Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sorana Beans Fagioli di Sorana Tuscany

Dear Art Lover,
     I got to help my landlord and his brother pick the beans this year! These are the famous Sorana beans (fagioli di Sorana), a white bean widely known in Italy, maybe beyond.  I saw them in the grocery store in Firenze recently.  The price:  28.29 euro per kilo!  

Italian farmer picks the beans of Sorana ; fagioli di Sorana

   Normally the beans are planted around the end of May-beginning of June.  This year, we had a lot of rain.  That is no good since the seeds would rot if planted in soggy soils.  We had to wait for about two weeks.  Maurizio even joked that if we were lucky, we might have beans for Christmas!  I remember well that time.  One afternoon I took a break from painting to sit around with the guys after they cut back all of the weeds in the terraced campo around my home.  We sat on the hill just below my house and watched across the valley as a distant neighbor plowed his field and planted the seeds.  Our discussion was concern that he was still too early.  But he gets more afternoon sun than we do, and now I can see that whatever he did worked well enough.

the beans of Sorana ; fagioli di Sorana; Italy, Tuscany
Valleriana, Tuscany, Italy:  the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana
     Some of the farmers used nets. They roll them up after each harvest, cleaning off extra plant material and often leave them on a vertical post at each end of the former bean row.  Others, such as my friends here, use bamboo cane and create teepee shapes.  They are secured by a plastic line so they remain upright despite any winds.  Both systems work, but the nets are quite expensive, I have heard.  Beans just need to go vertical, as Jack taught most of us non-farmers.

Italian farmers pick the beans of Sorana ; fagioli di Sorana

the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana; non-mature green beanstalks
Tuscan beanstalks; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

     The bean plant is a lovely shade of green, but as the beans mature, the plant starts to yellow and die.  It is quite easy to learn to know which ones to pick and which to leave on the stalk a bit longer.  The larger beans that are found lower to the ground are often picked to store as seed for next year’s lot.  My Italian landlord told me that tradition is to choose those lower to the ground because if the bean comes from too high up the stalk, the growth from that bean will only produce beans from that higher point and upwards, resulting in fewer beans.  But, he also said that he has no idea if there is any basis of fact in this. 

     My landlord does not grow food to sell so much and his beans are not regulated with the organization of Sorana beans.  However, another neighbor’s beans that ARE part of the organic, regulated trade told me that they also take the seeds from lower down to plant next year, but also harvest those sooner, in the case of rain… which we are experiencing now.  Apparently, beans near or in the ground at any stage of life do not like soggy soils! 

     We mainly picked the beans that are in the fairly dry and pale yellow pods.  Leave the green ones to mature.  There are some that are a deeper yellow (having emerged from or passed the green stage) in which the pod is still soft to the touch, as one can feel the beans inside are, too.  We picked some of those, but separated them.  Those go straight into the fridge or freezer for direct cooking and eating soon.

Italian farmers pick beans from the stalks; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

Tuscany, bean harvest; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

bean pods ready for harvest, the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

dog takes a ride in a bean basket; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana
Valleriana, Tuscany, perfect location for organic farming

    The brothers laid out onto the patio some netting with only very small holes in it.  They then dumped the baskets of the collected bean pods on top and spread them out.  Before they ran off to lunch, they both told me to let the beans dry in the sun a bit and then come out and dance upon them, setting the beans inside free. 

     Seriously?  I had heard of grape stomping, but never bean dancing!  I was delighted.  In the early afternoon, I was enchanted to HEAR the beans popping out of the pods!  If you have ever listed to the cereal Rice Krispies when someone adds milk to it (that was never me, I never liked milk, but my brothers do), it is a similar sound… a soft sort of music in and of itself.  However, I had brought my little radio (thanks, Rusudana!) and an umbrella (I am not partial to direct sunshine) and started dancing!  What fun.

Italian white beans dry in the sun; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

Sun, music, action  . . .  dancing on beans, Tuscany, Valleriana

a perfect day, white beans drying in the sun in Tuscany

dancing on white beans to break them free; Valleriana Sorana, Tuscany, Italy harvest

the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana; sun-dried to escape beanpods

     The beans are heavier than the dying pods and the sun aids a lot on the harvest.  I had taken a break and sat at one end of the bean pile to start picking apart any pods not fully opened, when Paolo and two of his fellow ambulance volunteers arrived.  They knew that it was going to rain soon enough and lifted the net, carrying the beans into the house and left them there overnight.  Actually, they left them for the next round of bean-picking.  Sadly, I had to go to Firenze and then Cortona to meet up with a visiting cousin and I missed the rest. 

ambulance servicement; bean harvest; the beans of Sorana; fagioli di Sorana

Tuscan white beans of Sorana dry inside after threat of rain

     I had assumed that all of the work with these special beans was done by hand.  But there is a machine that helps separate the pods from any stubborn beans.  It simply uses a small blast of air to separate the pods, a brilliant solution without being overkill!  I had hoped to see this machine, but will have to wait for another opportunity.

