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Source: Funghi Selling near Pistoia c. 1890   Leave a comment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following was written by an English resident of a small Appenine village after observing his contadini neighbours sell funghi to travelling salesmen. SY

The dampness of the rains coming in the warm season, has produced a most prolific crop of mushrooms. The people of the Nook and of Piteglio are making fortunes, according to the mountain idea of riches. I was told that at Piteglio the joint profits of this year have been several thousand francs. The mushroom season just comes in between the wheat harvest and the chestnut gathering, and if the season be good, it is nearly as profitable as the other crops. Whilst the men are threshing corn on the aias, or digging up the ground with the huge adze which does duty for a plough, the women, girls, and boys get up at sunrise, and wander about the chestnut woods in search of funghi.

If you wonder at the strangeness of their garments, know that it is considered lucky to wear one’s clothes inside out on a mushroom excursion. The contents of their baskets on their return would also astonish you considerably, for the Italian edible mushrooms are many, and brilliantly coloured; they, however, reject our English edible species as a toadstool, and we were threatened with dire disasters when we persisted in cooking some fine specimens. The favourite kind here is the Ceppattello, a large brown fungus, with a greenish white spongy substance beneath. The largest specimens are cut up (stalk and all) by housewives, and after being dried in the sun for some days, are put into paper bags and preserved dry for winter use; the little button-shaped ones, called sometimes ‘porcini’, are chosen as the best to preserve under oil, after having been put into boiling vinegar and then dried. They make a very good condiment to eat with the lesso (bouilli), or with cold meat.

Another very savoury mushroom is the ovolo, a large handsome fungus, orange red above, prim rose yellow beneath. It is called ovolo, or eggshaped, because it comes up in an oval form covered with a thick white film, through which the yellow part rises and expands, the white film being transformed into a frill round the stalk. Then there are certain carmine red flat-topped funghi, with yellow rays beneath, called by the mountaineers famiglioli, and the claviari, which look like branches of coralline; the grifole, a mass of fan- shaped fungus, of a dark or grey colour; this is so hard that it is not eatable unless it is first boiled and then baked. But the species which most suggests poison to our English minds, are large yellow masses of soft substance, called also grifole, or more correctly poliporo, some of which are yellow of the most brilliant colour, and others which the peasants call lingua di castagno (chestnut tongues), of a bright carmine. All the last four species grow on chestnut or oak trees, springing from the bark.

The mushroom merchants are doing a brisk business this year. They come round to all the villages and hamlets every morning, and buy up all they can get, piling them on a large cart in flat baskets one on the other, to sell to the wholesale dealers. When only one merchant arrives he makes his own price, and it is a hard bargain for the villagers, who only get about four or five centesimi (less than a halfpenny) per lb. This morning an impromptu market is established on the aia of Pietro, and a most amusing scene it is. About twenty women from neighbouring hamlets stand about, each guarding her baskets of funghi, and oh! good luck! two rival merchants. There is the usual keen-eyed man from San Marcello, and a care-for-nought style of youth who has come down from Prunetta to do a little business. This fellow has black eyes and a mass of ugly black hair, which requires much shaking and thrusting back under his hat. He wears a pink shirt and blue tie, and smokes a meerschaum pipe which does not at all interfere with the freedom of his speech, for he talks incessantly.

There is fierce bidding between them, the young purchaser recklessly promising more than his rival, till he had raised the offers from four centesimi a lb to six-and-a-half. Here the elder man prudently retired from the contest, saying that he could not get that back for them in Florence. Accordingly all the women flocked eagerly to the youth from Prunetta, who began weighing their baskets very willingly on his steel-yard, which these itinerant buyers carry about with them. He would willingly cheat them in the payment, but is kept to his bargain by his rival, who, having no purchases, stands by to see fair play.

A brisk trade continues till the elder man shoulders his scale and departs, when lo! what a Babel ensues. ‘Now hark ye, donne’ cries the buyer, ‘these are not real prices, you know. I only paid high to keep him out of it,’ pointing to the departing rival, ‘but the market price is five centesimi, and not one more cent will I pay.’

Great excitement ensues. All the women lift up their voices shrilly, and the appellations they bestow on him are not remarkable for politeness; they surround him in a crowd, shaking their fists in his face, till he retreats to the wall, where he takes off his hat, and, pushing back his curls, awaits the lulling of the storm.

‘It is not fair; you cannot bargain for one price and pay another; you paid Enrichetta six-and-a-half a lb and you shall pay me the same,’ exclaimed a stout angry woman. ‘I shall go to Piteglio with mine, and you shan’t have an ounce of them. I would rather give them to an honest man than sell them to you.’

And up goes a large basket on the frizzled head of a red-haired girl, but it comes down again on her friends reminding her that she will only get four-and-a-half centesimi there, and have all the trouble of carrying them a mile. ‘Then I’ll sell them to the other man, he offered five-and-a-half.’

She rushes off, followed by two or three others calling, ‘O Giorgio, come back! Come back!’

Giorgio, who had not really gone away, strolls back in an unconcerned manner, and coolly inquires, ‘What is up?’

‘That birbone won’t give more than five centesimi now, so we will let you have them at five-and-a-half.’

‘Ah!’ says he, ‘but I am not going to give more than five either.’ Sig. Giorgio was a student of human nature, and seeing that the women were too angry with his rival to deal at any price, he knew he might make his own tariff now.

‘Oh! That’s too bad, you offered five-and-a-half just now,’ cried our nice little Matilde. ‘Just so, but you would not deal; now he has changed his mind, and so have I,’ and the mushroom merchant laughs sardonically.

In despair the women consult together. ‘Shall we go to Piteglio? perhaps the man from Pistoia is there,’ asks one.

‘No, he isn’t; there is only Luigi il Pazzo buying there to-day.’

‘Besides,’ adds a third, ‘he only pays five centesimi, and we should have all the walk besides’.

‘My basket is heavy, I shall lighten it here,’ laughs the red-haired girl, showing all her white teeth. The others follow her example, and the remaining stock is weighed and haggled over to the very last ounce of yellow ovoli, but the merchant is very much at a loss for small change to pay his many clients. So little accustomed is he to any but the very dirtiest of paper money, that when I changed a five-franc note into bright new silver half-francs, he looked quite incredulous, and asked whether they were good!

We were told by one of the women that the people of Piteglio a village in which there is neither butcher nor baker have this year gained several thousand francs by their mushrooms, the joint gathering of thevillage being nearly 3,000 lbs a day.

It is a blessed provision of Providence that in these regions, where, by reason of the mountainous nature of the land, agriculture is both difficult and unproductive, that the chief means of sustenance are drawn from nature alone, and man only has to gather. The chestnuts supply him with food for the whole winter, the woods and hedges give into his hands mushrooms, bilberries, and raspberries enough to make up the fewfrancs which are necessary for his clothing.

Posted January 24, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: Old Market in Florence 1884   Leave a comment

The following was written 1884 in a vist by an Englishman mere months before Florence’s Old Market (that dated back to Roman times) was demolished.

But now to glance at the aspect of the place as a market. Could anything be more picturesque than the antique old gabled roofs, and the stalls beneath them with yellow awnings, which seem to absorb the sunlight, and yet shadow the piles of vegetables and baskets of fruit of every hue under the sun? Why, the very cabbages ring the changes on all the reds, yellows, and greens almost to blue-black! then the crimson and orange strings of capsicums festooned across the heaps of scarlet tomatoes, the rich purple of the pear-shaped petronciani, and the mingled hues of the pomegranate, make the greengrocer’s stall under the yellow shadow a feast of colour as well as a study of life.

