22 October 2006

Slow Food Rapidly Approaching

Every other year in the autumn, an extravaganza of food, drink, ideas and discussions representing all continents and walks of life, explodes in Torino and the celebration of real food and food communities make merry for a few days.
This year my nephew and wife are arriving to visit with us before they continue on to Torino to participate in the gathering of Terre Madre. Jeremy, a par excellence bread baker, will be representing his group of fellow artisan bakers of Vermont and Sally will participate representing their organic farming venture.

I know it's going to be a hectic week and I will have much to share later, so I thought I would feature a few pictures from Pinerolo market where the fresh food and home grown products still adhere to the old local traditions. So I thought I would just feature some pictures from one of my favorite days of the week, market day. The cheese makers and small venders all have some very interesting stories that I will save for another day. Until Slow Food and Terre Madre stories begin, feel free to savor the colors and flavor of this Italian market.

19 October 2006

Pinerolo's "Maschera di Ferro" Festa

This time of year there are so many Festas and Sagras that it's alway hard to keep up. I always have big plans to write up many of the activities so that it will whet your appetite to visit during one, but alas reality sets in and I find myself enjoying the time spent with our guests and the festa has flown right by. The Maschera di Ferro is one such event. My London friend Debbie had come for a week, so we stayed busy seeing and doing as much as we could. We did a short tour of Torino and up the Mole Antonelliana for a view of old Torino and the Alps in the distance, but they were obscured by the haze of the humidity, but the views of the city were grand. Then there is the over 1,000 year old edition of Pinerolo's twice weekly market, that is large, bustling and noisy. I always enjoy having a nosey around. Then on to Staffarda Abbey on the way to Manta Castle by way of Saluzzo and back to Pinerolo for the evening's festivites. The picture at the left is by local "L'eco del Chisone" staff photographer, Dario Constantino.

The evening didn't disappoint.
The local legend goes that the Man in the Iron Mask was kept here in the Pinerolo(Pignerol) prison for 11 years before being transfered to other fortresses until ending up at the Bastille where he remained until his death. He was imprisoned for around 30 years or so and his identity never completely verified althought there have been many theories, speculation, and even a few movies. Pinerolo's weekend long festival usually features a local celebrity as the mysterious man whose identity is revealed at the close of the festivites. Last year the mysterious man was Pier Gros, neighboring Susa valley's own Olympian and World Cup Downhill champion. This evening festivites featured quite a bit of parading of the drum and flag corps with nobility and contadini in full costume as it does through out the entire weekend. Street performers entertained at all the different piazzas and the mysterious prisoner paced in his cell with the monsignor in attendance. The center of town had the main entertainment with fire twirlers and eaters with various dance troupes set against a backdrop of the Duomo with full moon, that cast a magical spell over all. I truly felt I had stepped back in time and enjoyed a magical medieval evening.
It seems to me in America whenever there are reenactments of days gone by, no matter the authenticity of costume, there is still always a feeling of contemporary life lurking around. Here in Europe, when you are in old villages and towns, which date back hundreds of years and more, there is an authenticity that really gives me the chills. This night I truly felt transported.

16 October 2006

Everyday is (World) Bread Day at our house

What can I say, but sometimes I think Fabrizio loves me for my bread baking ability if nothing else, so great is his passion for bread. I love making bread, always have, but I became an infrequent baker of bread when my life took a change and I found myself living abroad and without easy access to cooking facilities for a while. So when I met Fabrizio I was taken aback by how much bread this man could eat! It didn't take me long to rise to the challenge and so I now find myself baking loaves, rolls and focaccia frequently to keep up with the needs of not only our small B&B but the larger demand of my slight Italian man. He's so appreciative too. Rather nice to have such a greedy eater.
Warms my soul.
Anyway, Ted and Marie from Florida were back with us last night for dinner and Marie kindly took some pictures of our dinner. I thought they would be nice as an accompaniment for World Bread Day.

