The sunshine here in Vancouver has me thinking of springtime in Umbria. I think fall and spring are my favourite times of the year in Italy; this is when everything comes alive. The summer is arid and plant life withers away in the heat and the winter is cold causing people, plants and animals to hibernate. Spring is when everything comes back to life. The grass in the olive groves looks young and tender and little flowers bloom in white drifts that punctuate the hillsides. This is the time of year when we would go out foraging for wild asparagus. Everyone in Amelia has their favourite spot that is a closely guarded secret. I remember coming home with fists full of twisty thin asparagus and making simple past sauces finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a shaving of parmiggiano. Franca, my friends Walter and Mary’s mother, made the best wild asparagus lasagna, which featured the lovely sausages they make in Amelia (my favourites were from the butcher’s in the centro storico on via della Repubblica).
Olives are harvested and pressed only once a year, but caring for and monitoring the trees is a job that continues all year. Spring is when buds appear on the olive trees and just after Easter they bloom. Olive flowers have a very delicate floral fragrance that some Amerini say they can smell in the air in April. Most olive trees are wind pollinated or hermaphroditic, so this is an important moment for olive production. If there is too much rain or hail, the flowers can be damaged and pollination is nearly impossible. In late spring, farmers cross their fingers and wait to see if the little ‘buds’ that will become olives start forming (hopefully in abundance).
This is just one moment in the long and precarious life cycle of the olive. When I drizzle olive oil over my wild asparagus pasta, I can’t help but think of all of the effort and buona fortuna that goes into making such a wonderful product. I am crossing my fingers for fine weather and a light breeze over the green Umbrian hills this spring. I am sure Francesco will keep us up to date on the progress of his olive groves.