A Winter's Harvest at
The making of our first
It is the winter solstice and a
beautifully clear day; a crispness is in the air even as the melting snow
becomes a memory. Paolo comes to the house after lunch and together we take our
olives to an old-fashioned mill for pressing into extra virgin olive oil. The Antico
Frantoio is located in Anghiari in the Tuscan hills. Located in the Upper Tiber Valley, the old
mill has been run by the Bartolomei family of Compalla since the second half of
the eighteenth century but the mill has been in existence since 1421. The very
stones of the building seem saturated with the aromatic fragrance of olive oil
and we need to step carefully as we cross the stone floors covered with a
permanent sheen of pure olive oil.
Paolo and Mike deliver their
hand-picked olives to a designated room on the top floor of the mill where
their sacks are weighed. Together we have 235 kilos of olives and 61 kilos are
ours. While we wait, I talk to Enza, the proprietor's wife, a lovely, cultured
lady. She is quite a character to behold as she scurries around in her high
heels and elegant dress that is belted around a waist smaller than Scarlett
O'Hara's, seeing to the needs of her clients who are made to feel like guests
as they await their oil. We are seated in a small room, keeping warm by an
ancient stone camino where a fire blazes fiercely. When she is not
serving up crusty bread on which she has poured samplings of their own oil, she
grabs a mop and passes it over the floor lest anyone should slip on the oily
surface. Every once in a while she has a moment to spare and sits with us to
chat, showing a genuine interest in our new life here in Umbria.
When it is our turn, our olives are
dropped down a chute to the mill where two granite millstones grind the olives
to a pulp. This purplish brown mush is spread on mats, which are stacked and
placed into a press that separates the liquid part of the pulp, consisting of
water and oil, from the solid parts, consisting of olive husks, olive pit
fragments and peels. What liquid remains after this stage of the process is then
put through a centrifuge where the water is separated from the oil. Two hours
from the time our olives tumbled down the chute into the mill, we have our oil,
a thick green-gold liquid. We watch with fascination and deep satisfaction as
it pours in a steady stream into our waiting jugs. The oil is as thick and
opaque in color as split pea soup but will clarify over time as it sits.
Outside, night has fallen but the
black is pierced by the brilliance of a full moon that shines tonight like it
has not shone in 133 years. A phenomenon of science, its brilliance is fourteen
times greater than normal and will not repeat this luminous performance for
another one hundred years. The outline of the walled hill town with its church
spires is illuminated by its magical glow, as are the isolated farm houses, the
fields, the olive groves and the vineyards, wrapping up the memory of this day
in the most enchanting way.
At home, in front of our old
fireplace, we drizzle our new oil on our bread to celebrate our first olive
harvest! We are as content and proud as any contadini could be!
There is a famous Tuscan white bean
soup that is made during the olive harvest using the first pressing of oil.
Served at room temperature layered over grilled garlic bread, it satisfies the
soul. Below is our version of this soup. It has become a favorite with our
guests here at El Marsam.
Zuppa Frantoiana (White Bean Soup)
14 ounces (400 grams) dried white cannalotti beans
10 to 12 cups water, salted
6-8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
fresh thyme or ½ tablespoon dried thyme
fresh sage or ¼ tsp. dried sage
1 bay leaf
The night before, soak the
beans in enough cold water to cover. The next day drain the beans and cook them
in a large deep pot with 10 to 12 cups salted water to which you have added
thyme, sage and bay leaf.
While beans are cooking, warm
the olive oil in a deep heavy frying pan, and sauté the chopped onion, carrot,
and celery in the oil until they are soft and translucent, about 15 minutes.
Add this mixture to the
simmering beans and cook until the beans are tender, at least one hour. Remove
bay leaf. Drain but reserve the cooking water.
When beans have cooled, blend
them in blender with reserved cooking water, adding a little at a time until
the consistency is creamy. Return to pot and reheat. Garnish with cracked
pepper and serve with crusty Italian bread that has been grilled or toasted, then
rubbed with fresh garlic and drizzled with olive oil.
© by Ginda Simpson - El Marsam Studio -
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