Though we see all our old English friends of the vegetable kingdom, yet there are so many unknown herbs that we wonder what they are, and whether they are good for food. Here comes a poor tottering old woman, and putting down a bit of copper as big as a farthing asks for ‘two centesimi of radicchio’ the leaves of the garden chicory. She spends a like coin on a crust of bread at a baker’s, and there is her breakfast complete bread and salad for less than a penny.

There is a pert serving-maid, looking very pretty under her black lace veil; she spends several minutes bargaining for some lentils, and at length goes off with a parcel of those little brown seeds, of which she will make a puree to garnish the grand joint at her master’s dinner table. This esteemed dish is a zampone, a pig’s leg, bound and stuffed with meat, like a Bologna sausage, and smothered under a brown mash of lentils. But what is that keen-eyed man-cook buying? Certain pear-shaped shining vegetables of a rich purple colour. Such things were never eaten in old England. They are called petronciani, and are the fruit of the Solanum insanum or ‘mad apples’. They are first boiled till tender, then cut into slices, dipped in egg, and fried.

A sharp-faced old servant comes up, throws a quick glance round the stall, and muttering, ‘What, no gobbi, today? I shall have to go back to Menica after all’, and away she hurries. What are gobbi, do you suppose? They are a favourite vegetable in Italy, and are nothing but the stalks of the artichoke, tied up in bundles like celery. They may be eaten boiled, and served with melted butter, or cut into pieces, and fried in eggs and bread crumbs; and are excellent either way, the taste being something between celery and seakale.

Another favourite Italian vegetable consists of the knots of young leaves on the stalks of the fennel; but the flavour is too strong to suit an English taste. There are also some very small kinds of vegetable marrow, about as large as apples, which are very good.

Here comes another purchaser, who asks for ceci, and goes away with a pocket of round, yellow seeds, like over-grown peas, which were taken wet from a barrel of salt water, The plant which produces them is the Cicer Arietinum (English ram’s head, or chick pea). A very good soup maigre is made from them; but if your olfactory organs are delicate, it will be advisable not to assist at the cooking of them, for they emit a strong odour, like salt cod. The Italians live largely on leguminous plants; the numbers of different beans they use is quite remarkable; they vary in colour from the white haricot to dark red, and even dark brown species. If a working man can get a few beans, either hot or cold, with oil and vinegar, he is quite content to dine without meat ; and if a few of the greenish yellow funghi are added, he thinks it a meal fit for a king.

But what is this man calling as he conies slowly up the crowded market-street, shouting ‘Salati, salati’ (salted)? A little boy hearing the cry begins to sing ‘Son salati i miei lupini, Son salati dalla dama’. ‘My lupins are salted by my true love’ and he pulls a minute brown coin out of his pocket, and quickly exchanges it for the large flat, yellow lupin seeds, which the man has in a flat, wooden tub. There is scarcely a street corner in Florence at which you will not see the inevitable vendor of lupins, who is largely patronized by the working classes. The lupins are eaten after being kept in brine, but they are not cooked.

In the matter of salad, Italian tastes are as wide as in leguminous vegetables. They eat chicory and sorrel leaves, basil leaves, lettuce, endives, beetroot, dandelion, and cold cabbage. And a favourite salad is a grassylooking plant, which they call barba di cappuccini (or Capucino’s beard), known in England as ‘buck’s horn’, ‘goat’s beard’, or ‘star of the earth’. The Italians have classical authority for eating this, for Dioscorides said in his time that the plantago coronopus was eaten cooked; the only difference is, that the moderns do not trouble to cook it.

The fruit stall, which is often distinct from the vegetable seller’s, contains quite as many specimens which are strange to English eyes. Side by side with yellow apricots lies the cactus fruit, or prickly pear. Be sure that you don’t attempt to eat it, or even to touch it, without a knife, for the harmless little brown spots which dot its ruddy surface are each composed of a thousand invisible thorns which have a knack of entering the skin on the smallest provocation. The correct manner of eating a prickly pear is to cut off the two ends, then cut down the outer rind, and laying it open, take out the inner pulp.

Here are two baskets full of russet brown fruits; one familiar enough is the common medlar, but the other is shaped like a pear. It is the fruit of the pyrus sorbus (service tree). When fresh, they look like bright coloured pears; we were shown large bunches of them hung up in the shop, but they are only good to eat when mellowed by keeping till brown as a ripe medlar, and have a much richer flavour than that fruit.

A basket of red, velvety-looking berries, similar to strawberries, only rounder, next attracts us; they are arbutus berries, and when quite ripe are really very good to eat. The children are fond of another wild fruit, called giuggiole (jujube tree). They are glossy brown berries, with a soft, green pulp within. The oval red berries of the ‘cornel cherry’ are also greatly appreciated by children. The Romans also knew this cherry, but they grew it chiefly for the wood, from which their lances and arrows were made. But the most cooling and delicious fruit of all is the Japanese nespolo, a yellow medlar, with a delicious acid taste; they come in as soon as the warm weather begins, and are the favourite refresheners until the water-melon takes their place.

There are also different nuts eaten here. Besides walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts (which make a dozen different kinds of foods), we have the pinoli and the noce di Brasil. Pinoli are the little kernels of the cone of the stone pine. They are remarkably good in flavour, having a slight aromatic taste. They are obtained by placing the pine cone in an oven, when the heat causes the scales to open, and the nuts are easily shaken out and cracked with a hammer. The Brasil nut is a curious little pair of twin yellow berries in a brownish husk; the flavour is rich and aromatic.

A walk through the Italian market will certainly produce the thought that the English might vary and economize their food much more than they do. At those old cook-shops, in which the Florentines of three or four centuries ago were wont to dine, and where the ancient plates and dishes they used are preserved on shelves on the walls, one sees the most curious processes of cooking. Over the fire a large wheel revolves, on which are trussed rows of fowls, thrushes, and larks, the latter alternated with bits of bread, pork, and sage leaves. In the frying-pans are savoury messes of yellow polenta, made from the maizeflour, frying in oil, and of brown migliaccio, a cake of chestnut flour, and piles of nicely cooked fritto, the materials for which are endless, ranging the vegetable and animal kingdom.

As for economy, we might learn a great deal from a Florentine cook. For instance, when we truss a fowl, we make no use of the liver, except by displaying it under the wing. As for the cock’s comb, and other appendages to the head and neck of chanticleer, we consider them refuse. Not so the Italian; he calls them regalia, cuts them up and stews them with the liver in luscious gravy, and makes one of the most stylish entries for a dinner party, either by filling a vol-au-vent with them, or in a shape of stewed rice, called risotto con regalia. A fowl will, in the poulterer’s hands, serve several customers, for marketing is done on the infinitesimal system. The two bits off the breast are bought separately as a dish for an invalid or a fricassee for an entree. Then the carcass is sold for roasting or making soup, the legs and neck are purchased for a few centesimi by the poor, and the combs and livers go to the tables of the rich as regalia.

The fish market presents equally curious specimens of food. The sepia, or cuttle fish, is much liked, and you see its long arms, with their curious rows of circular disks, lying about in all directions. You will never find a mackerel; and if a salmon be visible, it has been imported for the benefit of some English Midas, at ten francs the Tuscan pound of twelve ounces. But there are large-headed, three-sided fish called naselli, which are as good as whiting, and a large kind of cod called palombo. Lobsters, as we know them, do not appear, but there are huge crawfish, larger than any lobster, and looking like magnified shrimps. It is a fashion to fry the very small shrimps in their shells, and eat them crisp and entire. Frogs’ legs also make a very delicate dish of fritto. Indeed, what will not an Italian make delicious in a fry? A dish of dainty morsels, fried in butter, of a pale brown, is placed before you, and its contents will prove a perfect riddle. Probably there will be melon flowers, bits of every vegetable imaginable, celery, morsels of calves’ brain and marrow, tiny lamb chops, sweetbreads, liver, artichoke, bits of fennel, &c., &c. Nothing comes amiss to the frying-pan when fritto misto is required. But our marketing is over; we have got back to the kitchen, so we will leave the cook to her mysteries.

