We are at the start of a brand new year and hopefully the beginning of much better times following a difficult two years as a result of the global pandemic. Life is peppered with both good times and bad and although some memories may be best left alone, it is lovely to recall some of the most treasured moments of our lives.
I remember with great fondness when we first bought our little house in Tuscany over twenty years ago. It needed a fair bit of work to be done on it and we hadn’t any furniture or appliances. I had to cook on a two-ring camping stove until we were able to get a cooker and wash everything (including huge bedsheets) by hand in the kitchen sink.
Despite this, the joy I felt at returning to a much simpler life was immense and even pegging the laundry out to dry in the fresh mountain breeze filled me with happiness.
I was determined that we would retain an element of traditional simplicity within our Tuscan home.
Our Tuscan neighbours were so friendly and welcomed us with open arms. Many of them were elderly and I encouraged them to tell me about village life as it would have been many years ago. I listened to their stories with rapture. Life had indeed been hard for them and I tried to imagine what it must have been like. There was no running water in the houses, nor gas or electricity. Menfolk would have to walk miles to work, women would carry mounds of laundry piled high in baskets upon their heads to the ‘lavatoio’ (communal wash house). There were also some good memories to share: of dances and helping to gather in the grapes during the ‘Vendemmia’ or enjoying a ‘merenda’ (snack) in the woods.
I remember my neighbour Giuseppina telling me that “….you were rich if you had necci and ricotta” …. (necci are Tuscan pancakes made with chestnut flour) and have become quite trendy today. She even demonstrated how to make them using the traditional ‘testi’ (special wrought iron plates with long handles).
I gleaned recipes and took note of traditional customs and ways. I learned so much about the Tuscan countryside from one dear neighbour Stefano who sadly is no longer with us. I also complimented another lovely neighbour Pietro (who also is sadly no longer here) on his skill at making some of the last traditionally made haystacks to be seen in the village.
We also visited local festas where often one could gain a glimpse of ‘I bei tempi’. I would mentally collect ideas for trying out in our little Tuscan abode whether it be decorative or useful. I made simple room fresheners: simmering lemon rind and rosemary in a pot, simple natural mosquito repellents using lemon wedges studded with cloves. I also made delicious jams using fruit from trees grown in the village. I even volunteered to look after our neighbour’s chickens for a few days just for the experience!
Ahhh….. the good times both in the past and to come!
I bei tempi!