12 October 2006

Just One More Porcini or Two

Ok, Ok, Ok, perhaps I'm just a little caught up in the mushroom madness myself. It must be from the sleep deprivation of all the cars rushing up before the crack of dawn and trying not to count them every morning. Perhaps it's the fact that Fabrizio's parents life is completely rearranged by the hunt at the moment as well. Normally, they have lunch at precisely noon, or half past at the latest, if there is too much to get done in the garden or some such errand in town that takes a bit longer. Dinner is a 7 pm unless it's hunting day out with the boys, but usually you can set your watch by their mealtimes.

Now it's lunch at about 11am so they can be out when the morning hunters and gatherers are off to lunch with their booty, leaving the woods peaceful and still full of the fabled porcini for those privy to 40 years of hunting for them in their backyard, to fill a freezer, line shelves of jars of mushrooms in vinegar and dried ones as well. Then, of course, there are the ones they sell off to the local vendors. It's quite a sight at the the local buyers shop with people coming from all over our hills with baskets lined with beech leaves and covered with fern fronds to keep the curious from knowing exactly what you found and more importantly, where. It's an impressive sight and everyone is busy sorting and grading and paying for the mushrooms that come in that day from 8 am till 10 pm when father and son take off in their trucks to deliver the goods to all parts of Italy, all night, while Mom holds down the weigh station till they return and the evening rush begins again.
Last week a Japanese man flew in and bought a container worth of the local booty and shipped it back to Japan. Globalization.

Anyway, I digressed. Today, we rearranged our schedule to get in on the hunt with Dante and Egle. Dante is off to the higher country where the larger porcini are found and Egle and I are off to the parts of our woods that the casual hunters have overlooked and have left us enough that I'm finally feeling like I can join the ranks of respectable hunters. I have been given the gift of being shown secret places that others don't always find. We had to hurry though, as the neighbors were about to get out before us and they are the serious competition as they have a few years on us and know most of the same spots. If Bruna and Murrat( their dog named "black" in dialect) get out before us we can forget finding as many as we had hoped for. As the first pictures lets you know, we beat them to the hunt and found quite a few that the others passed by and we circled back to find after they had tromped thru. There are white and black porcini as they are called here. The basket pictured above contains the "Catch of the day". Not as plentiful as before, but all quality and delicious. It was a satisfying day indeed.
Thank you Egle!

07 October 2006

Porcini Pin up of the Day

And the hunt continues! The steady stream of cars continue to whizz past Bella Baita before dawn and everywhere you go the local osterias are selling "Nostrani Funghi "
(our local mushrooms, assumed Porcini as none other get to be called funghi in local legend)Ok so now hopefully I have set the record straight by replacing the capre photo with a proper procini photo. Mea culpa!

04 October 2006

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound Of Mushroom Hunters!

Tis the season for the passion of Porcinis to overtake Italians and send them running to the hills at the crack of dawn in search of the King Boletus Edulis and any other mushroom they can get their hands on and a few they shouldn't. It's the power of the Porcini. The hills are swarmed with funghi hunters swarming like bees looking for a new hive! Last year after a 2 year drought I was awakend one Sunday morning befire it was light and before 6 am by the sound of vehicle after vehicle racing up the hill in the fog to stalk the wild porcini. I fell back to sleep after 37 cars in less than an hour.

This year it's a bit calmer, but only just. Our neighbor counted 100 cars on the road the other morning before lunch and every one disperses for a bit of food and drink, leaving only the most determined alone to carry on the hunt.
But Honestly you're not really considered a seasoned(or respected) hunter unless you get the white and black Porcini. All others finds pale in bragging rights!

The fine examples above were found yesterday by Fabrizio's mother Egle, who has the "eagle"(Egle) eye for finding mushrooms when others have given up. Well I must be off to cook up some mushrooms for later use. Let's see shall it be breaded fried steaks, risotto, or big fat egg noodles with thick slices of porcini?.........humm.....
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