Source: Olive oil and the Church   Leave a comment

The following forms a chapter in John Hurley, The Tree, the Olive, the Oil in the Old and New World (1919), available in pdf form on our site. SY

From the earliest ages to the present time the olive tree, its fruit with its uses, have been carefully considered ; now brief mention should be made of olive oil as used in ecclesiastical ceremonies, both in primitive and modern times. As is generally known, the liturgical blessing of oil is very ancient. It is met with in the fourth century in the Prayer Book of Serapion and in the Apostolic Constitution, also in a Syrais document of the fifth and sixth centuries entitled Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi. The aforesaid book of Bishop Serapion (A. D. 362) contains the formula for the blessing of the oil and chrism for those who had just received baptism, which was in those days followed by confirmation in such a manner that the administration of both sacraments constituted a single ceremony. In the same book is found a separate form of blessing for the oil, of the sick, for water, and for bread. It is an invocation to Christ to give His creatures power to cure the sick, to purify the soul, to drive away impure spirits, and to wipe out sin. In the Old Testament oil was used for the consecration of priests and kings, also in all great liturgical functions, e. g. sacrifices, legal purifications, and the consecration of altars.

In the primitive church the oils to be used in the initiation of catechumens were consecrated on Holy Thursday in the Missa Chrismalis. Two different ampullae were used, one containing pure oil, the other mixed with balsam. This mixture was made by the Pope himself before the mass in the sacristy. During the mass two clerics of lesser rank stood before the altar holding the ampulla. Toward the end of the canon the faithful offered for benediction small ampullae of oil: these contained oil of the sick which the faithful were allowed to make use of themselves, but the same oil also served for extreme unction. The vessels holding it were placed on the railing surrounding the space reserved for the clergy. The deacons brought these vessels to the altar to receive the blessing of the Pope. The Pope continued the mass while the deacons returned the ampullae to the place whence they had brought them, and a certain number of bishops and priests repeated over those which had not been brought to the altar the formula pronounced by the Pope. The consecration of the large ampulla took place immediately after the communion of the Pope, before the communion of the clergy and the faithful. The deacons covered the chalice and paten while the subdeacons carried the ampullae to the archdeacon and one of his assistants. The archdeacon presented to the Pope the ampullae of perfumed oil, the Pope breathed on it three times, made the sign of the cross, and recited a prayer which bears a certain resemblance to the preface of the mass. The ampullae of pure oil was next presented to the Pope and was consecrated with less solemnity. The consecration and benediction of the Holy oil now take place on Holy Thursday at a very solemn ceremony reserved for the bishop. He blesses the oil which is to serve at the anointing of catechumens previous to baptism, next the oil with which the sick are anointed in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, finally the chrism, which is a mixture of oil and balsam, and which is used in the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The use of oil in Christian antiquity was not, as has been maintained, a medical prescription adopted by the church. In apostolic times St. James directed the priests or ancients of the community to pray for the sick man and to anoint him with oil in the name of Jesus. And shortly afterwards, probably in the second century, a gold leaf found at Beyrout in Svria, contains an exordium ‘pronounced in the dwelling of him whom I anointed.’ This is, after the text of St. James; the earliest evidence of the use of oil accompanied by formula in the administration of a sacrament. The oil of the sick might lie blessed not only by priests but also by laymen of high repute for virtue, and even by women. In the sixth century St. Monegundus on his death-bed blessed oil and salt, which were afterwards used for the sick. A similar instance is met with in the life of St. Redegund. In the West, however, the tendency was early manifested to confine the blessing of the oil of the sick to bishops only. About 730 St. Boniface ordered all priests to have recourse to the bishop. In 744 the tendency was not so pronounced in France, but the Council of Chalons, 813, imposed on priests the obligation of anointing the sick with oil blessed by the bishop. In the East the priests retained the right to consecrate the oil. The custom even became established, and has lasted to the present time, of having the oil blessed in the house of the sick person, or in the church by a priest, or, if possible, by seven priests.

During the time of the catechumenate those who were about to become Christians received one or more anointings with holy oil. The oil used on this occasion was that which had received the blessing mentioned in the Apostolic Constitution. This anointing of the catechumens is explained by the fact that they were regarded to a certain extent as being possessed by the devil until Christ should enter into them through baptism. The oil of catechumens is also used in the ordination of priests and the coronation of kings and queens.

The oil of chrism is used in the West immediately after baptism. Both in the East and West it was used very early for the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The Ordo Romanus shows that in Rome on Holy Thursday the archdeacon went very early to St. John Lateran, where he mixed wax and oil in a large vase, this mixture being used to make the Agnus Dei. The same document shows that in the suburban churches wax was used while Pseudo-Alcium [pseudo Alcuin?] says that both wax and oil were used.

In the Liturgy of the Nestorians and the Syrian Jacobites, the elements present at the Eucharistic Consecration have been prepared with oil. Among the Nestorians a special rubric prescribes the use of flour, salt, olive oil and water.

From the second century the custom was established of administering baptism with water specially blessed for this purpose. Nevertheless, the sacrament was valid if ordinary water was used. We are not well informed as to the nature of the consecration of this baptismal water, but it must be said that the most ancient indications and descriptions say nothing of the use of oil in this consecration. The first witness, Pseudo-Dionysius, does not go beyond the first half of the sixth century; he tells us that the bishop pours oil on the water of the fonts in the form of a cross. There is no doubt that this rite was introduced at a comparatively late period.

The maintenance of more or less numerous lamps in the churches was a source of expense which the faithful in their generosity hastened to meet by establishing a fund to purchase oil. The Council of Braga (572) decided that a third of the offerings made to the church should be used for purchasing oil for the light. The quality of oil thus consumed was greater when a lamp burned before a famous tomb or shrine, in which case it was daily distributed to pilgrims, who venerated it as a relic.

Chrism is a mixture of olives and balsam, blessed by a bishop in a special manner, and used in the administration of certain sacraments and in the performance of certain ecclesiastical functions. That chrism may serve as valid matter for the Sacrament of Confirmation it must consist of pure oil of olives and it must be blessed by a Bishop, or at least by a priest delegated by the Holy See. These two conditions are certainly necessary for validity; moreover, it is probable that there should be an admixture of balsam and that the blessing of the chrism should be special, in the sense that it ought to be different from that which is given to the oil of the sick or the oil of catechumens. If either of the last two conditions is wanting the sacrament will be doubtfully valid. To deal with the subject in a sufficiently exhaustive manner, it will be enough to touch on (1) the origin and antiquity of chrism, (2) its constituent nature, (3) its blessing, and (4) its use and symbolic significance.

(1) In its primitive meaning the word chrism, like the Greek chriona, was used to designate any and every substance that served the purpose of smearing or anointing, such as the various kinds of oils, unguents and pigments. This was its ordinary signification in profane literature, and even in the early patristic writings. Gradually, however, in the writings of the fathers at all events, the term came to be restricted to that special kind of oil that was used in religious ceremonies and functions, especially in the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation. Thus origin refers to the visible chrism in which we have all been baptized. St. Ambrose venerates in the chrism the oil of grace which makes kings and priests; and St. Cyril of Jerusalem celebrates the praises of the mystic chrism. The early councils of the church have also references to chrism as something set apart for sacred purposes and making for the sanctification of men. Thus the Council of Constantinople held in 381 and the Council of Toledo, 398. Regarding the institution of chrism, or its introduction into the sacramental and ceremonial system of the church, some theologians, among them St. Thomas and Susrex, hold that it was instituted immediately by Christ, while others contend that it is altogether of ecclesiastical origin. Eugene IV in his famous ‘Instruction for the Armenians’ asserts that chrism is the matter of the Sacrament of Confirmation, and, indeed, this opinion is so certain that it may not be denied without incurring some note of theological censure. All that the Council of Trent has defined in this connection is that they who attribute a certain spiritual and salutary efficacy to holy chrism do not in any way derogate from the respect and reverence due to the Holy Ghost.

