Monday, August 11, 2014

Tuscan Summer Herbs

Despite all the rain of this unusually wet Tuscan summer, the heat has finally arrived.
While traditional Tuscan crops, from grain to grapes, have suffered damage from the unusual humidity, the herbs that add color and perfume to the Tuscan landscape, have thrived.
One of these is the ubiquitous Tuscan lavender plant (above).
While traditionally used in making scented sachets to add to drawers of clothing,
a cottage industry in the area produces essential oil from the local lavender.  Added to bath water, it is calming and soothing, reputedly acting as a sedative.
I can attest that it works.
Lavender flowers gathered is also used in a time-honored recipe
l'aceto dei setti ladri, which is still sold in Florence.
Composed of camphor, garlic, mint, cinnamon, cloves, absinthe placed in alcohol.
l'aceto dei setti ladri is a popular folk remedy thought to ward off as well as treat many maladies.
The name, "the vinegar of the seven thieves," comes from the fact that burglars in medieval Florence came up with the concoction, which saved them from the plague, or Black Death, allowing them to work undisturbed.

Today, lavender bushes in the Tuscan landscape as pictured above, attract not thieves but beautiful multi-colored butterflies and bees who feed on the flower nectar.

By the way, basil is not a traditional part of the Tuscan summerscape.  Generally grown in pots here to be snipped and added to tomato & mozzarella salad (with Tuscan olive oil of course),
 the herb is strongly identified with the neighboring region
of Liguria, the kingdom of pesto.
A another friend on the summer Tuscan herb landscape is rosemary (above).
It, too, is an ingredient in the l'aceto dei setti ladri.  Growing to bush size when found outdoor and not in a pot in my terrace, small branches of rosemary is utilized to flavor roasts of delicious Tuscan meat.

Rosemary also is prized for its anti-oxidant proprieties, great for skin care, and in combating memory loss and the possible onset of Alzeheimer's disease.
Well, Tuscans, even seniors, have naturally smooth skin and few wrinkles
(keep in mind that plastic surgery is uncommon here),
and in all my time here, have never heard of anyone suffering from
Alzeheimers.  Lifestyle? Diet?  Who knows.
Both are healthy, and incorporate herbs.

Below is a photo of Tuscan sage growing in the wild.
Again part of the recipe of the  l'aceto dei setti ladri,
(still sold in the Santa Maria Novella pharmacy as a remedy for feeling faint), the herb's best known use in the Tuscan kitchen is in a dish of hot ricotta and spinach ravioli,
sauced with the customary melted butter and sage leaves.
Sage is chopped up to add to meat stuffing, while a popular Tuscan antipasto is composed of  just-fried, tender sage leaves.

While tramping through Tuscan fields, I came across a snail shell.  Unlike the French,
the Tuscans do not eat snails, and shudder at the thought, although there are plenty of them around as close as the backyard.

The snail had done a good thing to take refuge in a cool, shaded underbrush, away from the blazing Tuscan heat and light so dear to fields of sunflowers.
I found the snail shell to be poetic.  It also reminded that, under il sole leone (the August sun of Leo), one does best to slow down and seek shade, and get away from the daily routine...
The spiral symbolizes to me life (someone said, "life and energy move in a spiral"), but above all eternity represented by continuity, day in and day out, year after year.

Speaking of continuity, summer is also tax time in Italy.  While on my way to to visit an accountant who prepares all my returns, while crossing the intersection at Piazza Beccaria in Florence to get to
Via Scaloia, I found
landscapers cutting the lavender in neighboring city flower beds.
On my way back, I joined passersby -- all women -- in gathering some of it.
"Why are you doing this?," I asked the gardeners, who smiled and informed me that the lavender plant needs a good pruning in order to flower next year.

I rescued some fragrant lavender to bring to the office.  The first picture is of a clump of flowers against the ubiquitous yellow plaster intonaco of the office courtyard located in Borgo degli Albizi.  The second is some more in a vase, again in the courtyard, taken on an ancient doorstep and old door which happens to be the entrance to premises of an avant-garde arts festival.

The vase is of gold-flecked Murano glass, which I happened to buy in the Galluzzo market many years ago for 30,000 lire (15 euro)!

What I love best about life here is the timelessness
which is priceless
(or costs very little).

reporting live from beautiful Tuscany
                                                              -- Rosanna

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