September is a lovely month in Tuscany. Lucca has several festivals, including the wonderful candlelit procession of Luminaria di Santa Croce. All the lights in the city are turned off and the atmosphere is magical. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Face_of_Lucca
On the farm the green & black olives are growing on the trees. To make good olive oil with hardly any acidity one must use 30% black olives to 70% green; if all the olives are green then the oil will be too sharp. The oil should be yellowy green, but not green.
In the spring we heavily pruned the olive trees because they were becoming a little too bushy. Last winter was the coldest since 1984 and very wet, which caused too much leaf growth. The perfectly shaped olive tree should resembles a champagne glass – clear centre. Many of the locals prune nearly all the small branches off, just leaving the trunk and a few upper branches. There is so much late spring and summer growth with each tree producing lots of olives. Lucchese olive oil is considered one of the best in the world
Farmer Gianfranco wears his beret throughout the year, whether it be C40 or below freezing. At 70 years old, he is so fit, but sadly a disappearing generation of Tuscan farmers. Many young people in Tuscany are attracted to the city lights. Very few want to work in the hot countryside. Gugliano has occasional cold days, but olives generally don’t bare fruit in frosty areas.
During September the green figs are swelling up and dripping with the sweetest syrup; they’re irresistible and delicious with Tuscan pecorino or gorgonzola. Families of badgers collect at the base of the tree and golden orioles in the branches.
The peaches have been fantastic this year as the summer was so hot. With very light dew in the early morning the fungi season has started. Restaurants are serving mushroom pasta and delicious fried porcini dusted in semolina flour. Soon the truffles will arrive.
Grilled aubergines from the vegetable stalls at Copella cooked on the bbq.
This year all the migrating birds arrived very late because of the cold spring – the cuckoo was still calling in June, which is unheard of in Italy. The hoopoe nested again in the oak tree by the stala (barn) and with the swallows and martins they are collecting to winter in Africa. In the woods and meadows there are lots of game birds like woodcock, owls and birds of prey. Sadly in our barn a beautiful barn owl was killed by a larger predator, possibly a buzzard, eagle or eagle owl. Peregrine falcons and their young are gliding near the craggy cliff face, on the river, where they bred.
On our drive back to the house in early September we saw a huge male 300lb cinghiale, just below the house. It emerged from the stream, soaking wet. These huge beasts are causing problems locally as they destroy grapevines and vegetables. 196 cinghiale were shot last year in our valley by the cacciatori (hunters). They are plentiful with some locals seeing herds of over 40. Our farmer tells us it is the larger species moving into the area from Slovenia that are the ones causing the problems. Meadows and lawns are destroyed – we now have a low voltage electric fence to preserve the lawn.
The area is much richer having the large species – wild boars, porcupines and in the mountains, wolves; we need to adjust our lives to accommodate these species. Wild boars are also a wonderful free range meat source and served in every local restaurant.
The trees on the hills around the house are still beautifully green and the beech trees on the Garfagnana mountains are stunning. Over the next few weeks they will turn a wonderful coppery gold.
Sweet chestnuts woods (castagno) are very typical of northern tuscany. The wood is used to build houses and furniture and the nuts are used for flour & purees. Every old house in the area would
be constructed with chestnut beams.