(2) Two elements enter into the constitution of legitimate chrism, viz., olive oil and balsam. The former is indeed the predominating, as well as the principal ingredient, but the latter must be added in greater or lesser quantity, if not for reasons of validity, at all events in obedience to a grave ecclesiastical precept. Frequent reference is made in the Old Testament to the use of oil in religious ceremonies. It was employed in the coronation of kings, in the consecration of the high priests, and in the ordination of the Levites, and, indeed, it figured very prominently in the Mosaic ordinances generally, as can he abundantly gathered from Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Such being the prevailing usage of the Old Testament in adopting olive oil for religious ceremonies, it is no cause for wonder that it also came to receive under the New Dispensation a certain religious recognition and approval. The second element that enters into the constitution of genuine chrism is balsam. This is an aromatic, resinous substance that is extracted from the wood of certain trees or plants, especially those belonging to the terebinthine group or family. In the manufacture of this sweet-smelling unguent the early Greek-Christians were wont to employ as many as forty different perfumed species or essences. In the beginning of the Christian era balsam was obtained from Judea and from Arabia, but in modern times it is also produced, and in superior quality, in the West Indies. The first mention of balsam as an ingredient in the composition of chrism seems to be found in the Gregorian Sacramentary, a work belonging to the sixth century. Now, however, according to existing legislation, the additional balsam is requisite for lawful chrism, but whether it is necessary for the validity of the sacrament, assuming that chrism is the matter of confirmation, is a matter about which theologians do not agree. The modern view appears to be that it is not so required. But owing to the uncertainty mere olive oil alone would be doubtful matter and could not therefore be employed apart from very grave necessity.

(3) For proper and legitimate chrism the blessing by a bishop is necessary, and probably, too, such a blessing as is peculiar to it alone. That the bishop is the ordinary minister of this blessing is certain. So much is amply recognized in all the writings of the early centuries, by the early councils ; the Second Council of Carthage of 390, and the Third Council of Braga, 572 and by all modern theologians. But whether a priest may be the extraordinary minister of this blessing, and if so, in what circumstances – this is a question that is more or less freely discussed. It seems agreed that the Pope may delegate a priest for this purpose, but it is not so clear that bishops can bestow the same delegated authority ex jure ordinario. They exercised, it seems, this prerogative in former times in the East, but the power of delegating priests to bless chrism is now strictly reserved to the Holy See in the Western church The rites employed in consecrating the sacred chrism go to show that it is a ceremony of the highest importance. Formerly it could be blessed on any day of the year, according as necessity arose. Now, however, it must be blessed during the solemn mass on Holy Thursday. For the full solemn ceremonial the consecrating prelate should be assisted by twelve priests, seven deacons, and seven subdeacons. The oil and balsam, being prepared in the sacristy beforehand, are carried in solemn procession to the sanctuary after the communion, and placed on a table. Then the balsam, held on a silver salver, is blessed, and similarly the olive oil, which is reserved in a silver jar. After this the balsam is mixed with the oil. Then the chrism, being perfected with a final prayer, receives the homage of all the sacred ministers present, each making a triple genuflection toward it. and each time saying the words, ‘ave sanctum chrisma’. After the ceremony it is taken back to the sacristy and distributed among the priests, who take it away in silver vessels commonly called oil-stocks, that which remains being securely and reverently guarded under lock and key.

(4) Chrism is used in the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders, in the consecration of churches, chalices, patens, altars, and altar stones, and in the solemn blessing of bells and baptismal water. The head of the newly baptized is anointed with chrism, the forehead of the person confirmed, the head and hands of a bishop at his consecration, and the hands of a priest at his ordination. So are the walls of churches, which are solemnly consecrated, anointed with the same holy oil, and the parts of the sacred vessels used in the mass which come in contact with the Sacred Species, as the paten and chalice. If it be asked why chrism has been introduced into the functions of the church liturgy, a reason is found in its special fitness for this purpose by reason, of its symbolic significance. For olive oil being of its own nature rich, diffusive, and abiding, is fitted to represent the copious outpouring of sacramental grace, while balsam, which gives forth most agreeable and fragrant odors, typifies the innate sweetness of Christian virtue. Oil also gives strength and suppleness to the limbs, while balsam preserves from corruption. Thus, anointing with chrism aptly signifies that fullness of grace and spiritual strength by which we are enabled to resist the contagion of sin and produce the sweet flowers of virtue. ‘For we are the good odor of Christ unto God’.

In conclusion it readily can be seen that the olive tree and its fruit have played a wonderful and conspicuous part in the history of the human race. From the ancient crowning of rulers and athletes with garlands made from its leaves, the placing of the boughs about the beloved dead, the race of primitive man that by its nourishing fruit and oil was kept from starvation and death, to the opening up of avenues of trade where otherwise there would have been no commerce, until the present days, the olive is famous and always will continue to be. Few substances have had the same fame, the same varied history, the same uplifting value that olive oil has had. It contributes not only to the nourishment of health, but also to the suppleness and beauty of the body; it has served as an anointing oil with which priests were elevated to the privilege of performing the sacred rights of the temple, using at their discretion both then and now the blessed oil in the solemn rites of the church. Kings and rulers were anointed with it, that the blessing of God might rest upon them, giving them grace to rule wisely the people under them. Great indeed would be the calamity to us, these people of modern times, if the olive orchards should become barren, the trees cease to yield their fruit, and the cruse of oil become empty

Source: Italian Wine c. 1900   Leave a comment

A description of the wine industry in Italy c. 1900. The author has the temerity to lump Italian wine together with Hungarian! SY

Despite the fact that to the efforts and enterprise of Italy the majority of the civilized portion of the world is indebted for its primal knowledge of the grape and its use, Italy itself is at the present day very backward in viticulture and vinification. There always have been, and there are today, large quantities of wine made in backward. Italy, but when the wines are tested, in comparison with wines from France, Austria, Germany, and other countries, the best that can be said of them is that they are indifferent. Oenology has not as yet received very much attention in Italy, and as long as the present state of affairs exists, the outlook for improvement is very poor indeed. The climate and soil are almost perfection, and if the vineyards could be influenced by a little touch of progress, the story of the vine in Italy would be written in far different language. But, like Spain, Italy has little if any ambition, and the spirit of emulation is an unknown quantity.

Perhaps the ease with which the vine grows has much to do with this indifference on the part of those who are expected to cultivate it and from it derive a goodly portion of their living, for, as said above, the climate and soil are as near perfection as it is possible to conceive. A cutting placed in the ground at almost any season of the year takes root, and though neglected almost entirely will in a very short space of time bear fruit that under a proper mode of vinification would make perfect wine.

The southern portion of the peninsula produces several very fine wines, but by no means as many or as much as if proper care and attention were bestowed upon their cultivation. As in Dalmatia, the vineyards are often planted with other crops, much to the detriment of the grapes. The vine is often grown on the edge of fields where large trees are growing, upon which it climbs and twines in unrestricted luxuriance of leaf and wood, but, comparatively speaking, very little fruit. In many places pruning is only done when the vines become so large that they prove to be a nuisance, and then only that part is curtailed which has protruded itself upon an object thought to be of more value.

