Archive for the ‘The Garden’ Category

The acacia has beautiful and highly perfumed flowers.  Rubber Slippers in Italy makes fritelle with them and we have a good friend in Lombardia (Lombardy) who produces the most delicate organic acacia honey.

I also saw this intriguing recipe for Liquore di Robinia in the Italian magazine: Fuori Casa (March 2006 # 7)

  • 200 g acacia flowers
  • 500 g granulated sugar
  • 1 litre pure alcohol
  • 2 tbsp acacia honey
  • 1 litre water

Clean the flowers with a dry cloth, or soft brush.  Put alternate layers of the flowers and sugar in a large glass bowl.  Cover and leave to infuse for 48 hours.  Then add the alcohol and honey.  Leave the infusion until you can see that the sugar has totally dissolved.  (Approximately one month.)  Add the water and stir gently.  Strain the liquid well and bottle.

Despite their beauty, their perfume, the fritters, the honey and the liqueur, the acacia flowers pose a problem for us as we can’t open the swimming pool for guests until the flowers have dropped.  This is because they sink straight to the bottom and turn into some strange gluey, porridge which clogs the filters.

In order not to disappoint, we tell people who are interested in visiting Casalba that we can’t open the pool until the acacia flowers have dropped.  Luckily, this confetti effect usually happens towards the end of May, which is just about the right time for most guests who wish to take a dip.

Alternatively, I suppose we could just make gallons of liqueur and tons of fritelle.


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“Would you mind if we renewed our wedding vows in the garden at Casalba?”

Would we mind?   Mind…?

We’d be honoured!

Rings were made from olive branches.  The music stand was turned into a lectern.  The hammocks were removed from under the acacias.  The sun was shining (after a distant rumble of thunder failed to materialise into anything sinister) and it was a happy day.

A very happy day.

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A couple of weeks ago it felt as though spring had finally arrived after what seems to have been the longest, most bitter winter I’ve spent in Italy. 



All the signs were there: the almond tree came out in blossom; there were promising buds on the cherry; new shoots were sprouting on the elms; even the persimmon, which I thought had given up the ghost, sprang back to life.  Yet something was missing… 

Then, winter returned with a vengeance.  Back out came the jumpers, coats and extra layers.  Would it ever end?

What was missing was the return of the House Martins.  Just when I was beginning to think they’d abandoned us, I saw the first little chap. 


That was two days ago.  How do they know?  Why didn’t they come back when they usually do?   Did someone tip them off?  Do they send an advance scout to check out the situation?  Are they sitting there in North Africa, or the Costa Del Sol tuned in to the weather forecast?  What is it?

cachiWhatever this instinct is – and it’s darn clever – they must be the guys who pass this information on to the Hoopoes (Upupa epops), because yesterday they came back too.  I saw the first one in the afternoon and this morning, heard his distinctive call joining those of the Martins and the many, many who stay with us all year round, come rain or shine.


pear1The Martins stay all summer, but the Hoopoes only take a short holiday here (two weeks at most) before moving further north.  It’s odd, because I never see them on their return journey.  Maybe they prefer to stay in Provence rather than Le Marche for their autumn holidays.

I don’t have a photo of the Upupa, because he keeps taking me off-guard and is rather shy and very elusive.  If I’m lucky, I’ll post it here.  In the meantime, here is a good link.

Next year, I’m going to ignore the calendar and take my cue from the House Martins and the Hoopoes.  They know better than anyone when winter is over and spring begins.



This post is for my lovely American friend D.  We met 30 years ago when we both lived in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – Paris.  You asked about spring in Le Marche – this is my answer.  See you in June!!!

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There is a steep slope at the front of our garden and, to be honest, it isn’t very pretty.  You need to be a mountain goat to mow it and it always looks  unkempt.  I’ve tried planting ground cover, but nothing seems to do very well there.  This has everything to do with the fact that the soil is very poor, too well drained and nearly always in the shade of some ancient cypress trees under which nearly everything struggles. 

I had the tiniest bit of luck with periwinkle.  I saw that some was already growing among the weeds, so added a few more plants.  That was over three years ago.  I was expecting a carpet of blue by now!  


What does do well under the olive and cypress trees is the wild asparagus.  These were already well established when we moved here.  

They are rather ugly plants that don’t do anything to enhance this part of the garden.  If they weren’t so special, I’d have pulled them up ages ago. 

Here, they come into season towards the end of March/beginning of April.  So now is the time to start enjoying  them. 

If you are looking for a recipe: I just put them in boiling water for hardly a minute and serve drizzled with olive oil and a tiny squeeze of fresh lemon juice, but more often than not, I’ll just snap them from the plant and eat them raw.  They are that sweet.


Two of my favourite blogs have posted about wild asparagus recently:


 Ingrid from Vita Lenta nel bel Paese


Joe from Italyville 


If you click on the links, you’ll find more information, a couple of recipes and a neat video from Joe too!

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Guests 2

panda2“Have you got a panda?” 

“Er…, no.”  I replied.

(Between you and me, I thought he was referring to  B. who has black patches over both eyes.) 


Then I woke up…


This was an excellent question from a 4 year old guest, because there is a bamboo pit at the bottom of our garden. 

Not just your ornamental type of bamboo.  It grows over 30 metres and new shoots set rapidly.  

I kept an eye on one shoot which grew from 5 centimetres to 3 metres in one summer!


