September is a gorgeous gardening month… harvesting crops while still enjoying the many blooms in our garden. The eight inch wide blooms of our hibiscus, the spikey purple blooms of our artichokes and the vibrant red, potted geraniums give great pleasure. Harvesting the large plump Roma tomatoes and turning them into tomato sauce is a privilege. This year I bypassed the canning process and put the sauce in the freezer instead. My winter lettuces and chois have sprouted, and when covered with clear umbrellas, should last until the end of November. Meanwhile the Romaine lettuce I have been snipping all summer has regrown back nicely. Add a new crop of butter lettuce and we have great tasting salads awaiting us.
Sharing garden secrets is always good. Here is one from ‘The Side Yard Farm’ in Portland, Oregon:
“Fig leaves! One of my very favorite things to work with in the kitchen. You can do so much with these magical leaves and also fig wood as well. (In this photo,) l am getting the leaves ready for the dehydrator and I'm going to grind the dried leaves after and mix them with sugar to use in baking. The smell is something else, I love it. Coco-nutty, almondy, hints of leather and tobacco. I love using the leaves for making syrups, I add it to my baklava syrup and it's amazing. They make a delicious ice cream, cookies, cakes, muffins, pancakes and more. You can use them as a wrap for things like fish, use them in a meat brine and more. The wood is also magical. We dry the wood out for a year, cut into small rounds and use in the smoker to smoke fish.”
We spent two weeks in Italy this summer, spending most of it in Capitignano, Abruzzo, hometown of my maternal great grandmother, Domenica Fulvimari Alimonti. We were very impressed with the motorways out of Rome. There was mile upon mile of pink and white Oleanders lining the roads. Two hours later we approached L’Aquila, the capital city of Abruzzo and definitely a mountain town. We came across numerous Roman ruins dotted through out the hillsides. Capitignano is located on a hillside surrounded by forests and overlooking a small valley. The valley consists of numerous small farms separated by hedgerows. Many of these farms are now growing hay, some so small they only produce one large round bale. Some of the farmers drive their tractors from the farm to their residence on the hillside.
Capitignano’s climate is very similar to Kelowna. The temperatures matched that of Kelowna every day we were there, although due to their higher elevation, the gardens were a bit behind ours. The gardens have almost identical plants as we grow, including the bind weed in their lavender. Roses and trumpet vines line many of their railing fences. Geraniums in terra cotta pots are found at almost every house. New to us, we enjoyed their fresh Donut peaches. Ironically, at the same time I came across a Facebook posting about Donut peaches being grown in the Okanagan.
Capitignano (and adjoining Mopolino) is home to approximately 600 homes. One third of these are nicely fixed up after the earthquake, five years ago. The next third are shuttered up and lived in during the summer by families living in Rome and other nearby locales. The last third are in various degrees of abandonment or are being propped up to keep them stable awaiting rehabilitation. Most of he permanent residents have vegetable gardens, growing much the same crops as we do.
Agri-tourism is being encouraged. We spent some time with Giuseppe Commentucci who runs a Botanical Garden and operates a restaurant, serving mostly products he raises on his farm. A group he spearheads has revitalized Pastinaca, a mountain parsnip. They sold their first seeds this year. Also featured in the area are their Mountain Potato, a delicious yellow variety. Saffron is an Abruzzo speciality that they are very proud of. Visiting Giuseppe’s cantina at his restaurant was very interesting. It was filled with sacks of chickpeas and corn as well as vacuum sealed packages of beans and lentils. Hanging next to them were slabs of Guanciale (pork cheeks). Across the cellar were contrasting deep freezers and wine racks. Giuseppe certainly has his priorities… the placement of a cot in a small brook gives the perfect resting place.
As well as enjoying the gardens, meeting the towns people and many new relatives, I was able to spend some time in their church archives finding numerous family records going back to the 1500s… and finding one of my x13 great grandfathers. A very enjoyable trip.
Life-long Gardener Don Rampone shares his tips and advice for gardening