The possibilities and advantages of Italy have long been known and recognized, and of late years many vineyards have been planted and owned by people from other lands, especially from England ; and the wines they make are rapidly growing in favor, both in Italy and abroad. The Italians have one habit that our American. farmers would do well to follow, and which rightly they should do. Instead of selling the best wine that he produces, the Italian keeps it for his own family, and disposes of that for which he does not care. The difference between the wines that are for sale and those that are given to guests, be they friends or even travellers sojourning in the neighborhood, is very great indeed and is often a subject of comment by those who are fortunate enough to receive the hospitality of some person who makes his own wine.

The nobility of Italy has never been loth to sell wine in order to raise even a little money. Many of the old palaces are fitted with a small window or wicket, only large enough for a flask or bottle to pass through, and no matter how insignificant may be the amount wanted, it is readily given in return for ‘spot cash’, so anxious are they to derive from their estate something that will enable them to live in a manner more or less befitting their station.

Many of the wines made in Italy are so light in character that they will not bear transportation, and it is necessary for one to be in the land to form any idea as to their quality and standard. But this absence need not be greatly deplored, for the majority of the wines are so indifferent that they are not worth the testing, unless you are really desirous of knowing how poor a wine can be.

In many instances what were supposed to be the vineyards of the ancient Romans are in use today, a mute testimonial of the fertility of the soil, and a living acknowledgment of the life-giving qualities of the climate; for from the air as much as from the soil the grape derives its being. Both air and soil must be conducive to life, or the vine will wither and die, or if not dying, its fruit will be useless, if perchance it should fruit at all. A vine once planted and started in Italy, especially in the southern part, lives far beyond the allotted life of man, and ofttimes beyond his memory.

A wine that by some is thought to be the Falernian wine of the ancients is the Lacrima Christi; can be taken cum grano salis, for what little we do know of Falernian is just the opposite of Lacrima. In the first place, Falernian was a harsh, astringent wine, and requiring long cellarage to perfect it, while Lacrima is a rich, sweet, luscious wine, ripening very quickly ; no country can produce a finer or more delicate wine than this, when it is made properly and cared for attentively. Very little of the genuine is made, even in the most favorable years, and as a rule that is all taken by the powers that be for their own use. For many years a notion prevailed that it was dangerous for any one to drink of this wine, unless acclimated to the country. The proximity of the volcano Vesuvius to the vineyards in which it is made gave rise to this opinion; it was thought that the mountain’s influence on the grapes was of such a nature that, unless a person had lived in the locality for some time and had become used to it, or in other words had been inoculated, the wine would be dangerous to drink. This idea has been long exploded, and the only real danger now to be apprehended lurks in the fact that one seldom gets the genuine to drink, even when it is sold as such by respectable people and at a price that seems almost a sufficient guaranty; for many gallons of Lacrima are sold that are no more Lacrima than Madeira is sherry. Either from design or accident is very limited in Italy.

A wine that is made in the south will bear the same name as one made in the north, or vice versa, and nomenclature, what is more remarkable, the two wines will not resemble each other any more than claret resembles port wine. For many centuries vineyards thrived and grew in the lava that flowed down the sides of Vesuvius, hiding from view the city of Pompeii; it was only in the middle of the eighteenth century that it became known that beneath the roots of these vines lay the ruins of a city, where the Falernian once flowed to the song of the bard and the music of the lyre.

The season of the vintage is still observed in Italy with much pomp and ceremony, and great rejoicing. Bacchus is still revered, and The joyous vintage many offerings are made to him. The season. vintage generally occurs in the later part of September, and the festival savors of the old Dionysia, purged to a great degree of its ancient licentiousness, but retaining many of its important and salient features. Masks are worn in the procession, and song and dancing still retain their hold upon the people. In many places, and especially near Naples, the oscilla or masks of Bacchus are still hung in the vineyards upon the growing vines, so that the season may prove propitious and prosperity be the lot of the vineyardist.

Great quantities of wine are drunk on these occasions, but drunkenness or intoxication is seldom met with, for as a rule the people of Italy are sober, though miserably poor. The methods of the vintage, if such they may be called, are reprehensible to a degree that could only be tolerated in a land where the thoughts of the morrow never enter the mind, and the idea of providing for old age is a fancy vague and dim. Carelessness, wastefulness, and dirtiness are carelessness, the three primal factors of an Italian vintage; careless in the way the grapes are dirtiness, gathered and taken to the press; wasteful as regards the picking, many of the best clusters being allowed to remain on the vine to rot, while cluster after cluster is spilled upon the ground to be trampled upon by man and beast; dirty as to the condition of the presses, which are never cleaned, and also as to the vessels which are to hold the must after it is expressed from the grapes. In fact, this filthiness is carried so far that the wine is often spoiled before it has ceased fermenting. And this exists in a country that can raise such wine as to induce a man to tarry and drink of it until death ensues inconsequence.

Posted January 18, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: Funghi hunting c. 1900   Leave a comment

The following comes from the account of a British author, c. 1900. Mafalda and Francesca, it should be noted, are Italian children with imperfect English.

It must be said that many funghi are poisonous and that no modern funghi hunter would collect ditole (pictured) in the reckless fashion that the three intrepid funghi hunters adopt here!

SY

Mushrooms, like manna, should be gathered afresh every morning, and on that October day the weather was ideal for the search. A week of soaking rain had been followed by hot sunshine, and the warm, damp earth was a perfect forcing-bed in which every fungus was hastening upwards at the top of its speed. Certainly such a morning must be devoted to a mushroom hunt: there was no need for Salvatore to tell us so; we knew it from our own experience as veteran hunters, without any advice from him; and, with nailed boots, baskets and clasp-knives, were off in the fresh of the morning, with a joyous sense of adventure, to seek these coy creatures of the wood.

The dogs, who understand perfectly the pleasures which await them when country-boots and baskets are the order of the day, barked and bounded in an ecstasy of delight as we took the narrow track among the olives; then, having expressed their approval of the expedition, fell into a long, straggling procession down the road. Adolfo, the gardener, paused in his work of pruning roses to prophesy that we should return empty-handed; but Adolfo is a pessimist, so his prediction troubled us not a whit as we toiled up the steep slopes of the green and golden woods.

The sun shone upon the emerald turf and undergrowth; the dying oak thickets glowed like bronze; blue mists lingered among the distant tree-trunks; the ground in sheltered places was rosy with cyclamens; the pine-needles filled the air with their spicy fragrance. Far down on the plain lay Florence, with its belfries and cupolas, and the great dome which Brunelleschi set, dwarfed by distance to the size of an egg-shell, rising in the midst. Beyond rose the mountains, and it was pleasant to be assured by the aspect of Monte Morello that we were in no danger of rain. This mountain, now bare, but once covered with thick forests through which rang the bells of little lonely churches, is exceedingly weather-wise, serving the Florentines as barometer; and the habit of a good Florentine, asked to prophesy the weather, is to glance up at the mountain, and reply with the old rhyme ‘Quando Monte Morello, mette il cappello, Pigli l’ombrello.’ [When Monte Morello has a hat, get an umbrella]

It was a perfect morning. Birds sang softly among the white flowers of the myrtle thickets. Now and again a rabbit slid through the fern, rousing sudden excitement in the dogs. The scarlet and orange balls on the arbutus trees glowed in the sun like fairy fruit among their burnished leaves, and on the prickly juniper bushes the berries clustered, misty blue. A juniper is a pretty shrub, and its fruit useful for the making of gin; but I think Elijah must indeed have been hard put to it when, going a day’s journey into the wilderness, he sat down under the shadow of one to rest and pray that his life might be taken from him, though perhaps the juniper trees of Palestine are larger, more capable of shade-giving than the stunted bushes of Italian woods.

The first mushroom was found by Francesca, and was a noble specimen of the ovolo tribe, orange-red above, primrose colour beneath; a class of fungus which takes its name from the manner of its growth, coming up through the soil in a cream-skinned egg, and after splitting this outer covering, opening in the sun like an orange parasol. But our search at first was, on the whole, unsuccessful, for the peasant boys had already been out since daybreak; and as little had escaped their sharp eyes the baskets remained distressingly light.