     The beans will be hand-sorted and bagged for sale.  One of the perks of living here is that ALL of the neighbors help out with the organic and bio-controlled labels for food here.  No one uses harsh chemicals in their gardens, even those who do not sell their food. 

    I must say that the subtle sunset before the rain hit was lovely.  The storm that night did not last long, but we have had rain for the last three or four days.  There are still lots of beans on the stalks that are still green, so the rain gave us a pause to relax (and in my case, paint!).  And no doubt the olive trees have been thirsty this summer.  Their harvest comes in November.  I hope that my knee has healed by then!  [I recently bought a bike for one of my studio rooms and have started a different therapy.]
Now, off to my studio!  Thank you for your interest in Tuscany, organic healthy foods, and art!   


subtle sunset Tuscany Valleriana Italia stone house

storn hits Valleriana Sorana Tuscany after white bean harvest

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Harvest Times Valleriana Tuscany

Dear Art Lover,
     Every day I feel grateful and lucky as hell.  The people in my newly adopted home neighborhood are so kind to me and my mind has calmed a lot being surrounded by the Nature of the hills of Tuscany.  Firenze is a lovely city, full of art and interesting situations, but it is still a city.  I am a Nature Girl and I love being home.  The Italians call a village a paese (pie-eh-seh), which means ‘country.’  Context is everything to understanding Italian.  North of the Comune (City) of Pescia in Tuscany is a scattered group of ten paese.  They are collectively called Valleriana.

Sunflowers in Valleriana, Tuscany, Italy

il paese in Valleriana Tuscany Italy with growing beans of Sorana
One paese in Valleriana Tuscany Italy with growing beans of Sorana
     I am sad that summer is coming to an end, but then, it seems that everything eventually does; even if not really.  Life is a sine wave, but the time is flying by!  I include some images from walking distance around my home.  I am extremely lucky that my landlord repeatedly offers me anything I want in his campo (field/farm).   Almost everything in these hills is terraced land. 

     In Italy, each region has its crop or products that are famous, at least in the rest of the country [meaning Italy].  Besides having many varieties of a tomato, for example, each region of Italia has a unique environment.  This lends a special sapore (flavor) to produce grown in one region over another.  The Italians are quite sensitive on taste.  Before I came to bella Italia, I did not know that one should not put a tomato in the refrigerator, as it loses flavor there.  I did not pay attention as much to the specific flavor of a tomato.  Oh, that is not entirely true:  I remember now that the Mexican Roma tomatoes were my favorite when I lived in Texas.  The second favorite is cherry tomatoes because one can pop ‘em inside the mouth for an internal explosion experience!  But, I am certainly learning to distinguish more now!

     Valleriana has many products and fresh foods grown here [including pomodori (tomatoes), but the most well-known might be the white beans of Sorana.  That harvest of beans that I helped with will be featured in the next post.  These images today were taken around the end of August/early September. 

     I still do not have a car, although it is getting a driver’s license here that is the hold-up.  The laws have changed on this as well and it is now very difficult and very expensive to receive a driver’s license here.  No more transferring a valid American driver’s license for an Italian one.  I heard that is because with the immigrant situation here, many people are arriving in Italy without the ability to drive or even to read.  Some have drinking habits and drive while drunk.  Italy has made it more difficult to get the license to try to stop irresponsible or unqualified drivers to be on the roads.  I find this ironic since Italy has also been famous for its crazy (Italian) drivers!  And up on the sidewalk we go! Haha. 

     So, the image of the truck is one way that I am able to buy food that I do not receive from my landlord’s gardens.  Once a week, these brothers drive their van around Valleriana.  Mostly they sell veggies and fruits, but they also have some sausages, GOOD parmigiano cheeses, and some food produces in glass jars, such as artichoke hearts.  They stop not far from my home, but I must catch them since deliver time varies depending on how many customers in any given season.

      Enjoy and go natural!

