Today I made thirty 500ml jars of quince and ginger jam. In the late afternoon Luca brought me an equivalent number of quinces to that I had just used for the jam. We have only one quince tree. It is small but this year produced the most abundant quantity of quinces. I guess that I will turn the quinces into compote which I will freeze- next year there will be plenty of apple and quince crumble and apple and quince pie on the menu!
In between making the jam, I was involved in following the first day of work involving the remaking of Rooms 1 and 2 at the back of the house. When we restructured La Faula in 1999 we had no experience of hospitality and our architects had no previous experience in designing hotels or Agriturismi. All together, we launched ourselves into uncertainty and it is all credit to our architects, and I guess to some extent luck, that what we created at that time proved to be almost exactly apposite for our business needs today. “Almost” because being uncertain as to what the La Faula farmstay activity would involve, our architects designed Room 1 as a maisonette with additional sleeping on a mezzanine floor to accommodate groups. The mezzanine floor, was actually the roof of Room 2 which had been comprehensively, if not effectively, soundproofed. Although the rooms layout was approved at the time by the local authorities regulating our activity, actual implementation of the law regulating Agriturismos saw us restricted in how we could distribute our guests. At the beginning we, and our architects, believed that provided we respected the fire regulations concerning sleeping numbers and fire escapes as well as the maximum number of guests able to sleep in the house according to our licence, we could distribute them as we pleased so, for example, if there was a girls volleyball team having a weeks training camp at La Faula, instead of dividing the girls equally amongst all the rooms we could, for example, concentrate them in various parts of the house according to their ages. And as we did host for a number of years a girls volleyball team on summer training camp this is exactly what we did at the request of the parents and organiser who wanted the younger girls to stay together and the older girls to stay together. So the very young girls would stay in Room 1 where they were comprehensively supervised by a coach in Room 2. Unfortunately, this was in breach of our authorisation as in Friuli each bedroom receives a specific authorisation that enumerates how many may sleep in it. Not to respect this authorisation automatically triggers a fine and most probably suspension of our licence.
So two years ago, in the last week of August, we hosted a weeklong camp by a girls volleyball squad, as we had for many years and we distributed the girls, as every year, as directed by the organiser, coach and parents. Basically the younger girls were at one end of the house and the older girls at the other. The week passed well and without incident and on the last Sunday, as every time, the parents came and took the happy and tired girls home. On the Monday we had an inspection by the NAS squad of the Carabiniere. The NAS is the “Nuclei Antisophisticazione e Salute and it is one of the organs of the Italian State that controls hotels, restaurants, food producers, supermarkets, farms and any other activity that involves public health issues. Unlike the Regional Health Department that applies Regional Laws and authorises our activity, rooms, kitchen etc., the NAS inspects to ensure that national laws impacting on health are applied and respected. I don’t think that I can adequately express in words the mix of feelings that this control by the NAS engendered. We were of course more than relieved that when they inspected the house it was empty of guests apart from one valiant couple who had stayed at La Faula notwithstanding the volleyball camp. But we knew that if the inspection had been only two days previously we would have been toast, and burnt toast at that!
We never hosted another sports group again and we scrupulously distribute the guests in the rooms according to our authorisation. The weekly girls volleyball camp that for so many years had taken place at La Faula to the satisfaction of all petered out after a try in another location the following year. So it was that Room 1, the Maisonette and Room 2, sitting under the mezzanine floor, were ripe to be rebuilt.
to be continued
Last night I determined to return to write my diary after a break of some considerable time! I intended to begin by saying how much I had enjoyed living in an analog world again these last weeks, delightful autumn activities having kept me away from the digital world of websites and digital communications. But first I had to get the photos of the day from my camera into my computer. And at this point the digital world came back and hit me with vengeance! I couldn’t find the correct USB cable that would connect to my camera! I searched high and low. I couldn’t even remember when I had last used it. Of course, my mind harboured countless images seen during the summer of black USB cables with the tubular ferrite bead at one end. I fancied that I had seen one in almost every place, every day, I searched drawers, “remembered” having retrieved it recently and having put it away ready for use, wondered if I had lent it to a guest during the summer, imagined that maybe I had even filed it by accident with the great jumble of leads and cables, collected over the years, no longer used but kept “just in case” but after hours had elapsed and I had traversed La Faula, the barn and various rooms numerous times without success, I gave up on the diary and hoped that I would have more success in the light of the following morning. In fact I did. I did find the cable and did manage to unload a surprisingly old selection of photos from my camera and so tonight, beginning with the wonderful shots of Annie running free on an autumn afternoon I return to my blog!
The last guests of the Agriturismo season departed La Faula about two weeks ago. They were two friends from Minneapolis, one of whom had already stayed with us in May while following the Giro d’Italia bike race. Finishing by saying goodbye to someone to whom we had said hello much earlier on in the year was a nice closure giving the sense of the wheel of activity having fulfilled its cycle over the summer thereby bringing us to a natural and pleasant ending. The thing is that our experience of the Agriturismo is so intense that the season’s events are a close packed jumble of people and events, nothing anymore in a clear order, just pictures and memories impressed upon the mind. The Agriturismo season at La Faula sees us meeting, re-meeting, talking to, socialising and following a flowing flux of people, all equally important and all deserving our best attention. Then there are the volunteers that help us out. There is the mutual getting to know each other, the need for rapid absorption of tasks and skills and finding comfortable insertion into the La Faula “family” no matter for how brief a period.
In past times the closure of the Agriturismo would have folded immediately into the harvesting of the grapes and winemaking. But this year, as in a number of previous years, the white grapes were ready while the Agriturismo was still in full activity. The weather was wonderful, we had a great volunteer to help us and so we kept on with the Agriturismo until the bookings finished. We were on a roll and were on the downhill slope so we went with it and got a neighbour to harvest the grapes and make the wine. The Agriturismo closed naturally at that point at which everybody who was to take a late summer holiday had and before autumnal trips had begun.
The great freedom that arrives for me at this point is not having to think about preparing, then preparing dinners. Days take on a languid aspect, pleasant and unconstrained by obligation. The vegetable garden and our produce can be contemplated and enjoyed in a way that is not possible during the haste of the Agriturismo season when organisation and efficiency reign. Hours can be spent with a sharp pair of scissors (I don’t like squishing bugs) hunched over the cabbages, gently pulling back all the leaves that bend, searching out the caterpillars and moth larvae that will deprive me of the perfect cabbage head that Luca will cook in the evening.
Over these last weeks I made pesto and tomato preserve. I made grape jelly from the grapes of the pergola and fig jam from our white figs. I made apple juice and apple conserve and as I write this there are two pressure cookers of quince cooling on the stove behind me. Tomorrow I will make quince and ginger jam. Next will be a gardiniera of green tomatoes, peppers and onion. It is delightful, and it satisfies some deep need, to harvest in autumn, as the days shorten and winter looms, wonderful foods, and to put them away in anticipation of their enjoyment, when all around is brown and cold and flat, in a bright kitchen, warm and cosy and secure!