Among the contadini, the mushrooms which they send their children to gather prove a profitable crop, as they sell them at the Villa or in the town, either for immediate eating, or to be preserved under oil as a pickle for winter use. Especially are they valued in the mountains, where the people have little to live upon save their chestnuts, and the strawberries, raspberries, and mushrooms with which the varying seasons fill the woods.

Still we rambled on, confident that sooner or later some splendid discovery would reward our search. I wonder in what lies the fascination of a mushroom hunt! Certainly it is not the desire to eat mushrooms, for those can be set before me in every variety without my moving hand or foot; yet there is undoubtedly some charm which leads me day after day to clamber about the wooded slopes with eyes bent upon the turf and dead leaves and broom bushes; and even when I return emptyhanded I am always ready to set out again with fresh enthusiasm next day. It must be a spark of that adventurous spirit which once drove men forth in search of El Dorado; that passion which led the old explorers, sailing over unknown and mighty waters, or toiling through Alpine snows or desert sands, to go forward ever one league farther, feeling that realisation of hope and fulfilment of effort might lie at the end of that next mile. The feeling that any moment may reveal the longed-for treasure, the earnestly sought knowledge, has encouraged and led to all the world’s discoveries; and the desire to see round the next corner of life’s road, the expectation of something pleasant lurking there, is as strong in small things as in great. The excitement of the search, the eternal spring of hope, which made great enterprises possible, prompts me to walk on, my eyes fixed upon the ground, because I feel that the next foot of earth may prove a South Sea of discovery, that any moment may, after a whole barren hour, reveal a majestic ovolo, a sturdy porcine or, most glorious discovery of all, a crisp family of golden ditole.

The Italians eat far more varieties of fungi than the English, and many which we despise as toadstools would on an Italian table hold an honoured place; but for an ardent searcher there is, in all the mushroom world, no greater joy than the discovery of ditole. Its crisp form resembles a clump of golden coral as it pushes up under the moss, where some yellow gleam, some protruding sprig betrays its presence; and when the excited seeker turns back the green coverlet, a group may be discovered, so large as to half fill the basket, when carefully dug up with a knife. Ditole has another charm, in that it flourishes not only in families but in colonies, other clumps being almost invariably found in the neighbourhood of the first; porcine also have this domestic habit, growing in pairs, or, as Mafalda expresses it, a gentleman and lady side by side.

As we climbed farther up the hill our patience was rewarded with more success; but, alas! while Francesca and I had both fairly well-filled baskets, Mafalda, for all her diligence in searching, had not found a single one. In vain had I offered her my best ones; her lofty spirit scorned such compromise. ‘I have not found them, I!’ was the form of her refusal; and I recognised the true spirit of the adventurer, and realised that it was not mere mushrooms which Mafalda wanted, but the proud moments when effort should be rewarded and hope be emptied in delight. ‘Never mind, dear,’ put in Francesca, offering a crude consolation. ‘Poverina, you are sure to find some soon!’ Pity in such a moment was, however, the one unbearable injury. Mafalda tossed her head. ‘It makes me nothing!’ she replied tartly: ‘these noiosi funghi, I want them not, I’ and she turned her back upon us in a lofty manner, toiling up the slope on fat bare legs whose lagging action betrayed the anguish of her soul.

Francesca and I exchanged glances: something must clearly be done. I saw a dreadful tear roll down the round, flushed cheek; evidently wounded pride and disappointment held sway together in Mafalda’s heart. Providence was kind in that moment; I saw a gleam of yellow in the shadow of a stack of brushwood. Checking the involuntary burst of jubilee, I passed by unheeding, and from a little distance up the hill directed Mafalda’s weary search.’ If I were you, I would look under that big pine-tree, Mafalda; that seems to me a very likely place. No? Well, under the arbutus! Nothing there? I am surprised! Perhaps in that patch of moss beside the path! What? Really! How wonderful! What a clever child!’ as a shout of triumph rent the air, and Mafalda fell on her knees before her treasure, a great clump of ditole, crisp and golden in its bed of moss. The joy of the discovery rendered her momentarily speechless, and seizing my hand, she pointed in dramatic silence to the fungus, which I promptly transferred, with many congratulations, to the basket, since if she did it herself, the knife might, as she wisely admitted, ‘sore’ her hand. ‘Never have I seen a thing so beautiful!’ she exclaimed rapturously, gazing at her well-filled basket, for the first clump had been the prelude to several discoveries in the near neighbourhood. ‘And I have found it, I myself; am very brave to find them, the funghi, non e vero?’

After this happy event we pursued our way in good spirits, although it was distressing to find many places where only the white roots remained of ditole clumps which had been nibbled off to the level of the ground. ‘It is those sheeps of Paradiso’, snapped Francesca vindictively, when she saw the traces. ‘I wish that they may die, every one!’ This would have been a somewhat extreme punishment, and I hinted as much to her; but Francesca is as stern on the subject of mushrooms as any English landowner over the preservation of game.

We came upon some of these guilty animals a few minutes later, and upon the shepherd himself, a weatherbeaten man, staff in hand, who, with his dog at his feet and his back set against a tree-trunk, was gazing vacantly out across the Val d’Arno, and the undulating ripple of far blue hills. As I looked at him I feared that the shepherd’s vocation was wasted upon Paradiso; I doubted if he had any full perception of its joys. Yet it must be a good life, to dwell with all this beauty, and to have the long sunny hours in which to wander in the silence of the hillside, marking the time by the steps of the sun in heaven; and, from the going forth in the morning until the flocks are folded at night, hearing the music of birds and waters, watching the march of the seasons across the land, and feeding one’s soul upon the beauty of the world. I believe that I should be quite happy under such circumstances, in love as I am with the open air and sky, the grass and trees, and all the creatures of fur and feather which dwell in fields and woods. Of course I should have a dog; that is the right of every shepherd; and it would certainly be Plato, that big, grotesque, long-haired animal whom I love best of all the dogs on the place. When I need consolation, it is of Plato that I seek it, and find real comfort in feeling his large warm paw laid in my hand, and in meeting the grave kind gaze from beneath his shaggy fringe. I can never realise that Plato is a mere child, being little more than one year old; his long hair, his great, thoughtful, pathetic eyes with their earnest gaze suggest, like his name, some elderly sage or philosopher, and I have a sense of reliance upon him as upon some old and trusty friend. In spite of his strange appearance Plato must, I am sure, come of a noble family, for at times he assumes most stately attitudes, which contrast oddly with his rather clumsy build. When we are down in the ravine, crab-catching, he extends himself upon the rock above, the living presentment of the Lion of Lucerne; and whenever, out walking, he has a spare instant, he lies down, and gravely observes the landscape with thoughts which ‘do lie too deep for words’. I should like to discuss this pastoral question with Paradiso; to hear his opinion on the subject, and know whether, in his primitive soul, untouched by the breath of modern life, still lingers that profound, if dumb, love of nature, that poetry and ancient folklore in which his country is so rich; and if he is content to dwell alone with nature and be the friend of the creatures, or, not knowing how blessed he is, cherishes visions, never to be realised, of life as a music-hall artist or master of a city trattoria.

