Tuesday, April 30, 2013

shopping in Panzano

She searched the whole world over...

Panzano seen from the north

All She wanted was a light, fine cotton summer nightdress, long and possibly with long sleeves and a simple, classic, wash-and-wear white blouse. She searched assiduously and exhaustively for the same in some of the greatest, most well-supplied establishments, in three of the most consumer-oriented cities of the western world: Melbourne Australia, London UK and Florence Italy. 

Did She find said items? No, She did not.

On the off-chance, although She no longer nurtured any real hope that her simple requirements might ever be met, but drawn on by the inexorable magnet which motivates inveterate shoppers, She opened the door of the modest merceria or haberdasher in Panzano in Chianti's main square and uttered her usual, by now plaintive refrain.

The tiny, elderly shopowner, with her hive of well-set, blonded hair tottered up a ladder towards a shelf of tidy boxes and, handing them down, bid her look inside. Lo and behold!, She found, neatly folded and wrapped in plastic: a light, fine cotton summer nightdress, long and with long sleeves, and a simple, classic, wash-and-wear white blouse. All for an exiguous cost. 

She hastened out of the modest haberdasher clutching her prizes, hardly able to believe that, after all her travels and all her searching, little Panzano had come up with the goods.

the seething metropolis and consumer's haven of Panzano, seen from the south.

Note for visitors and inveterate shoppers:
Apart from a well-stocked haberdasher, Panzano boasts a jewellery store, a fine leather outlet, a smattering of craft shops, several grocery stores, a greengrocer, a florist, two butchers, several household and gift shops, a hardware store, a stationer's, a farm and garden supplies store and several wine shops. Not counting all the restaurants, cafés and wine bars. Not bad for a village.

Friday, April 26, 2013

the voice of the turtledove


wildflowers in the top field

The flowers appeare on the earth; the time of the singing of birds has come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land...

 Song of Solomon 2:12 (1611 King James Bible)

collared dove or tortora dal collare orientale

The turtle, or turtledove or, to be precise, the collared dove, is certainly heard in our land, together with the cuckoo and other twitterers and warblers. We still await the nightingale.

...with thanks to someone else's sudden recollection of these apt and beautiful words...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rhubarb rhubarb

first Le Ripe rhubarb harvest April 2013

we have waited several long years for this moment...

good sticks, the size of celery, waiting to be made into compote or fool or pie or crumble...


quince blossom

Monday, April 22, 2013

Local Artisans

 Master Craftsmen
i Mastri Artigiani

The master's hand. It's everywhere: in the shape and style of the chimneys; in the 'ricciolo' or curl finishing an iron rod; the precision of a turned edge; the dressing of a block of stone; the dovetail joint in a drawer; the severe yet stylish cut of a door; the line and curve of a banister; the pattern in which floor tiles are laid; the contrast between the wall colour and its fine line of bordering; the panels of colour under a railing or beneath the ceiling; the careful choice of stone or brick or wood to frame a door or a window; the perfect arch...a tutto sesto (Roman arch) or ribassato or ellittico; the coupling of stone and terracotta; the silent, smooth slide of a drawer...

typical Tuscan chimney

curl of bannister

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Beauty and the Beast

On Porcupines and Iris

In April the irises flower in Chianti. They are mostly mauve (some are white or dark purple) and wave in fields or from the tops of walls along winding country roads.

According to Linnaeus in 1762, Iris Florentina was one of the most important irises to be grown commercially across Europe. It was used to make orris root, a powder to add fragrance to perfume or flavour to Chianti wine, now used principally as a fixative.  

typical field of irises or giaggioli as still found around San Polo or Lamole in Chianti

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Le Ripe History

il podere Le Ripe
- Le Ripe the farm -
a brief history

Le Ripe photographed from beside the river Pesa, July 1946 - note two haystacks, one of wheat and one probably of oats

The old farm buildings and property called Le Ripe lie just within the Castellina commune, cheek to jowl with the Radda commune (all our neighbours are in Radda) in the province of Siena, right at the border with the province of Florence, very near Panzano in Chianti, in the commune of Greve in Chianti. Over the centuries Le Ripe and its inhabitants would inevitably have been caught up in conflicts large and small as those borders were contested, shifting back and forth.

the strada provinciale 2bis looking towards Florence province and commune of Greve in Chianti

towards province of Siena and here, commune of Radda in Chianti

The farmhouse, barn and concimaia or midden were most likely built several hundred years ago by tenant farmers (mezzadri) who needed to make the best use of the land allotted them: they didn't waste the flatter land on buildings, it was needed for crops. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Anemone garden

On the way to San Donato
I spied a field of anemones,
'daughters of the wind'.

red, purple and white anemones: 
seen every year in early to mid April 
between San Donato and the Fi-Si highway...

Monday, April 8, 2013


Lovely Limoncello

essential: untreated lemons

...warming in winter, refreshing in summer;
excellent for adding to cake mixtures, crepes, summer drinks, drizzled on ice-cream;
or even to cure a cold...

Again, not a Tuscan recipe, limoncello originates in the lemon-rich coastal area south of Naples, but it's a liqueur we make each winter even in the heart of Tuscany. It's marvellous that oranges and lemons ripen when we most need their vitamin C and bright colours.


ratio: 12 lemons:1k sugar:1l water:1l alcohol

12 untreated lemons
1 kilo/5 cups/35.2 ounces (or less to taste) sugar
1 litre/4.22 cups/33.8 fluid ounces of  95% proof ethyl alcohol
1 litre ditto water
 (the more water you use the gentler the impact of the limoncello, but these are the canonical proportions)

Scrape/peel or grate the zest only from the lemons, leaving the white pith, and steep in the alcohol in a covered  jug or bowl overnight. The alcohol will draw all the lemon essence and much colour from the zest

pithless zest

Make a sugar syrup by blending hot (just boiled) water with sugar (you can also cook them a bit but usually the sugar will dissolve well in the very hot water)

Next day strain off and discard the lemon zest and add the yellow lemon liquor to the syrup: voila'!

If the syrup is warm when you blend it with the alcohol the limoncello will be cloudy; if it is cold it will be clear

Bottle and keep, or start tippling! 
There is no need to 'age' it.

use clean recycled bottles and cork firmly

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring Greens

Gather Ye Fresh Herbs while Ye May
The Rites of Spring in Chianti

detail from Botticelli's glorious Allegory of Spring or Primavera 
 to be found in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Come early spring in Chianti, as in other parts of the Italian countryside, you may spy locals in the fields and woods searching for edible leaves and roots. 

Once upon a time, at winter's end, when the orto or vegetable patch was not yet providing greens and other vegetables, country people would round out their zuppa di verdura, vegetable soup or minestra di pane, bread soup, with greens, sprouts and roots gathered in field and woodland.

Nowadays the best greens are cleaned and washed, then boiled in salted water, drained, pressed, chopped and served warm with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper.

However, dear readers, we do not recommend experimenting with wild herbs, unless you are accompanied by Those who have the Knowledge!

Wild garlic, wild asparagus, stinging nettle, dandelion, rampion bellflower, sow thistle, bladder campion, borage, wild fennel and others are all there for the gathering at this time of year while they are at their most tender. Perhaps the most sought-after are the asparagus and the strigoli, see below.

Other field greens are often fed to domestic rabbits. 

Monday, April 1, 2013


Water VI

three sets of guttering on one roof
During our renovations we planned to direct all the rainwater from our (extensive) rooftops and possibly from the threshing floor as well, into a large water tank. This water would then be used for the garden and vegie patch. The system is ready but the tank has not been installed yet.

copper guttering and downpipe

tallest downpipe