Nulla consequat massa quis enim.
On our must have list when looking for the perfect Italian property was amongst others – an olive grove. Not totally sure why as back then in 2003 we didn’t even know the health benefits of EVO but the thought of producing our very own oil was a dream of the ‘Italian good life. Now a bottle of our oil is common place in our kitchen, a part of daily life, a drizzle here and a drizzle there. I have discovered so many uses for it in almost all my dishes, including many cakes I bake. Poured onto freshly toasted sourdough bread it has become a favourite snack that I often eat standing up, whilst in the midst of other kitchen work.
Our first olive harvest was a bit of a challenge and definitely one of the least pleasant! It was november 2004 and the house we were beginning to restore had no roof on, we had three small children to look after, and no idea how to even pick the olives. Our Italian neighbours ( I will tell you about them another time) lent us their old nets which were full of holes and told us that it was very important to remove all the leaves and twigs from the picked olives. We picked by day, and once kids were in bed we strapped on head torches( we had no real electricity back then) and removed all the leaves. To add to our exhaustion, the only appointment we could get to press the olives was during the night. Off Thomas went and was gone most of the night. He discovered that for a few euros the olives could be shaken clean of their leaves but as we now know, the local farmers are very, very careful with their ‘pennies’.
When finally the oil, our very own single estate, organic EVO oil came home we prepared the local white bread and drizzled on the viscous, luminescent green oil onto the slices. With it dripping down our hands as we lifted the bread slices, we tasted it for the first time. It was and is peppery, with undertones of green grass. We felt so proud! Read more
I’m sitting outside in brilliant sunshine, thinking about our first Christmas here. Where was the sunshine then ? Endless days of cold, rain and fog and us living in a dilapidated old Italian farmhouse. Restructuring, renovating, adding electricity and plumbing ….there were holes in every wall and dust on every bit of floor. Huddled with 3 small children in front of a single gas fire and trying to keep everything together, whilst settling into Italian rural life.
8th december came round. I was surprised there was no school. It was The Feast of the Immaculate Conception and a national holiday, of course. The day catholics in Italy celebrate when Mary herself was conceived and graced by God to lead a life free of sin etc etc. It is also the day to put up the christmas tree, decorate and really marks the official start of Christmas in Italy.
On his return to school after his unexpected day off, my son, on learning that all his new friends had their trees up and decorated, was soon reduced to tears.
” We have missed Christmas!” He cried when I collected him from school. I also cried – it was a great release for all the built up stress I was feeling.
I promised him that Christmas was coming… just not right then.
We were working on finishing one of the rooms to use as our “Christmas room”. On the day before Christmas eve, we secretly put up a tree, decorated the space and placed a path of candles up the stairs for the kids to follow. They were so excited. They clapped and screamed as suddenly Christmas appeared magically in front of them. I can honestly say that it was one of the most magical Christmas’ we’ve ever had, despite no real bathroom, despite lack of heating, or a kitchen…. we simply spent precious time together as a family…
Now I enjoy the run up to Christmas day. I have a fabulous kitchen now and although not a warm room, I use this excuse to turn on the oven and bake! I’ve used our own dried figs, in rich Christmas cake ( UK style), and in minced pies. They fill the kitchen with citrusy, spicy aromas – the smell of Christmas to me. Ideas for seasonal baking is at the end of this post.
On the mountains I can see from my windows, is snow and lots of it. Not only a stunning backdrop to every drive I make along the winding Le Marche roads, but home to a lovely, little ski resort at Pintura di Bolognola. This is where the kids learnt to ski and this year it’s opening this weekend. Earlier than normal as the temperatures remain low, below freezing at night. Just an hour or so drive and we can be in a winter wonderland, breathing in the crisp, icy cold air.
If you ever get the chance, during a winter visit to Le Marche, do visit the ski resorts just up from the town of Sarnarno. Family friendly, good value, laid back atmosphere and beautiful scenery. We’ll be there this weekend as the kids have a long weekend break from school.
More reasons to love Le Marche in December. Christmas isn’t over commercial here. It doesn’t hit you in the face, every time you leave the house. More understated, each village has its own christmas lights, maybe a tree and always a nativity scene tucked away somewhere. This year we are going to Uk for the holidays. The exuberance of the season will no doubt hit us in the face, but we will embrace it and enjoy every moment.
I hope you can take time out to enjoy the run up to Christmas day and wish you peace and happiness.
Some of my favourite seasonal recipe links are below :
For a British christmas cake take a look at this. Nigella knows here cakes!
Here is Nigel Slater’s vegetarian friendly mincemeat from his new book “Christmas Chronicles” ( highly recommended by the way) I made it this year with our quinces and replaced raisins with dried figs. It’s delicious. His Christmas Stollen recipe ( can’t find a link for ) is also fab.
Here is my local Le Marche version of a rich fruit cake.