One of the amazing things about living in Tuscany is that you develop a real appreciation for what is in season. In the beginning this can be difficult because if you’re craving asparagus and it’s now summer, well you’re just not going to find it. But if it’s late August and you feel like having a fig or twenty, you’re in luck because that’s when the fig trees are abundant. My neighbor Marinella invited me over the other day as she plucked some of the beautiful green fruit from one of her many trees and sent me home with way too many “fichi.” The green figs are delicious and almost delicate tasting compared to the darker figs I am used to. Some I just peeled and ate, and to some I added a little fresh ricotta…Mmmm.
I also was fortunate enough yesterday to witness some other frutta that had just been harvested. While the Sangiovese grapes that Tuscany is known for won’t be ready for a few more weeks, the ciliegiolo from Maremma are being harvested now. On Monday afternoons, I have two students whose family owns a winery here in Montepulciano. After our lessons each week, I am invited to dinner with the family and everyone practices their English. But yesterday, with the grapes from Maremma being prepared, my student Francesco and his mom Anna interrupted our lesson to take me on a tour to see how the grapes were separated from the stems. The work is being done just a short walk from their house and the backdrop includes acres and acres of grapevines. It’s a truly beautiful setting.
Anna explained to me that these grapes are sweet and are added to some of the varietal wines. The whole process is automated and when I saw those huge machines doing their work I couldn’t help but think how hard it must have been to do that job by hand back in the day. Imagine having to pluck off the stems from each grape. The actual cutting of the grape bunches is still done by hand and it’s quite a laborious job. Anna invited me to participate when the actual harvesting of the Sangiovese grapes commences in mid September. I can’t wait.
After the grapes are separated, leaving only the fruit, they roll along on a conveyor and then are sucked into a long tube which takes them underground. I joked with Anna that this was where the women would stomp them, but in actuality huge steel barrels are waiting for them. I haven’t witnessed that part of the process yet, but I hope eventually I’ll get to see how everything works.
Over dinner, we talked and enjoyed some of their wine. I’ve always been a wine lover, but I now have a better appreciation of the process it takes to make each of those delicious bottles. The dinner also included some seasonal dishes and when it was time for dessert I wasn’t surprised to see a familiar sight…figs.