Graziella is, as her name suggests, full of grace. She has a lovely sunny disposition and she always smiles with her eyes. Graziella bakes. Oh yes, Graziella bakes very well indeed.
One of her specialities is Pizza al Formaggio. Don’t put the usual image of a pizza in your mind’s…stomach. This is a type of bread made with cheese.
The Marchigiani traditionally eat this at Easter with Ciaoscolo: a soft spreadable salami which is one of the region’s many specialities.
I asked why this is eaten specifically at Easter. Graziella looked at me through those smiling eyes, but her voice gave away the fact that she thought it was rather a silly question. “It’s made with Pecorino! You know? …Easter and lamb?” Of course! Pecorino is a cheese made from ewe’s milk.
March is the month when the olive trees need pruning.
They are undemanding plants as they only need attention three times a year: pruning, fertilising and harvesting. Otherwise, they stand gracing the land with their noble, stately and timeless presence.
I bought a book over the internet (at great expense, I might add) on the best way to prune them. I didn’t get past the first few pages. It was so dryly written and all the (poorly taken) pictures were in black and white.
So, we watched (and helped) others pruning their trees and we asked advice from people whose families have been doing this for centuries. We learnt that the whole business boils down to three main rules:
Remove the suckers. (I’m aware how that reads, but I couldn’t find a way round it.)
- Remove the branches which grow straight upwards. These are usually the male branches and they don’t bear fruit. (I found a way round that one.)
- This is the most important: prune in a manner as to let the sunshine reach every branch: sort of open it up.
Steps 2 & 3 will give the tree that iconic, flattish, square shape so typical of the olive.
The author of that book would accuse me of over-simplifying the whole thing and he’d probably be right, but it works for us and we have a good enough crop every year to keep us in our own extra virgin olive oil and give a few bottles as presents. We also preserve some of the fruit in jars to be eaten with antipasti.
We have noticed that some people prune their olive trees once they are in flower. In that way you can see which branches will bear fruit. We haven’t tried that, but it does make sense.
When it snowed last December, we were out there with long poles to shake the snow from the branches in case they broke under the weight.
Here, on Palm Sunday, the congregation take olive branches to mass to be blessed by the priest. I think that’s beautiful, not only because the olive branch is a symbol of peace, but also because what is naturally happening on the land overlaps with Christian traditions. (And vice versa – there aren’t many palm trees in these parts.)
Pace e Buona Pasqua a tutti