces are normally ripe when they easily come off the branches if pulled, but they are considered fully ready when the skin becomes brightly golden and the bottom is highly perfumed when smelled. However, the pomes keep ripening after harvesting if kept in a cool place.

Lots of preserves can be made with quinces: with all the flesh you can prepare jams, while with the juice a wonderfully ruby-colored, perfumed jelly can be cooked. The marvelous red color of the jelly is actually due to the seeds which turn the cream-pink tone of the pulp into that stunning shade. But you can also make the cotognata, a thick paste rather similar to Spanish membrillo, made by slowly boiling the mashed pulp with sugar and then let the pulp dry in ramekins for several days. What you obtain is a thick jelly you can eat alone or as an accompaniment to ripe cheeses such as pecorino or parmigiano. Famous Italian quince-based preparations are the mostarda di Mantova (a sweet-sour fruit pickle made in the area around Mantua, employed to make tortelli di zucca, that is butternut squash tortelli) and the mostarda used as the filling of tortel dols, the sweet tortelli of the town of Colorno, near Parma. Typical of all the Mediterranean area, quinces belong to many cultures: from the Balkans, where they are turned into brandy, to Syria where they are used together with pomegranates to prepare a kind of kibbeh, the kibbeh safarjalieh.

Both the beautiful perfume of quinces and their versatility in the kitchen (together with the fact that they are rarely available on markets) made us want to have a tree planted in our garden. When we planted it three years ago, we were hopeful but skeptical: would it bear fruit? And actually, the first year it produced only three pomes of which two fell from the tree and got rotten. So, it was such a surprise when last year we saw our quince tree completely laden with beautiful golden fruits: the harvest was more than 13 kg. How many jams I could make!! This year is even better because our tree has produced 30 kg of quinces. A miracle considering that the tree is so small that the branches reached the ground, so burdened as they were.

So, here’s my beautiful perfumed golden quinces, my joy and my pride, silently waiting to be turned into marvelous tasty recipes.

To quench your curiosity and appetite, quince-related recipe posts will soon be published.

Quince blossom

Mela cotogna, la regina del contado

Camminando in un giorno d’autunno per qualche vecchia stradina di campagna, di quelle che si snodano tra i paesini arroccati che ancora esistono in Italia, vi potreste imbattere, mentre fa capolino dalle mura di un qualche giardino di un antico casolare, in un albero dalle foglie ovali e dai rami contorti carichi di frutti dorati simili alle pere. Se guardate bene, vedrete che quei frutti, ricoperti da una soffice peluria cotonosa, seppur in qualche modo simili a una pera o a una mela, sono in realtà qualcosa di nuovo, di inaspettato, sebbene forse antico quanto la campagna stessa. È il melo cotogno, l’albero dei Greci e dei Romani, dei Persiani e dei Turchi.

Cydonia oblonga – questo è il suo nome scientifico – è un piccolo albero a foglia caduca della famiglia delle Rosacee che produce tra ottobre e novembre frutti simili a mele, caratterizzati da un sottile strato di peluria che scompare con il maturare dei pomi. È uno dei frutti più antichi conosciuti dall’uomo, visto che era già coltivato dai Greci – che lo ritenevano sacro a Venere e di buon auspicio per i novelli sposi – e nel Vicino e Medio Oriente. Si ritiene addirittura che la mela cotogna sia il frutto proibito del Giardino dell’eden, come ha osservato Dianne Onstad nel suo libro Whole Food Companion (1996). E, forse, è una cotogna il frutto che Paride donò a Elena. Di sicuro, il suo nome ha un’origine greca. Deriva infatti dal latino cotoneum malum, una variante di cydoneum malum, attraverso il Greco antico kydonium malum o κυδώνιον μήλον, cioè “mela di Kydonia”, un’antica città cretese, con un particolare accento anche sulla peluria cotonosa dei pomi.

