Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Love and food in the Apennines (Volume 2)

Thor meets Venus

Thunder rolls round the mountains like a battalion of tanks driven by trolls. Great sheets of lightning fill the house with brilliant white light. Rivers of rain cascade down the roof, bouncing off the gutters, pouring across the terrace. It is two in the morning.

We check the shutters and the windows. Then a sixth sense steps in and we check the car - to find the sun roof is cocked up in ventilation mode.  Fortunately little water has so far penetrated. One good thing about dashing out naked in the small hours means that at least there are no clothes to get soaked - and at Casa Barile in the Garfagnana region of Tuscany there are no lace curtains to twitch.

While the storm rages, the church bell down the hill continues to strike the hour and the half hour, undaunted by the flashing whiplashes around its clock tower. By five am, the thunder god is growling his way over the Apennines, with an occasional backward rumble reminding us that he could easily return. Now the only sound is staccato dripping from tiles and ledges, sills and branches. We finish our tea and go back to sleep.

Later that morning, we find persimmons scattered across the drive, the swimming pool cover bending under the weight of rain and leaves from the walnut tree littering the terrace. We check the barn and re-set the electric light circuit. But then we discover the really serious impact of the storm – no broadband. After testing the line, the modem and the splitter, we discover that this is a major outage affecting most of the area, it happens quite frequently and can take up to two days to restore. However will we survive, we wonder?

The answer is a walk through the mountains, followed by a swim, leisurely lunch, reading by the pool, watching the sunset with a glass of Prosecco, followed by dinner. Oh, and a spot of jam-making.

Remembering the bounty of fruit and vegetables from our visit two years ago, (see Grand opera meets jam and Jerusalem) we have made the most of driving rather than flying to Italy by adding a sugar thermometer and glass jars to our luggage, along with the oil paints, easel, knitting, computers, half-written novels, hiking boots etc etc. Sad, really, but knowing that there will be no wild damsons for jam in the Gloucestershire woods again this year, how could I resist the large, luscious, dark red plums in the local store? Especially when they are called Aphrodite - rather more enticing than Victoria.

Take a hammer to a nut

Plum jam for lovers
1 kg Aphrodite plums (or any other sort you can forage or buy)
150ml water
850 gm sugar (most recipes say 1 kg, but I prefer jam less sweet)
Juice of a lemon

Halve and stone the plums (keeping the stones) then cut into quarters.  Put plums into a large pan with the water and simmer gently for half an hour or so until really soft. Put the sugar in a casserole dish or roasting pan to warm in a low oven.

Meanwhile, using a nutcracker or small hammer, crack open the plum stones to extract the kernels. Blanch the kernels for a minute in boiling water and then drain.

Bubble, bubble - but little toil and trouble
Remove the plums from the heat and add the warm sugar, stirring continuously until you are sure the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice and blanched kernels. Put clean jam jars and lids into the oven to sterilize.

Bring the fruit to a rolling boil and cook without stirring for about ten minutes until the magic temperature of 105 degrees is reached. If you do not have a thermometer, then use the chilled saucer, blob of jam, wrinkle test to see if you have reached setting point. (Use Google if you need more info on sterilising and testing.) Stir in a nut of butter to remove any scum, then ladle carefully into a jug to pour into the hot sterilized jars and seal with screw lids (or traditional waxed disc and cellophane if you prefer.) 

Best eaten at breakfast, on holiday, in the sun, with someone of whom you are particularly fond......

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