Francesca, however, refused to linger while I satisfied myself on these points; she clearly held the shepherd responsible for the doings of his sheep, and in any case it was hopeless to look for mushrooms anywhere in the neighbourhood of the flock. The baskets were well filled at last, and the boom of the midday cannon, which reached us faintly from Florence, the bells ringing from the little hillside churches, warned us that it was time to be turning our steps towards the house. As we made our way through the heather, where the bees were humming as busily as if it were midsummer, we met an old man bent upon the same errand as ourselves, but with sadly different results. He was very old, very ragged; his clothes were patched with a score of colours, his long grey hair hung down below a battered felt hat; in his eyes was the dim, pathetic expression only seen in the eyes of the very old. He told us, in quavering tones, that he would be eighty-four next Ogni Santi; that he was past work, but that he came out to look for mushrooms, because his povera vecchia, his poor old wife, was ill, had no teeth, and needed soft food now. But he could see little, and the stooping made his back ache, and there seemed to be less mushrooms in these days than there were when he was a boy. Poor old fellow! He was a pitiful sight among the heather and the sunlight and the glad sounds and sights of the woods. He was feeble and worn-out, a burden on the sons at home, where there were many little mouths to fill. It was a pathetic age after a life of toil, and the sight of him made a shade in the sunshine as when some wayside Calvary throws its shadow across the sunny way. It was one of those sorrows for which there is no comfort, which make one’s heart ache with a universal pity for all the lonely, old, and sad.

The great basket, large, perhaps, as the hope with which he had set out to look for food for his vecchia and the little ones, was almost empty; it stood under a tree with the bit of dry, dark bread for his dinner, while he wandered slowly about, a dreary, shrunken figure, his frequent ejaculations of ‘Oi! Oi!’ witnessing to the aching of the rheumatic limbs. I looked from the three full baskets to the empty one, then at the two children, and they understood at once. I was the first to empty out my mushrooms; Francesca, always quick to give, followed my example promptly; only Mafalda hesitated. She was very little, and the treasure to her was very great; she looked wistfully at her basket, then at me. I shook my head as I met the appeal in the blue eyes. ‘He will have enough now,’ I told her. But Mafalda, after the momentary reluctance, rose to the occasion nobly. ‘I give, also I!’ she responded with dignity; and, her basket emptied, we slipped away without a word.

‘Will he think Madonna sent them?’ asked Mafalda, as, hand in hand, we went down the heather-covered slope. Perhaps. Who knows? To his simple mind this may well seem food sent direct from Heaven. ‘Adolfo said we should come back with empty baskets’, remarked Francesca, swinging her stick as she walked; and I realised that, though she did not regret the mushrooms, it stung a little that Adolfo should be right. Yet what if he were? There are better things even in a mushroom hunt than full baskets, and if ours were empty, another’s and he more needy by far was full. It is not given to us every day to be agents in a miracle; and to the old man, I am sure, this sudden multiplication of his mushrooms could seem nothing less. So we reached the house in jubilant spirits, if emptyhanded, for what do mushrooms matter to those who have been fellow-workers of a miracle, and who have been privileged to set the little coloured shrine of some kindly deed by the dusty wayside of another’s road of life?

Posted January 15, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: what foreigners ate in Italy c. 1900   Leave a comment

Augustus Hare wrote the following paragraph on Italian food in the first chapter of his guide to Florence (‘the thinking man’s Baedeker’). At a date when many travellers were still eating Anglo-Saxon food or, at best, Franco-Italian concoctions it is interesting to see what Hare chose for his British readers.

A Good Luncheon at an Italian Ristorante – Spaghetti con Fegatini; Costale alia Milanese, con fagioli, or funghi all’ olio; Formaggio (cheese), or Dolce (sweet); Fragoli (wild strawberries); Vino Barolo, or Chianti, or Bianco Asciutto (dry white wine). Or, Fegato alia Veneziana, Crocchette con piselli, Insalata ; wine, Vernalese. Or Testina alia Parmegiana, con spinacche; Coscia di Vitello, con maccheroni, Capretto al Forno, Petto di Polio; wine, Volognano.

Posted January 12, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: Wine harvest c. 1900   Leave a comment

The wine harvest described here took place in ‘a picturesque old mansion’ (once belonging to the Arte della Lana) ‘slightly raised above the plain, and about two miles from the Arno’, ‘opposite Monte Morello’ c. 1900. It would be interesting to identify the building in question. The illustration comes from the same source. SY

In this pleasant and picturesque old mansion were assembled a joyous company, mixed Italian and English, for the vintage of 1874. To the advent of the forestieri was ascribed by the courteous contadini the splendid yield of grapes, better than they had seen for twenty-six years. [Note here in the text: That is to say, since the outbreak of the iodium. To give some idea of the virulence of the disease, the farms on this estate, though two less in number, used to produce at least two thousand barile of wine ; and in this, an exceptional year, the yield was only one thousand one hundred. One year, when the disease was at its height, they had five barile of stuff resembling mud! A barile holds fifty litres.]

On a fine September morning we started, Italian and English, men and women, masters and mistresses, and servants laden with innumerable baskets, big and little, each armed with a rough pair of scissors, and our padrona leading the way, with her guitar, pouring out as she went an endless flow of stornelli, rispetti, and canzoni, in which Tuscany is as rich as in any of the country products, maize or figs, pumpkins or tomatoes, oil or wine, or grain, the Italians amongst us improvising words to the well-known airs.

The vintage is always a happy time; everyone works with a will, and is contented and light-hearted. As Modesto, one of our men, said, ‘Buon vino fa buon sangue’ (Good wine makes good blood).

The old fattore (bailiff), who had retired from all active work on the estate, except the management of his especial pets, the vineyards alla francese (vines cut low in the French fashion, and not allowed to straggle from tree to tree as is the Tuscan usage), was very great on this occasion. He pointed out trees he had planted, and works he had done, fifty years ago, before the padrone was born. The dear old man was now seventy-eight, and as brisk and alert as any of us; with an eye still bright, and his keen, humorous face as full of vivacity as the youngest. He was full of old proverbs and wise sayings, like all peasants of the Casentino, his native region, about twenty miles south-west of Florence; and looked sharply after all our workmen to see that each duly did the picking of his row of vines. He was struck with great admiration at the way in which Englishmen, and women too, worked, and quite concerned for the repeated drenchings in perspiration of a strenuous old gentleman of the party, remarking gravely, ‘Questo povero Signor Antonio! ma suda troppo!’ (‘This poor Mr. Tom, he sweats too much’). He chuckled when we got hot and red under the burning sun, gracefully putting it to the ladies, ‘Il sole di Italia vi ha baciato’ (‘the sun of Italy has kissed you’).

By eleven we were thoroughly tired, and went to rest under the scanty shade of the olives and fig trees with our guitar. One of the young peasants had lost his grandfather in Russia with Napoleon I., and we called him up, and told him to sing about the great general. He sung to a favourite stornello air:

‘Guarda, Napoleon, quello che fai ;

La meglio giovcntu tutta la vuoi,

E le ragazze te le friggerai.’

‘Napoleon, fa le cose giuste,

Falla la coscrizion delle ragazze,

Piglia le belle, e lasciar star le brutte.’

‘Napoleon, te ne pentirai!

La meglio gioventu tutta la vuoi;

Della vecchiaia, che te ne farai.’

‘Napoleon, non ti stimar guerriero

A Mosca lo troveresti l’osso duro,

All’ isola dell’ Elba prigioniero.’

(‘While you go our youths collecting, All our pretty girls neglecting, Pause, Napoleon, and beware. Deal more justly with all classes, Make conscription of the lasses, Leave the plain and choose the fair. Napoleon, if with ruthless hand, Of its flower you mow the land: In old age you’ll pay it dear. Boast not, tyrant, of your glory, Moscow’s plains were grim and gory, Elba was a prison drear.’)

Twelve o’clock brought a welcome arrival – lunch from the villa. Grape-picking is a capital sharpener of the appetite. We were soon reclining – sub tegmine fagi – round a steaming dish of risotto con funghi, and a knightly sirloin of roast beef, which would have done honour to old England. A big fiasco (a large bottle bound round with reeds or straw, and holding three ordinary bottles) of last year’s red wine was soon emptied, well tempered, I should say, with water from the neighbouring well. At a little distance the labourers in the vineyard were enjoying the unwonted luxury of a big wooden bowl full of white beans crowned with polpette, little sausages of minced meat and rice.

