A good friend of my, Richard, has kindly offered to write a monthly review of life in Puglia from the perpective of a British Expat. If you’re thinking of moving to Puglia or are just interested to hear what life is like in this beautiful part of Italy, then these insider blogs are just for you!
Here’s the first installment: A Sneaky Peek into Puglia: October
Firstly, by way of introduction, let me ‘paint’ a picture of where we live. Our villa is in the countryside ‘campagna‘ a few kilometres from San Vito dei Normanni (a town of 20k inhabitants). The coast is 8 km away and Brindisi airport is 20 minutes by car. I have lived here since retirement in 2007. Diana, the boss, arrived 4 years earlier and had the daunting task of managing the loving restoration of our old (300 years) farmhouse ‘masseria‘ which had been abandoned for 12 years before we arrived. Diana is 51% Italian, (her mother was from the North of Italy), and so had the benefit, we thought, of dual language. We didn’t know that each town has its own dialect which meant that conversations between artisans were always difficult to understand !
Life here is very much seasonal. We say that what we eat was either in the sea or in the ground ‘yesterday’. However, local fish, fruit and vegetables are in abundance, are delicious and are cheap. No such delicacies such as Chinese or Indian restaurants ! But many tens of varieties of pasta and even more choices of pasta sauces ‘sugo‘ to savour. Two years ago I planted vegetables for the first time (250 plugs in one day). We therefore enjoyed tomatoes ‘pomodori‘, courgettes ‘zucchini‘, aubergines ‘melanzane‘, peppers ‘peperoni‘, onions ‘cipolle‘, varieties of lettuce, ( but the celery (sedano) was a disaster). And, yes, they all matured at the same time. We also planted twenty five negroamaro and malvasia grape vines for wine. Diana in a race against time, cooked sauces, made multiple vegetable dishes, (most of which she put into the freezer , together with many fresh vegetables) and also shared the harvest with friends.
Of course, everything we produced could have been bought from the markets, local shops, ‘garage’ shops, vegetable stalls, etc for around 1 euro a kilo. However, our own production was organic, a result of love, careful maintenance, and a daily combat against bugs and weeds. On our plot we also have many almond and fig trees. I picked the almonds in mid September, grossing around 90 kilos of almonds and netting 20ish kilos of shelled almonds (but 80 kilos the previous year!). We were away in August when the figs mature (nothing like picking figs from a tree and eating them fresh for breakfast) but we managed to harvest sufficient to make jam, sundried figs stuffed with almonds and even fig ice cream (which is amamzing!), and some to freeze for later and to just enjoy the moment.
In Puglia in October, after a long hot summer, table grapes are in abundance (yes, 1 euro a kilo) and they say that this year’s wine will a be plentiful and delicious (and will be around 1 euro a litre for table wine). Puglia has a long tradition of wine production, which I’ll write about in a subsequent edition. Needless to say it’s strong, on average around 13% proof. In October also, whether it is a 10k sq.m plot or a large farm, preparations are being made for the olive harvest. Trees up to a thousand years old will produce olives. Now they are turning from green towards black colouring. The secret is to find them on the trees when they are greenish-black. Private growers are busy brushing away leaves in a circle around the trees where the olives will fall, in preparation for laying nets and eventually picking, shaking, hitting the trees to make the olives fall, as the first stage of harvest. Farmers are using tractors to prepare their land and make the ‘collection’ areas free of debris and relatively even. Later, they will use large ‘hoovers’ to suck up the olives and the trees will also be shaken with machines which literally take hold of the tree and shake off the olives. More about the harvesting process next month.
The weather is becoming more unsettled now; windy, some showers and cooler (around mid teens overnight and early twenties during the day). All growers are hoping that the weather will be good to them for the next couple of weeks. Back home that means that the pool furniture has been stored away and that I am beginning the process of winter maintenance, cutting back vines, fruit trees, bushes, etc. And, oh yes, planting potatoes, fennel, broccoli and chicory, and enjoying the late harvest of our peppers, courgettes and aubergines.
That’s it for now. Less stomach and more Puglian pleasures next month. Ciao a tutti. Richard Watkins