Saturday, July 6, 2013


The locals tell us that having one of the only springs in our area makes us water independent.  They say it isn't water, but gold. After refurbishing the catchment last year with Giovanni and his son Arnaldo, our farmer neighbors, the cool clear water flows at a refreshing 56 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. 

Nor do I have to drive hours to the beach and rent a chaise and umbrella with the other basking sardines.  Instead, I spent part of my Fourth at my private Tuscan beach, feet in the water, reading and sipping between the spearmint (left) and the watercress (right) in that shade of a lovely willow tree.

Technically, it's a spring catchment, but I call it, The Nymphaeum (after the grottos or shrines the ancient Romans dedicated to water nymphs inhabiting springs).  It's a rare place in this desert part of Tuscany that has cool fresh water springing from the ground.  Who am I to say it isn't enchanted?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ditch Maintenance: Protecting my investment … one blister at a time.

This is a reminder that a drainage ditch is something that stops being what it is when it fills up with earth and vegetation.  And that ditches are really about roads.

Here's the ugly truth.  Note the two spontaneous ditches down driveway.  The lush, undisturbed growth on the right was once the ditch.

The secrets of a Tuscan driveway revealed – demolition rubble trucked in from another construction site.  Though my photo doesn’t reveal it, it’s half a foot deep in places. Cars don't like roads like this.

With the local excavators unavailable because of the unusually wet winter and spring, I am on my own with a maintenance issue everyone else here in the Tuscan hills seems to understand intimately – runoff.  And that means erosion.  

I had to do it myself, a mano.  From lunch until cocktail hour on a Saturday, four solid hours with pick, shovel and rake.  Woke up awful sore at four o’clock am.

Here are things looking a bit more driveable.  Note the new small ditch on the upper left.  More work needed on the right, including to the ditch.

Not a very sexy post, I know.  Just wanted to show one of the less obvious things about farm life.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Meating of Minds

Sally and I could have gone to Eataly for our prosciutto. But sometimes the best way to get a good artisanal ham is to make it yourself. With Italian friends.  In New Jersey, USA.  Here are six of them.

While overwintering in New York, Sally and I were invited by her master printer Gerard Franciosa and his father Antonio to join their family in the annual sausage and ham preparation.  It has to be done when the temperature is cold.  In deep winter.  In a cellar.  In suburban New Jersey.

The ham has to be butchered into a classic "chicken leg" shape.  All the scraps are turned into sausage using Antonio's proprietary mix of 11 (more or less) herbs and spices.  These are hung to cure and the hams are salted and left in his special basement cantina. In underground New Jersey.

The wine in those glasses is Antonio's own.  Made of Thompson seedless grapes.  In his cellar. In New Jersey. It was, as they say in the home country, squisito!


Monday, January 23, 2012

Living Kitchens

These jars are not what you think. They are not home-canned and inert. Every one of them is alive and undergoing an ancient form of preservation. This is how Sally and I pickle, sprout, and ferment our way through winter. We call it our kitchen garden. It's what we do while the rest of our farm lies fallow in the winter.

Now that people are returning to naturally levened breads (using sourdough starter), naturally fermented wines (using native yeasts already at home on the grapes), and naturally cured meat products like prociutto, why not natural pickle? It's one of the original slow foods.

Somewhere along the way the modern idea that pickling means dousing things you want to preserve with vinegar replaced the original tried-and-true food technology. And the taste. And the texture. And the health benefits that went with it. Anyone who's tasted real brine fermented pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchee knows the difference. Vinegar (usually industrially distilled acetic acid) tastes like the astringent industrial product it is. The shelves of Whole Foods and other wholesome grocers are stocked with vinegary-but-homey-looking products with nice packaging that simply aren't the real dill. Yes, they sometimes use artisanal vinegars (malt, rice, wine). But if you want honest pickle, the kind grandma used to ferment with the help of naturally occurring, age-old, lacto-bacillus in a plain stoneware crock, if you want the softly tart lactic acids with their meaty umami elements and complexity, if you want the same probiotic microbes that make for healthy intestinal flora ... you have to make pickle yourself. Or rather, set it up and let nature do it. Or visit me!

Guided by Meta Givens' classic Encyclopedia of Cooking, I made my first batch of fermented dill pickles from cucumbers, dill and garlic I grew myself while a freshman chemist in college back in 1973. Sauerkraut soon followed. Before that I never cared for either. Since then I have lacto-fermented just about everything I could get my hands on, all self-started with a few spices and a little salt to balance things in favor of the "good" preserving microbes over the bad rotting ones. I am pleased to boast, not one batch has been a failure. A record I can't claim for my wines.

For those of you already on the road to pickle heaven, I do not add whey (from strained yogurt) as every website and blog post on the subject recommends as a failsafe. The reason is whey contains bacteria evolved to turn milk into yogurt.* And while we also ferment our own yogurt, I prefer to pickle with the helpfully evolved bacteria and yeasts already attracted to cabbage, cucumbers, jalepeno peppers, carrots, beets, lemons, onions, limes, garlic, radishes, turnips, daikon, ginger, Brussell sprouts ... you name it!

And what could be greener? They need no refrigeration and keep for months (though refrigeration does prolong the shelf life).

Along with our bubbling pickle (and though it's months before we'll sow a seed in our garden) I plant small crops of alfalfa, radish, arugula, cress, lentil, mung bean and other for tasty sprouts that are literally still growing when they land on our plates. Nothing from a store, no packaged sprout, is as fresh.

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes, I like to sprinkle a little rice wine vinegar on my bean sprouts, and make a pickled salad. I like our homemade wine vinegar -- fermented using the "mother" Giovanni's ancestors started over 500 years ago -- on fresh arugula and braised spinach from our garden. I like it, after steeping hot chilies, on Carolina pulled pork with coleslaw. I like vinegar for what it is -- a condiment and flavoring. And I happen to like a "ploughman's lunch" of cheese, beer, and English mustard pickle (uses malt vinegar). But when I want something crunchy, tart and complex I reach into my tiny briney seas teaming with lactobacillus and pull out a naturally fermented pickle.

*Lacto-pickle strains of: Leuconostoc, (also gives sourdough it's scent), Lactobacillus (other strains in wine, yogurt, most fermented food, a probiotic) and Pediococcus (probiotic also in yogurt, gives buttery character to chardonnay)

** Yogurt: Lactobacillus delbrueckii bulgaricus, Streptococcus salivariusthermophilus, Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Green Flame

I never cease to be fascinated with the way the silver-green boughs and leaves catch fire in the light and flicker in the wind. Olives trees are evergreens, and perhaps the original Christmas tree. And an ancient symbol of peace. That's why our favorite gift to friends and loved ones during the holiday season is oil from our own olives handpicked with care. Peace to all.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Labor of Love

Sometimes I don't have the time or energy to post because I am so busy pruning the olive trees, managing the grapevines, tending the garden and in general holding back chaos. So here is a short You Tube video that gives a sense of the kind of energy it takes one man to restore and run a 5-acre farm.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Sense of Legacy

This shot is taken in the tiny piazza of our tiny village of Montisi. Sally, who took it, has pointed out the similarity in our hands.

The guy with the dangerously slung sickle blade looks a lot like our builder, Claudio Brandini (left), in the eyes. But you be the judge.