We first gathered all the white grapes. These were transferred from our small baskets to big ones, placed at the end of each row of vines. These bigger baskets were then carried on men’s backs to the villa, where the grapes were laid out to dry in one of the towers, on stoje, great trays made of canes. Here they are exposed to sun and air for some weeks, when they are used for making the vin’ santo. After the white grapes were gathered, we fell to on the black, of the choice kinds, the San Giovese, the Aleatico, the Colorino, and the Occhio di Pernice.

These also were destined to be exposed on stoie in the same manner. They are used as governo, that is to say, when the new wine is racked for the first time these choice black grapes are put in, so as to cause another fermentation, they at once deepen the colour of the wine and make it clear.

How melancholy the vines looked stripped of their grapes! The glorious white and golden, and pink and deep red bunches had given a beauty to the landscape which one did not realise until they were gone, and the poor vines stood bare.

In our discussions about the progress of our work, the time of day often came in question. The old fattore was very anxious to know how we in England knew the hour, as he had heard that our churches did not ring the Ave Maria at midday or in the evening. He had, doubtless, a settled conviction that we were little better than heathens, but was too polite to say so. We explained that we had abundance of both big clocks and little watches; but he answered, ‘Ma che’  (with a horizontal wave of the hand), ‘I have a watch too. I set it by the Ave Maria and hardly ever use it. At midday, when the Ave Maria rings, we know we are to eat; and when we hear it at sundown, twenty-four o’clock, as we say here, we leave off work; and at one o’clock of night (an hour after sunset) it rings again so that we may remember our dead and say an Ave for them.’ All our arguments to prove that clocks and watches might be good substitutes for the Ave Maria were useless, and he remained stanch to his idea that England must be a wretched place without the Ave Maria ‘Si deve star male in Inghilterra senza Ave Maria.’

At last the beautiful great white oxen, with their large, soft, black eyes, tassels of red and yellow worsted dangling about the roots of their horns and over their cool moist noses, came to the edge of the vineyard drawing a large vat (tino) fixed on the cart. Into this all the remaining grapes were thrown. A handsome lad of sixteen, after tucking up his trousers and washing his feet in a bucket of water drawn from the well close by, jumped atop of the vat and lustily stamped down the contents, singing as he plied his purple-stained feet: ‘Bella bellina, chi vi ha fatto gli occhi? Che ve gli ha fatti tanto innamorati? Da letto levereste gli ammalati, Di sotto terra levereste i morti. Tanto valore e tanta valoranza! Vostri begli occhi son la mia speranza.’ (‘My lovely charmer, who hath made thine eyes, That fill our bosoms with such ecstasies? Their glance would draw the sick man from his bed, Or haply pierce the tomb and raise the dead. Oh! my sweet love, thy beauty and thy worth, Are all my hope and all my joy on earth.’)

Of such tender sentiment and musical sound are the songs of the Tuscan ‘roughs’. These songs are most of them the composition, both words and airs, of the peasants and artisans who sing them. The hills round Pistoia and the streets of Florence ring with an ever-renewed outpour of such sweet and simple song.

The padrone prides himself much on his fine breed of oxen, and told us the old Tuscan proverb, ‘Chi ha carro e buoi,fa bene i fatti suoi’ (‘Whoso has cart and oxen does good business’).

When the last load of grapes was carted off we returned to the villa, where we found all hands busy in the great courtyard of the fattoria on one side of the villa, emptying the grapes and must out of the vats with wooden bigoncie, high wooden pails without handles. These are carried on men’s shoulders, and their contents poured into immense vats (tino) ranged all round the courtyard under covered arcades. In our wine-shed (tinaia) there are about fifty of these, containing from five to fifty butts each, besides three large square reservoirs of stone each holding three hundred barrels. The bubbling and boiling of the fermenting wine fills the air, and the smell is almost strong enough to get drunk upon. The men often do get tipsy, if they remain too long treading the grapes, or drawing off the new wine.

But here it is an article of faith that the perfume of the must is the best medicine, and people bring weakly children to tread the grapes and remain in the tinaia to breathe the fume-laden air and eat of the fresh fruit; for at vintage-time no peasant or padrone refuses grapes to anyone who asks. They say that il buon Dio has given them plenty, and why should they in their turn not give to those who have nothing?

I suppose this universal readiness to give is one reason why there is so little stealing here. You see vines full of fruit close to the roads, and quite unprotected by any sort of fence, and yet no one of the country-side ever takes them. There are, it is true, certain malfamati villages, whose inhabitants have the reputation of thieves, and against these, and pilferers from the large towns, the vineyards are guarded by men armed with guns, with which they keep popping the night through. At times you see twenty or thirty poor people standing quietly looking on, until called up to receive their dole of grapes, with which they go away happy, with their graceful ‘Dio ve ne renda merito’. At home they will mix water with the must they squeeze out of their basket or apronful of such ungrudged gifts, and make mezzo vino, or acquavello (water and wine fermented together), for the winter.

The same thing is done on a large scale at many fattorie. This mixture of wine and water is distributed to the poor in winter, and is the common drink of the workmen about the villa. After the first good wine is drawn off from the vats, the vinaccia (skins, grape-stones, and stalks) is put into the press, and the second wine pressed out. This is good, but considerably rougher, from the larger amount of tannin, due to the skins and stalks, than that which is drawn off from the vats after fermentation without any agency of the press. After passing through the press, the clots of vinaccia are again put into the vats, and water is poured upon them. In eight or ten days a fresh fermentation takes place, and the vinaccia is once more pressed in the wine-press. This gives mezzo vino, or acquarello (half-wine), not at all bad, but of course of insufficient body to keep through the summer. For this there is no want of demand at the villa. Besides the rations of the workpeople, there are the poveri del buon Dio.

In Tuscany there are no almshouses or poorhouses, save in the chief towns. Most villas have one or two days in the week when alms are distributed to all who come and ask. Here the gathering of poor occurs every Monday and Thursday, at ten in the morning. A hunch of bread, a glass of half-wine, and five centimes are doled out to every applicant, and on Christmas Day anyone who brings a fiasco has it filled with mezzo-vino, and gets half a loaf of bread and a half a pound of uncooked meat. Such has been the custom, I am told, for many hundred years.

Our happy holiday vintaging lasted for five days, and then we went to help the vintaging of one of the contadini of the padrone, a family that had been on the estate for two hundred and eighty years. All their vines were trained Tuscan fashion on maples, and we had the help of ladders and steps to gather the grapes. Half the grapes, and indeed half of all the produce of the land – grain, pumpkins, flax, fruit, or wine – belongs to the padrone, who pays all the taxes and buys the cattle. The contadino pays no rent for his house, which the padrone keeps in repair. The peasant gives the labour, and the master finds the capital. This is, in rough outline, the system of mezzeria, or half-and-half tenure, still universal in Tuscany. Like all human things, it has two sides, and may be condemned as the most backward, or defended as the most patriarchal and wholesome of systems, binding landlord and tenant in the bond of an obviously common interest, and encouraging the closest and most familiar relations between the two. When the landlord is intelligent, active, and judicious, he may become a centre of enlightenment and improvement to his tenantry; but all his attempts must be made with the most cautious discretion, or he will infallibly frighten, and perhaps alienate, his tenantry, who are thorough Conservatives, and love stare super antiques vias. Thus the best commentary on the Georgics is still agriculture in action in Tuscany, a passing peep into one of whose most pleasing chapters has been attempted in this paper.

Posted January 8, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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