Carmen’s domain

Tuesday, 17 ottobre 2006

On Tuesday morning, after a customary breakfast of bread, jam, yogurt, granola, hard-boiled eggs, juice, and some kick-ass coffee, half the class went out to work in various areas on the farm, and our half toured the kitchen gardens with Carmen, the orto (kitchen garden) manager. As you might guess, the orto was my very favorite place at Spannocchia, full of flowers, vegetables, herbs, fruit, cats, and compost. I would love to spend a week just painting, drawing, and taking photos in the orto. Carmen was a fountain of information, and although her English was not perfect (close!), it was lovely listening to her speak it. I enjoyed hearing the Italian words for certain plants, such as dragoncello (tarragon). There were some vegetables that were local to the area, such as a large melon and a long squash that looked like a butternut, and a beautiful variety of kale.

One of the autumn vegetables growing in the orto that is seldom heard of over here is cardoon. The stems are eaten, and they wrap the stems in brown paper to blanch them at Spannocchia. Cardoon is closely related to the artichoke and is another member of the thistle family. It is a striking plant and well worth growing even if you never plan to eat it.

I loved the flowers, and the little building where she hung onions and peppers to dry, and even the compost piles were layered very attractively. There was a persimmon tree close to yielding its sweet goodness, and we munched on fennel bulbs as we meandered between the rows. A peep into the henhouse caused a chicken to hurry away from her eggs. The chickens have a large fenced enclosure in a fruit tree orchard, where they behave chickeny to their hearts’ content and retreat into the safety of their coop in the evening. The other students on work detail would create a large compost pile from the hog waste up the mountain in that chicken yard a little later, and fence them into a smaller space around it. (Sandy B called this the montagna di merda.) It definitely made the chickens happy, if not the creators of it!

The upper gardens behind the tower mainly produced cole crops amid silvery olive trees and artichokes. All gardens were fenced or walled to keep out the wild animals, which are in abundance at Spannocchia. We ate radicchio for our insalata (salad) course often throughout the week.

I wish that I had brought a tape recorder for this walk. Carmen’s voice was musical and she answered a lot of questions that I no longer remember.

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