Le mele cotogne sono di solito associate a marmellate e gelatine. A causa della loro polpa dura, non possono essere mangiate crude ma hanno bisogno di essere cotte (anche se un ragazzo una volta mi disse che in Albania, suo paese, usa mangiarle anche crude). Il modo più diffuso di consumarle è sotto forma di marmellate: non è un caso, infatti, che il termine “marmellata” derivi dalla parola portoghese per cotogna, cioè marmelo (dal latino melimelum e dal greco antico melímelon o μελίμελον, cioè “mela di miele”). Si ritiene appunto che la marmellata di mele cotogne sia una delle prime – se non la prima – marmellate mai prodotte. Il profumo e la dolcezza delicata del frutto lo rendono perfetto per essere cotto da solo o aggiunto a torte e marmellate per esaltarne il sapore.

Le mele cotogne vengono raccolte a metà autunno ma, come le mele, possono essere conservate per lunghi periodi, anche mesi. Grazie alla loro longevità e alla straordinaria fragranza, erano infatti usate per profumare i guardaroba. Quando i meli cotogni erano comuni nei giardini – come I melograni e i cachi – le nostre nonne erano solite mettere una mela cotogna tra la biancheria, così come si usava con le spighe di lavanda. In effetti, questa è una pianta di poche pretese: è resistente al freddo e auto fecondante. Dopo la maturazione dei frutti, le foglie cadono e l’albero rimane spoglio fino a primavera, quando una nuvola di fiori rosa esplode sui rami poco dopo le foglie. I frutti sono generalmente verdi e coperti con una peluria chiara e soffice che scompare quando il frutto matura e diventa dorato. Le mele cotogne sono mature quando si staccano facilmente dal ramo se tirate, ma si considerano veramente pronte quando, annusando la base del frutto, questo sprigiona un forte profumo. In ogni caso, le mele cotogne continuano a maturare anche se raccolte, basta conservarle in un posto fresco.

Si possono fare diverse conserve con le cotogne: con la polpa si prepara la marmellata, mentre con il succo si ottiene una gelatina profumata dal colore rosso rubino (questo bellissimo colore rosso è dato dai semi che mutano il tono rosa-crema della polpa in una sfumatura brillante). Ma si può fare anche la cotognata, una gelatina molto densa simile allo spagnolo membrillo, che si ottiene facendo bollire a lungo la polpa passata con lo zucchero e mettendo il composto ad asciugare per diversi giorni dentro degli stampini. La cotognata si può mangiare da sola o come accompagnamento a formaggi stagionati come il parmigiano e il pecorino. Altre preparazioni famose a base di mele cotogne sono la mostarda di Mantova, impiegata nel ripieno dei tortelli alla zucca, e la mostarda che fa da ripieno ai famosi tortel dols(tortelli dolci) di Colorno, Parma. Tipiche dell’area mediterranea, le cotogne appartengono a diverse culture: dai Balcani, dove ne fanno un brandy, alla Siria, dove si usano insieme alle melagrane per preparare un particolare tipo di kibbeh, il kibbeh safarjalieh.

Sia il meraviglioso profumo delle cotogne che la loro versatilità in cucina (oltre alla loro difficile reperibilità sui mercati) ci ha fatto desiderare di averle in giardino. Quando abbiamo piantato il nostro cotogno tre anni fa eravamo fiduciosi ma scettici: avrebbe fruttificato? E in effetti, il primo anno aveva prodotto solo tre frutti, di cui due sono caduti e marciti. Per cui è stata una sorpresa incredibile quando, lo scorso anno, abbiamo visto il nostro cotogno completamente ricoperto di bellissimi frutti d’oro: il raccolto è stato più di 13 chili. Quante marmellate ho potuto fare!! Quest’anno è andata addirittura meglio perché il nostro albero ha dato circa 30 chili. Un miracolo, considerato che il nostro alberello è così piccolo che i rami toccavano terra da quanto erano carichi.

Per cui, ecco le mie bellissime mele cotogne, la mia gioia e il mio orgoglio, che aspettano solo di essere trasformate in ricette deliziose.

Per soddisfare curiosità e appetito, saranno presto pubblicate le ricette a base di cotogne.

