Monday, December 31, 2012

The Return of the Wolf I


The photo is not mine, but similar tracks were found in the village of Lucarelli below Le Ripe in the coldest part of last winter after it snowed heavily and stayed so cold that the snow lay on the ground for over a fortnight (a rarity here). The huge, unmistakeable paw prints were seen near our neighbours' smallholding, where sheep, cattle, pigs and geese are raised. 

We had heard that wolves (Canis lupus lupus) had returned to Tuscany, that pairs were sighted near Ferrone (about 10k north of here, towards Florence), that the packs are monitored with electronic tags; but we had not believed they would roam around our part of Chianti. When we did speculate about creatures like bears and wolves, the reaction was mixed: there were those of us who relished the thought of such wild and fierce animals in our woods; others were less sanguine.

In a fascinating article from the Economist (link below) about the return of the wolf in Western Europe - and beyond, we learn that young wolves will wander as far as 1000k in search of a mate; so what was Lucarelli to a lone wolf from the Ferrone pack? A doddle!

So we may have more sightings this winter, may hear them howl in our woods. The deer will have to reckon with them, but as the article points out, the deer have overrun this area; a natural predator is perhaps needed.

From the Economist: The wolf returns - Call of the wild After millennia spent exterminating them, humanity is protecting wolves. Numbers have risen again—and so have ancient resentments Dec 22nd 2012
quite a cutie really

Friday, December 28, 2012

Naples in Chianti

A Neapolitan Winter's Lunch in Chianti

Rich octopus ragoût or ragù, simmered for almost 6 hours, served with linguine

Rum baba or babà al rhum, served with custard or crema al limone

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Winter Treats

Golden bread pudding

fresh pandoro

Pandoro is a festive holiday cake in Italy. It is most often eaten on its own, and is more than satisfying. The following recipe might, therefore, be considered a case of gilding the lily... but if it's ever worth going all out, Christmas is probably the right season. Here, then, is our yeasty, citrus-y take on bread and butter pudding for the winter holidays.


1 pandoro (Italian Christmas yeast cake), sliced vertically, the bottom crust removed
3 eggs, beaten
a cup of full-cream milk or heavy/double cream (240 ml)
half a cup of white sugar (100 g) or less, to taste
half a cup of water
several spoonfuls of marmalade
4 tablespoons of dark rum
a few drops of vanilla essence
a capful of orange flower water, or a few drops of orange flower water essence


1. Set the oven to 150 degrees Celsius/300 Fahrenheit

2. Put the sugar in the water on a medium flame, dissolving the sugar and forming a caramel (3-5 mins.)

3. Spread a layer of marmalade on one side of each pandoro slice

4. Lay out the slices of pandoro in a greased rectangular baking tray, allowing them to overlap but forming a layer of roughly uniform height

5. Add the rum, orange water, molten sugar and vanilla to the milk (or cream)
6. Combine the eggs with the other liquid ingredients and pour over the pandoro slices
7. Allow to rest for ten minutes, so that the pandoro slices fully absorb the liquid

8. Place in the oven, and bake for twenty minutes. The top will turn golden-brown and the bottom will become a rich custard

Serve warm! - But also good cold.

Note: this can also be done with panettone, brioche bread or challah.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cypress Planting

Grow cyprus!

The planting of a baby cypress...found in a pot alongside a fruit tree, 
nursed and tended in ever larger pots until 
one day, three years later, the time was right....
for transplant in the open earth.
Grow little cypress, spread your roots!

We shall protect you from the nibbling deer...

Volpaia View

seen near Volpaia, on a sunny December afternoon

Japan in Chianti

 Japanese Christmas at Le Ripe

delicious Japanese confiseries 
from New York
make us feel quite cosmopolitan!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Woodwork I




The before and after of one aspect of winter work here at Le Ripe: stacking wood. The arrival of the truck of wood is often eventful. Sometimes we only realize that Checchucci has come with his load when we hear the incredible thundering rattle as three tons/tonnes of seasoned wood clatters to the ground right outside the furnace room. On other occasions, Checchucci calls us for help to get up or down the access drive - which has two slopes.   

This year the slope up towards the house had been soaked by days of rain. It churned to mud as soon as he tried to drive up, so he had to back down again and asked for bundles of twigs to spread over the mud and provide some purchase. All we had was my bundles of denuded lavender twigs, thriftily preserved for light kindling. The lavender saved the day and a delightful perfume rose about, a whiff of summer, as Checchucci's truck lurched and shuddered back up the slope... 

For an amusing - and informative - article about the Norwegians' fascination with firewood see here

Winter Solstice

Days of 'little sun'

It is almost the winter solstice...
The sun is at its lowest point of the year 
and has moved from the east to the south: 
it has gone well past Radda 
and this morning rose from behind the hillside to our south. 
Tomorrow is the turning point, when the sun hesitates 
and then begins its return towards east once more.

The first photo was taken about half an hour before the sun appeared. 
Radda can be seen on the skyline to the left

Friday, December 7, 2012

Darling Buds


"Rough winds do shake the darling buds of December..."

The selfsame Nahema (see a few posts down) has come up trumps even this late in the season - indeed, completely out of season...I think I have rescued them just in time...
Along with an ugly brute of a parsnip and a fat bunch of parsley, I believe that's it for the 2012 harvest.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

First Frosts

This is how cold it has become: these photos were taken in the northern meadow near the river, where the sun shines only a few hours each day. 
If there's sun. 
We are not in the depths of winter, but we are getting close to the winter solstice, so the sun is almost at its lowest point of the solar year. 
In these parts of the meadow the frost may linger 
for a long time.

Olive Harvest

our olive harvest
only four trees of eighteen had fruit
- we shall add to our neighbours' haul and imagine that our olives 
gave a small but important contribution to their oil
- they have 700 trees and it took them one month 
to harvest
- it took me 10 minutes

Monday, December 3, 2012

Olives for Oil

Olive harvest

This year's olives. Our friends who actually make oil from their own olives tell me that it has been an excellent year. There were few olives: perhaps as a consequence, the oil is very good. 
I can't wait to try it. 

Meanwhile, I admire our own shiny black olives. I shall gather them and maybe they will contribute to our neighbours' oil. They are good only for oil: we cannot preserve them for antipasti.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Looking on the bright side....
we also came back to this.
Although we missed most of the autumn colours,
 the virginia creeper is still looking brilliant...

Storm in Chianti

 The Rainbomb

The day before we came back to Le Ripe there was an extremely violent storm which dumped massive quantities of water in only about 30 minutes. In Firenze they called it a ‘rainbomb’....Our local restaurant was flooded out momentarily and other houses were flooded from the hill behind. Le Ripe buildings and surrounds were fine, but our road and drive suffered...
This is the first stream upon entering our drive: see how the road has eroded dramatically on the right: the pipe was blocked by very heavy stones washed down by the torrential rain; all the water was flowing over the drive, like a river.
The second photo is of the road below our neighbours' cypresses: there is now a deep furrow and a good part of the road material has been washed down the hill or to the side...The metal channels we had put in would have been insufficient in such a downpour although most of them were clear.
Such rainstorms are rare but they happen...and maybe they will be more frequent thanks to climate change etc...