“There is a badger there, though.”


“What’s that?” 


“Well, it’s black and white – just like a panda, but it’s nocturnal so you probably won’t see it.” 


“What does nocturnal mean?” 


This boy is going to go far. 


Intelligent questions from an enquiring mind.

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Not all our olives are destined for the press.  Some are set aside to preserve.  Until now, I’ve used the brine method as explained by Patience Gray in “Honey From A Weed”:

  • Wash the olives and soak them in glazed jars for 40 days. 
  • Change the water every two days.  This removes any bitterness.
  • Drain and place in jars with alternate layers of coarse sea salt.  (About two handfuls of salt for every three kilos of olives.) 
  • Fill jars to the brim and top up with water.  
  • They will keep for two years if stored in a cool, dark place.


This year I tried the salt version that both my neighbour L. and Over A Tuscan Stove swear by:  

  • Rinse the olives and pat dry.
  • Put in jars, alternating olives with coarse sea salt. 
  • Drain the water from the jars every day.
  • They are ready when no more water comes out.
  • Fill jars to the brim and top up with the very best olive oil. 

I think this recipe is better than the brine version and I’ll be making them the same way next year.  However, I’d make more because they’d reduced by half in volume by the time they were ready.  (They didn’t reduce nearly as much using the brine method.) 

You can play with either method by adding spices, garlic, orange/lemon peel, etc.  Personally, I don’t think they need any frills.  The olives are more than capable of taking centre stage without any assistance.

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We took our olives to the Oleificio Rosini – as we always do.  They are a family run business in San Paolo di Jesi, which is about 9 kms from us. 

I couldn’t resist asking this lovely gentleman if I could take his photo whilst he loaded his Ape with the fruits of his labour.  I love Ape.  You can forget your Ferraris and whatnots, I’d like one of these and in this colour too.

And, here is the fruit of our labour. 

We watched the olives pass through every single step:






it finally came through the tap.

The first thing we did when we arrived home was to make bruschette.  No garlic, no trimmings, just our own fresh, extra virgin olive oil on warmed bread from stufa.  It doesn’t get any better than this.

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 We finally picked our olives.

 I love this job.

It’s very therapeutic.

 Not something you can rush.

 Now they are ready to take to the press: frantoio

We should have enough to make about 30 litres of extra virgin olive oil.  That’s 1st cold press extra, extra virgin!


These are destined to be conserved: 

More on both processes to follow soon…

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Our quince came into full bloom in mid April.  Beautiful large white blossoms with a generous flush of pink.  It’s a lovely tree.  Even its name sounds quaint, old fashioned and rather magical and mystical.

You can do a number of things with the fruit (except eat them raw, of course), but I have always been intrigued by Quince Cheese.  I’d tried making this before using the oven method, but it didn’t work out too well.  I searched the net and found Easy Quince Cheese by The Cottage Smallholder.  This is the site which introduced me to blogs; I’ve loved it ever since.

Quince Cheese:

  1. Wash and quarter the fruit.
  2. Remove the pips and cut into small chunks. 
  3. Place in saucepan with enough water to cover and simmer until soft.
  4. Strain overnight through a jelly bag.
  5. Press the pulp through a sieve.
  6. Measure the pulp and put it into a large heavy bottomed pan.
  7. Add an equal volume of granulated sugar.
  8. Add the juice and zest of 1 lemon.
  9. Simmer gently, stirring regularly until it becomes stiff in consistency.
  10. Either put it into sterilised jars, small ramekins, or set it in moulds. 

You can make “cheese” with all sorts of fruit. 

HomeMadeS gives recipes for both Apple Cheese and Plum Cheese.


I just learnt that the Americans call fruit cheese “butter”. 

Well, it makes just as much sense as calling it cheese!  




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I love all nuts, but if I had to choose just one, it would be the hazel.  It is the favourite food of dormice too and essential for the survival of several species of moth and a rare fungus. 

The tree is beautiful at all times of the year: during the winter s/he goes into hibernation along with the dormouse; the spring gives you the little catkins dangling on barely budding branches; s/he is in full leaf during the summer and the autumn brings the fruit.  

That is, s/he should!  I opened one up – nothing.  I opened a second – that was also completely empty. A third, fourth, fifth… I can’t believe it!  Not a single nut and they looked so promising with their heads poking through their Elizabethan ruffs…  What a swizz!

We asked the agronomo.  The first question he asked was, “How many have you got?”  “Just the one.”  “Well, that’s the problem. You need two to fertilise it.”

We will plant another, because the expert said so, and now is the perfect time to do it, but I always thought the hazel was bisexual (or whatever the botanical name is). 

Thank goodness the almonds cheered me up.  Not a dud amongst them and every one as sweet as…a nut, actually.

Just to cheer me up further, here is a picture of the almond in blossom:


And here is a lovely link providing some history and folklore on the hazel (Coryllus Avellana), plus information on its relationship with moths, dormice and other flora and fauna important for the biodiversity of our planet.  (Did you really think I knew all that stuff off the top of my head?) 

Apparently the twigs make excellent magic wands.  Who am I going to cast a spell on?  Without hesitation, it’s my new computer.  It’s literally driving me nuts and is so sensitive that I can’t read some of my favourite sites.   I’ll try to fix the problem from here, but I’m not exactly sure what needs fixing.

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