Saturday 10 July 2010

The Apricot Harvest ... in! Each one practically the size of a tennis ball, I was expecting them to be watery and tasteless - but, in fact, they have a wonderful flavour, almost more like peaches than apricots. I've probably never eaten apricots straight from the tree before now ( I don't remember....perhaps once, many years ago, which might explain why I always expect them to be delicious, and they generally disappoint). The ones which are available commercially tend to be picked while still hard, I suspect, so that they won't bruise in transport, and so have no flavour whatsoever, even though they look so inviting.

I was so surprised by their peach-like quality thatI researched peach-apricot hybrids. Jane Grigson says of 'Peach Apricots' that she understands them to be the acme of the apricot family...but, then again, pĂȘches apricots in fact appears to be the term the french use for a standard yellow peach... so I'm unclear what exactly she was talking about. There are all sorts of peach-apricot hybrids in production, but the pictures I've seen all show them to have a smooth skin, more like a nectarine, whilst ours have a definitely fuzzy exterior.

We have two apricot trees in the old orchard, which, when we arrived last year, were oozing large quantities of a gelatinous substance from wounds at the base of their trunks. "Oh, those have had it," we were confidently informed by an authoritative source. "You'll have to get rid of them". Fortunately, Signor Tempestini took a more relaxed view: "E gommosa..." he said, and handed over some blue powder that had to be mixed with water and painted onto the affected areas. Two coats and several months later, and all was well.

Delicious on their own, they sit in a bowl on the kitchen counter, and those which escape the depredations of passing locusts in the course of the day have so far been used in bavarois, strudel, sorbet, and tarts. I had researched how to oven-dry the ones which wouldn't get used immediately, so as not to lose them - but I realise now that there's little danger of that happening.

Tonight's dinner:

Almond-coated goats cheese, baked and served on a bed of purple figs, basil and baked red peppers.

Fiorentina, with rocket and parmesan.

Pear Soufflés

Sunday 4 July 2010

Busy doing nothing...

Christian - who was staying with us for a couple of days last week - remarked of some friends of his who live in Galicia that 'they do more work in not-working than anybody I can think of'. It's a concept I can relate to (occasionally).

This week: Monday was the latest (and last before the autumn) round of heavy-duty planting, with new poplars, silver birch, sorba, cypresses, arelias, pieris japonica, and black bamboo; Tuesday, Brancolis came for dinner, which was splendid and late; Wednesday, we flogged down to Torre Mozza outside Piombino for lunch, as something to do while Christian was here which wasn't either cooking or gardening; Thursday, we collected the tiles for the new kitchen in Via Fucini, and sorted out the details for the new french windows for the first floor terrace at Santa Caterina; Friday was weeding, and watering, and mowing, and hacking-and-slashing in general in the endless process of trying to wrestle the garden into submission. (In fact, the garden is behaving well at the moment, with many things in bloom: roses, delphiniums, hemerocallis, agapanthus, water lilies, verbenas, and some late deutsias...)

We now have high summer. Blissfully hot, day after day, and already town is subsiding into summer somnolence, listless and exhausted in the heat of midday, and returning to life in the relative cool of the evenings for passagiato and al fresco living. Gardening is limited to early and late - avoiding the midday sun - with evenings spent watering the fruit trees, as the sun goes down and shadows lengthen across the north lawn.

The nespola harvest is over, and for the first time I've actually found a use for the things - in the past, I've generally found them slightly sour, if they had any discernible flavour at all; one of the nespola trees we've inherited, though, produces fruit of a remarkable sweetness and succulence, and I picked bushels of the things during the short fruiting season. Excellent, baked in a tart over a frangipane base. One of the plum trees is also already finished - the one that produces quite small fruit, with red and yellow skins (perfect when combined with walnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon) - and the other one, with much larger fruit, is heavy with plums that should probably be picked next week. Ditto, the apricot and greengage trees, and after that quinces, and then industrial quantities of apples and pears. Despite their unfortunate leaf-curl earlier in the year, the peach trees are delivering quite well, and even the white peach, which we transplanted from the garden in Via Fucini at quite the wrong time of year, produced a solitary (but perfect) offering, which we solemnly shared between us a few days ago. The fruit from that tree is quite simply the most delicious imaginable...

The midday bells are ringing out from San Francesco, which has roused the four-footeds from their normal (for now) state of general drowsiness.

Onward and upward...

Tonight's Dinner:

Tagliatelle, with a sauce of Celery & Tomato.

Pork Loin, roast in Pancetta; Fagiolini with Parmesan.

Pear & Cinnamon lattice tart.