Sunflowers grown beneath the local church tower Valleriana Italy

Faggioli di Sorana; growing beans in Valleriana Tuscany
Faggioli di Sorana; growing beans in Valleriana Tuscany

Happy Christmas Trees grow in my favorite patch of Tree Farm Valleriana Tuscany
Happy Christmas trees grow in my favorite patch of tree farm Valleriana
Brothers deliver fresh produce for sale in the hills of Valleriana
Brothers deliver fresh produce for sale in the hills of Valleriana
Sorana beans netted for protection against animals Valleriana hills of Tuscany
Sorana beans netted for protection against animals; Terraced hills of Tuscany
Fig trees with ready fruit in Tuscany Valleriana
Fig trees - man, do I eat well here!
Olives growing for hopeful harvest in November Valleriana
Olives growing for hopeful harvest in November in Valleriana
Lavender harvest Stone carving sand bags
Lavender; back: making sandbags for stone carving
Sorana beans co-habit terraced land with olive trees Valleriana Italy
Sorana beans co-habit terraced land with olive trees
Grape harvest in Tuscany
Never forget the grapes!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, Tuscany

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, ItalyDear Art Lover,

     A couple of our friends and colleagues from the recent Tuscan symposium also had participated in a symposium for wood carving in the forest near Abetone, Italy (famous for skiing in the winter, blueberry festival in August).  So, quarry owner Marco Nardini took Kumiko Suzuki and me to this forest in Pian di Novello, slightly southwest of Abetone.

     As we wound through the curvy roads through the mountains, Marco asked us if we were afraid of heights.  We said we were game for what he had in mind and thus before we arrived to the symposium site, we found ourselves walking across the “ponte sospeso” (Suspended Bridge) in Comune di San Marcello Pistoiese.

     According to a sign on the site once one crosses the bridge, the longest suspension on a bridge is 1991 meters for the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan.  It has intermediate supports that span as much as 282 meters!  

     Marco told us that when he was a kid, this footbridge we were on (called the Ironworks Suspension Bridge) was rope and wood slats, with some of those missing.  It was more terrifyingly exciting than it is today, although, of course, much more dangerous and swinging movement.  The original bridge was only intended to be around for a few years.  It was built to aid workers from Popiglio get to the metallurgical plant of Mammiamo Basso quicker, shaving several kilometers [one way] off of their daily trip across the river.

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy
This sign is in front of a small, unassuming park that contains the entrance to the bridge

     The work was started in 1920, and S.M.L. ordered the plant closed in 1931 to focus manufacturing in Campotizzoro.  However, the bridge was so admired by all, and the designer Vincenzo Douglas-Scotti (1877-1937) praised, that the bridge not only remained, but was recreated in the materials one sees today. In 1980 it was reworked and again improved in 2004.  In 2014, solar-powered LED lights were added, making the bridge more beautiful. 

A quote from one of the signs there:
“The Area of the Suspension Bridge

     Since prehistoric times, the valley of the Lima torrent, the greatest tributary of the Serchio River, represented a route for penetrating and crossing the Apennines by nomad hunters and later Roman armies or medieval travelers.  The flat areas, now dominated by the suspension bridge, offered an ideal place for resting or camping, which is evidenced by the recent archaeological finds of worked flints dating back to the Epigravettian period (late epipaleolithic – about 9/10,000 years before Christ and ceramic fragments from the Roman Age, which are now preserved in the Naturalistic Archaeological Centre of the Pistoia Apennine, based in Campotizzoro and the Civic Museum of Natural Sciences and Archaeology of Val di Nievole.

     At that time the Lima torrent, like the Limestre torrent and the other main tributaries offered ideal conditions for setting up numerous hydraulic plants.  Think of the mills built to transform chestnuts into sweet flour, the main local foodstuff, and the pioneering Cini paper mills and many ironworks.

     The Magona Granducale, a Tuscan company regulated by a monopolistic regime for the production of iron in 1704, started with building the plants of Mammiano Basso, which soon became the largest production center in the area of Pistoia.

     When Magona was abolished in 1836, the production of iron and steel in Mammiano continued despite the subsequent numerous transfers of the structures, which finally ended up at the S.M.I. (Italian Metallurgical Company) at the end of the nineteenth century.

     It was during this period that the engineer Vicenzo Douglas-Scotti, who designed the bridge, was called upon to manage the plant.  Today, the area continues to be of great interest for its hydroelectric production, which is also implemented by using part of the canalizations and pipes that were originally created for the Magona plants.”

The Ironworks Suspension Bridge is free to walk across and admire the views.


P.S.  I woke this morning to an e-mail from my father asking if I was safe from the earthquake.  I was unaware of another one in Italy.  It occurred during the night last night and it looks devastating.  It was south of Tuscany, but tremendous.  As I write this, rescue workers are still searching to save anyone under the rubbish that they can. 

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy
Marco and Kumiko enjoy the Ironworks Suspended Bridge

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy metalwork, screws

Ironworks Suspended Bridge, near Abetone, Italy

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