I used to hide in my mum’s, my aunts’ and their friends’ skirts. I’d hide there from my cousins whilst playing hide-and-seek. I don’t care about Oedipus, I’ve already sorted that out and I adore my mother, but I will always associate the vineyard holidays with those moments, innocent or not. “Leave your Grandfather alone”, baked pasta, roast lamb and puntarelle…he doesn’t even care for these things nowadays: Fava! fava! fava beans!, dipped in salt or eaten with pecorino cheese, dripping like the women he boasts to have abandoned. Nowadays he’ll only eat those. I’m not exaggerating either! They are real words, carved into our memories, words that me and my brothers identify each other with. Grandma, annoyed and proud of the old, alluring, geezer. A great group of relatives, ready to throw into each other’s faces their so called qualities, yet a real, true and solid affection.
In this, the fava bean holds an important role. Sweet and insatiable, an example of how people have a common, simple identity, yet still it is an irreplaceable one.
Our wines, that flowed and went down throats to compensate for joys and pains. The salt of a Frascati Superiore and a fine sea-salt covering that water-green delight (which I challenge any painter to match on his palette!) that was the Roman Fava bean.
Then the sweet breeze, May-day with its Red Flag, and us, on our way home. Me hidden under mum’s skirt, that little man who was his father’s great expectation. "Go on! Forza! where are you all! Get a move on!" Now we have another year to wait, but Ferragosto will soon arrive, with the water melon cooling in the well, our summer treat.
In Italy it’s called bugiardino (meaning literally, the little liar), that apparently minuscule piece of paper, that once unfolded warns us of the contents, dosage, therapeutic usage and side effects of medicines.
For the moment, only for the moment, with wines we get by with labels that have to respect the law and common sense, to guide us to use it sensibly. But, really, he who has been to a wine-tasting course or those that find themselves having to taste wine in a professional manner, should know that there are times of the day that are better than others for our senses to enable us to understand this magic liquid to the full. The palate, the nose the senses have to also be absolutely free of interference. For example that coffee had just a moment before, that cigarette not to mention practically all foods of any nature or substance. Literally hard iron rules and contraindications so as not to jeopardise this act of tasting, this bud tickling, of what remains an exercise of judgment almost like in a polling station when one goes to vote in the elections.
But, seeing that Bacco, Tabacco e Venere, apart from leaving us in cinders, are absolutely our own personal choices in life that encounter one and another in every moment with resounding results, in my opinion, here I am at the end of each tasting, since as long as I can remember: I eat, I drink yet more wine and if I can, I’ll light up, and it goes down even more a treat, if I can revel in the company of one or more lovely lady.
After all, prohibition is the worst possibile incentive of good behaviour.
But I’ll read it, and you too dear friends, the ‘bugiardino’ with great attention as well as the labels on wine..except for the ones I make, those I trust.
Jack-of-all-trades and forager that I am, I was roaming the hills looking for wild asparagus to gather, exquisite with pasta, with just a few anchovies and tomato, wandering the odd copse, ditch and cultivated field.
With my trained eye, from years of contadinitudine, I could pick out from hundreds of yards away in the March sun, all sorts of different crops: tic beans, wheat, barley, the vineyards and the olive groves, wild fields or those being prepared for corn or sunflowers.
Coming out from behind a mound, clutching my bunch of wild asparagus victoriously, I saw this particular score of acres, already ploughed and cleared of boulders, but eroded by the torrential rain and the slope. A vineyard, I realised, only a vineyard would be right on here. The ditches carved in the ground by the near monsoon-like rains where almost like the tears in a Burri canvas. Whilst all around nature was sprouting and budding.
I couldn’t help thinking about the pain that farmer must have felt: this year he wouldn’t be able to plant his vineyard. I bet he never lost hope right to the last minute. A whole year in the vineyards is one really long year.
Making my way down to the valley, towards the sea, I thought, maybe he’s stubborn. Maybe he’ll manage to prepare that perfumed bed in time. In that instant I could see beyond the clear sky, there was a certain restlessness brewing and, from the north I could hear a clear rumble of thunder.
Right now, in these days of the Easter festivities, I was reminded of the odour of eggs that during this period you could once smell around the lanes of Frascati and Marino, where the doors of many cellars were flung open.
Between March and April thousands of eggs were cracked open, often coming from hens kept in the campagna in and around the vineyards. This was nothing to do with the rebirth rite connected to Easter. And nor were they chocolate eggs with surprises inside. The whites were separated (I can remember so well sticking my fingers in the soft yellow spheres!) so that the ‘chiarate’ could be prepared: a Botte barrel of a thousand litres would need 30 beaten whites, that descending through the wine would clarify from any impurities suspended. Dragging them to sediment on the bottom, leaving just the limpid and perfumed wine behind.
The yolks became our biscuits, ciambelloni cakes, tozzetti (or the hard chewy mostaccioli if honey was added), but never, ever, cantucci!
An ancient oenological technique that of the chiarata, centuries-old, descending through the wonderful world of farmers that always had a watchful eye on health and knew how to live well with little. Disastrous to lose such people.
a group of people, that have lived and experienced the wonderful atmosphere of Frascati for many years, and now wish to share it with you.