Hydrangea Macrophylla

The other day when I woke up, I went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, opened the French window shutters and stared, dumb and enchanted, at the vision before my eyes – the most magnificent vision of this month of October. The sun was low in the East – it was just rising – and its grazing rays hit the garden like a burning flame. It was early in the morning, but light was as warm and rich as in late evening, glowing in a gloriously golden blaze. A vision of heaven. I had never seen such vivid, almost violent colors in my garden, such a triumph of yellows and reds: the amber leaves of The Shropshire Lad climbing rose seemed to shine brightly in contrast with the fading crimson flowers of the hydrangea or the new purple leaves of photinia. Ruby pomegranates and golden quinces, though not yet ripe, gleamed in the morning sun. Even the evergreen false jasmin climbing over the pergola was bejeweled with little scarlet leaves. I had never realized how magical Indian summer is – or maybe, no Indian summer till now had ever been so charming. And though no camera will ever reproduce the true beauty of nature, this vision was so glorious that I had to immortalize it in these pictures for you to enjoy.

Quince fruit

Pomegranate fruit

Lo splendore glorioso di un’estate indiana

L’altro giorno quando mi sono svegliata, sono andata in cucina a preparare la colazione, ho aperto le persiane della porta finestra e sono rimasta a fissare, ammutolita e incantata, la visione davanti ai miei occhi – la più magnifica visione di questo mese di ottobre. Il sole era ancora basso ad est – stava da poco sorgendo – e i suoi raggi radenti colpivano il giardino come una fiamma viva. Era mattino presto, ma la luce era calda e ricca come se fosse stato pomeriggio, rifulgendo in uno splendore gloriosamente dorato. Una visione di paradiso. Non avevo mai visto dei colori così vividi, quasi violenti, nel mio giardino, né avevo gustato un tale trionfo di gialli e di rossi: le foglie ambrate della rosa rampicante The Shropshire Lad parevano risplendere allegramente in contrasto con i fiori cremisi e appassiti dell’ortensia o con le foglie porpora della fotinia. Le melagrane color rubino e le mele cotogne dorate, anche se non ancora mature, luccicavano nella luce del mattino. Persino il sempreverde falso gelsomino che si arrampica sul pergolato era adorno di foglioline scarlatte. Non avevo mai realizzato quanto fosse magica l’estate indiana – o forse, nessuna estate indiana è stata mai così affascinante. E anche se nessuna macchina fotografica potrà mai rendere la bellezza della natura, questa visione era così gloriosa che ho voluto immortalarla in queste foto per farvela gustare.

Hydrangea Macrophylla

The Shropshire Lad Climbing Rose

False Jasmin

As the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio chanted in the poem I pastori (The shepherds), it is now time to go. At least, it’s time to prepare oneself for the approaching autumn. Weather is rapidly changing, and yesterday’s summer storm brought a significant and sudden alteration in the warm temperature of these September days. Though I’m glad that the Saharan heat has finally but an August memory, this reminds me of the fact that soon – too soon – we’ll be forced to shut ourselves up at home, turn the heating on and wait for winter to pass quickly. Meals outdoors are occasional; lunches only are allowed under the porch, because in the morning and in the evening it’s already too chilly to stay in the garden. The cushions of the sofa and the deckchairs are still holding out in their place, but I know that before long they’re doomed to be removed to the garage, waiting for next spring to come. And that, to me, officially sanctions the end of the good season. This and flower bulbs.

