I love September. It is the month when all the fruits (quite literally) of hard labour and attention to the soil (not forgetting the moon), pays off all at once. The vegetable plants on the orto are laden, figs, pears and apples are abundant, the hazelnuts are ready and the walnuts are also starting to fall. It’s also the month of the vendemmia and although we have yet to experience the grape harvest first hand, we are hoping that by next year, we will be in a position to offer to help.
To add to our cucumber glut, we are having a bumper harvest of tomatoes this year. I bought a few plants back in April to get us going while I took advantage of an empty room and a spare garden table, to grow my own from seed. With the intention of making a batch or two of tomato sauce as well eating them fresh, I planted plenty of my chosen varieties of pomodori, cuor di bue and marmande. When, after potting on the first seedlings, they looked so weak I feared they would never make it, I planted a second lot. I lost a few but I still had more tomato plants than ever before. When the signora from the campo down the lane popped round to give me 5 of her own plants, I had a whole lot more. It was a huge bonus though, as judging from the size of her plants, I was way behind. At least I figured my crops would be staggered so not such a bad thing after all.
Now, with all the plants thriving, daily harvests and the second lot still to ripen, I have been able to make batches of pomarola, a simple tomato sauce with just the addition of a couple of cloves of garlic and basil. I know I could have portioned the sauce into bags and stuck them in the freezer but I wanted to do it ‘properly’, so I ladled the sauce into jars and then boiled them to hermetically seal them. This might be a bit old fashioned (even the 90 year old lady I met in the shop last week was buying plastic containers to freeze her pomarola) but there is something rather satisfying in opening the cupboard and seeing jars of preserved home grown produce ready for consumption over the coming months until it is planting time once more.
While watering the French beans the other evening I glanced down and noticed a hazelnut husk at my feet. I looked around and suddenly saw them everywhere. It was as if they had fallen over night. I finished the watering, grabbed some crates and M, and we set about collecting as many as we could. M does not have the staying power as my fellow hazelnut hunters big sis and MM so after two heaped crates, we decided to stop and collect some more in the morning. After another haul, it was time to start taking the nuts out of the husks, weighing them (just over 4 kilos) and then of course shelling them. I have spent all morning doing this (we really must invest in another nutcracker; it would be so much quicker with two people!) to obtain one kilo of shelled nuts. These are currently steeping in Vodka to create our own version of the hazelnut liqueur, Frangelico (which strangely you cannot buy in this area). With more still on the tree and the ground, I sense we will be making a few more bottles….
On the subject of liqueur, last April we took my Dad to a local vineyard for a tour and tasting. We were shown a plant called erba cedrina that, according to our guide, was ‘more lemony than lemons’. We then tasted it in a liqueur of the same name. I have to have this plant, I thought. By chance the very next day, I spotted it in the local market. I put it in a pot outside and when, within a very short space of time, it had outgrown it, I thought it was time to do some internet research. It is actually lemon verbena and can grow up to two metres, so I quickly planted it in a sunny spot next to the well where it is now just over a metre tall. It just so happened that in my research I also found a recipe for erba cedrina liqueur, so today, after all the nut-cracking, I went to pick 70 leaves to add to a litre of pure alcohol and the peel of a lemon. That’s the first stage but with just some sugar and water to add later, I am hoping I will have a good home-made version of the liqueur.
Now I just need to think about what to do with those walnuts…..