Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fruit of the Month: the persimmon

Ripeness is All
Of the genus diospyros, family Ebenaceae - which is the family of the ebony tree - the most widely consumed is the Asian persimmon Diospyros kaki. Diospyros comes from Greek, meaning divine fruit or literally, 'wheat of Zeus' otherwise translated as 'Jove's fire' or 'God's pear'. In modern Greek it is called lotos and associated with the food of the lotus-eaters in the Odyssey, although there are multiple candidates for this honour. Interestingly, it has several names in Italian: loto in the south, diosporo in central Italy, cachi or kaki in the north.

The pretty word 'persimmon' comes from Native American Algonquian pessamin, strangely meaning dry fruit. I wonder if this refers to the persimmon's astringency when under-ripe, which leaves the mouth chalky-dry, thanks to the fruit's high levels of tannins. To custom-ripen or 'blet' in the home, store the persimmons in a pot with some apples, pears or bananas which exude the ethylene needed for ripening. Alternatively, persimmons can be ripened through freezing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Florence's Slow Food Hall

il Mercato Centrale
- an historic market revisited

Florence's central market, located near San Lorenzo and the touristy outdoor market, is a piece of Florentine's domestic history. There are those of us who visited it as young tourists, to buy peaches for our picnic lunches in the Boboli gardens, or who recall 'the market gardeners and wild herb foragers who would sell their pickings much as in the Mayan markets of yore', to quote a friend. 
Nowadays even the ground floor stalls, shown above, look more like upmarket shops than market stalls.
This does not appear to detract from the quality of their ware although it probably affects the prices. All they same, they seemed to be humming when we visited on a weekday morning.
Yet this post focuses on the first floor of the market which has been transformed from the gritty, colourful, rustic reality of the past into a stylish, cheerful, (upmarket in quality but not, it appears, in price), food hall crammed with goodies. Since spring 2014, this is where the hungry working Florentine or the tourist who is unable to deal with all the raw produce downstairs, can come to savour the finished products. 
As you climb the stairs (or take an escalator) to the first floor the first thing you see is the attractive architecture of the old market: cast iron neo-classical pillars, pietra serena columns, overarching wrought iron girding and tall arched windows which let in considerable natural light. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Return of the Robin

Who killed Cock Robin?

     Who killed Cock Robin?
        I, said the Sparrow,
        with my bow and arrow,
        I killed Cock Robin.

        Who saw him die?
        I, said the Fly,
        with my little eye,
        I saw him die.

        Who caught his blood?
        I, said the Fish,
        with my little dish,
        I caught his blood.

        Who'll make the shroud?
        I, said the Beetle,
        with my thread and needle,
        I'll make the shroud.

        Who'll dig his grave?
        I, said the Owl,
        with my little trowel,
        I'll dig his grave.

        Who'll be the parson?
        I, said the Rook,
        with my little book,
        I'll be the parson.

        Who'll be the clerk?
        I, said the Lark,
        if it's not in the dark,
        I'll be the clerk.

        Who'll carry the link?
        I, said the Linnet,
        I'll fetch it in a minute,
        I'll carry the link.

        Who'll be chief mourner?
        I, said the Dove,
        I mourn for my love,
        I'll be chief mourner.

        Who'll carry the coffin?
        I, said the Kite,
        if it's not through the night,
        I'll carry the coffin.

        Who'll bear the pall?
        We, said the Wren,
        both the cock and the hen,
        We'll bear the pall.

        Who'll sing a psalm?
        I, said the Thrush,
        as she sat on a bush,
        I'll sing a psalm.

        Who'll toll the bell?
        I said the Bull,
        I am strong, I can pull,
        I'll toll the bell.

        All the birds of the air
        fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
        when they heard the bell toll
        for poor Cock Robin.

The first robin redbreast of the cold season appeared yesterday in our garden and the lines of this old rhyme came to mind. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Autumn morning

looking towards Radda around 7am

 the garden a few minutes later

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Vexed and Vexing Question: Hunting in Tuscany

The reality in those hills

What follows is not an apology for hunting, nor is it an outright critique. It is intended as more of a review of the current situation in the region of Tuscany.  

In provincial Tuscany, on the whole, hunting  is considered not only an ancient right, but a necessity. For centuries people lived off the land, relying on their own strengths to make a living, to feed their families: in short, to survive. Hunting was an essential part of this process. In addition, farmers, as all the world over, attempted to protect their flocks, their crops and their families from the incursions of the wild. Once upon a time wolves roamed these hills, and although boar are not indigenous, they were introduced a long time ago.