Hanging around garden centers and supermarkets, you start noticing the presence of spring flower bulbs: narcissuses, hyacinths, tulips, crocuses, alliums. It’s time to plant them, though you can wait till December, and it’s time for me to decide which ones to plant this year. My husband hates this period and he hates me. Every year I change my mind about flower bulbs because I love to vary the beautification of my garden: though tulips are omnipresent, all other flowers come and go. And this means a lot of work both for me and Mario: emptying pots, cleaning pots, choosing pots, buying new soil, buying new bulbs, planting new bulbs. What upsets my husband is the misery of the reward, as he calls it. Such a demanding work for few days of bloom – and you have to wait till spring!! How to explain that a garden is not a real garden unless it has flower bulbs in bloom? Let’s only hope that the daffodils we planted in the peony flowerbed will blossom again next year! Planting bulbs – and imagining their beauty in spring – makes me bear more easily the withering aspect of the garden: after a humid spring and a torrid summer, almost every plant has a pathetic look: hydrangea flowers are faded, rose leaves are yellowing; only The Generous Garden climbing rose has some new pale-pink buds – and that’s a joy to the eye! Fortunately, the pomegranate tree and the quince tree are loaded with blessed fruits: blessed, because I can make loads of jams and jellies (if you consider that I planted them exclusively in order to make preserves…). Last year I had made so many jars that they ended up being the Christmas presents for friends and relations. Probably I’ll repeat myself this year, who knows. In the meantime, I’m waiting for the fruits to ripe: pomegranates are quite ready, but quinces are still green. It will take some more weeks before they gain their gorgeous velvety golden color. So, as days are drawing in and weather is getting colder, I’ll enjoy myself making some preserves for the winter season, while waiting for my beloved quinces to ripen. Incidentally, mangoes are awaiting me on the kitchen table: will I be able to turn them into a good Mango Chutney?

The idea for this blog springs from a personal and enduring passion for both cookery and gardening. Since my grandma (who was born from peasant parents here in Tuscany), and my mom have always been home-loving housewives, I’ve learnt how to cook at a very early age. My grandma’s family was big (she had four children, including mom, and several grandchildren) and when we gathered for holiday meals, cooking was both a feast and a trouble. Watching them – the two generations of women in my family – while preparing ragù, lasagne, crostini coi fegatini (chicken-liver toasts) and arrosto (roast-meat) was the best training I could have ever wished for. Unlike them, who are very traditional in their recipes, I’m more curious and love experimenting different cuisines and cultures – and in this sense, my husband Mario (who, incidentally, is the official photographer of this blog’s recipes – endless thanks, my love!!) is my greatest supporter, being himself a really big, hearty eater. Actually, besides being my photographer, is also the legitimate taster of all my dishes, so blame it on him for the choice of the recipes! Of course, I neither claim to be a great cook nor to create remarkable recipes: there are so many fantastic foodblogs around that I feel I’m just a drop in the ocean! But I’m engaging in this new adventure just for fun and I think that’s the right spirit to do things. Moreover, since my baby was born last May, I feel so enthusiastic and energetic about life: I feel like doing things, creating, experimenting. And I have so little time to do so! Sometimes I’m so tired that I only wish I could sleep, but I can’t help it: the less time I have, the more creative I become.

As for gardening, well, that’s a more recent passion. When Mario and I had to choose our future house – our first, hard-earned house – I put some conditions on its requirements: white doors, parquet in every room (except in the bathroom!) and a garden. Though I grew up in a flat with a condominial garden, we’ve never had a garden or a balcony on our own and this lack of outdoor spaces has always been to me a sort of a physical and moral constriction. That’s why I’ve always longed for my own garden where I could grow plants and fruits, and I finally had it: a very small flat with a pretty large backyard. Of course, we still wish to have our own farmhouse in the country with an orchard, a kitchen garden and even cows, but that’s another story and for now we are content with our small backyard. Although it is almost entirely paved, there was enough room for a quince tree, a pomegranate tree and an enormous plant of sage, together with shrubs and roses. The rest was placed in terracotta and blue pots (I love blue pots!): thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, lemon verbena, coriander, basil, parsley, tomatoes, a lemon tree and even rhubarb, which is impossible to find in Italian supermarkets. Eating natural is my motto and  I try to pursue this aim growing my own kitchen garden. Sometimes it’s easy and satisfactory, sometimes it’s disappointing, but there’s nothing funnier than being in your garden and picking up what you need for cooking. Obviously I can’t grow all the staff I’d like (supermarkets will do), but that’s ok: it’s a big achievement all the same and I hope people around me will enjoy it.

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