The Wisdom of the Contadini. Spring Garden Diary

An old Italian proverb advises,” Quando i mandorli fioriscono, le donne impazziscono“- when the almond tree blooms, women go crazy. I can safely say that I missed this arboricultural, aphrodisiacal or psychotic event a few weeks ago. The almonds already have fruit! Mr Tranquillo is looking for a later flowering variety to extend the season.

My productive organic orto reminds me of the wisdom contained in old Italian proverbs, based on the experience of centuries of vegetable growing by the Italian contadini, the rural peasants, who depended on a productive home garden for crops to be eaten fresh, stored, pickled or dried. Given that this class of farmer was often at the mercy of the landowner, working under the mezzadria, the traditional share cropping system, a productive ‘home’ patch would have been essential to their survival.

Earrly zucchini plantings- another round wll be planted in late December
Early zucchini planting- another round will be planted in late December.

With each turn around the garden, I can hear the vecchi, the old folk, reciting advice in the form of rhymes, the oral history of food and planting.  I have selected a few gems to go with this season’s verdant bounty.

Masses of herbs
Masses of herbs for salsa and pesto
  • Chi pianta le fave senza concime, le raccoglie senza baccello – Those who plant broadbeans without fertiliser, picks them without pods.
Waiting for the first Fave Beans
Waiting for the first fave beans.
  • Chi ha un buon orto, ha un buon porco. Those who have a good vegetable garden, have a good pig. We find this to be the case with chooks also: they love wild rocket and silverbeet.
    The girls are excited when the big gates are opened. Springtime meeans more eggs.
    Let me out…stamp, stamp, stamp.
  • Un piatto di lattuga l’insonnia mette in fuga.  A plate of lettuce chases away insomnia.

    cos and radicchio
    cos and radicchio
  • L’insalata vuole il sale da un sapiente, l’aceto da un avaro, l’olio da un prodigo, vuol essere mescolata da un matto e mangiata da un affamato.  A salad wants salt from a wise man, vinegar from a miser and oil from a squanderer, mixed by a madman and eaten by the hungry.
  • Wild rocket pops up anywhere in the garden: enough for us and the chooks.
    Wild rocket pops up anywhere in the garden: enough for us and the chooks.
  • Lattuga romanella ripulisce la budella. Cos lettuce cleans the gut.

    Abundant Cos lettuce seedlings from saved seed
    Abundant Cos lettuce seedlings from saved seed

Simple dishes star this season, the cucina povera of the Italian contadini: 

  • freshly made egg pasta with sage leaves browned in butter
  • frittata stuffed with herbs and wild greens, with ricotta saltata
  • orecchiette with turnip tops, garlic and anchovies
  • green salads wisely dressed
  • pies and tarts with silverbeet, dill, spring onions and mint, along with fetta
  • silver beet dolmades
  • salsa verde to dress fish or dill and walnut pesto to dress hard-boiled eggs
  • risotto with cavolo nero or radicchio
Radiccho grows everywhere, as well as in the path!
Radiccho grows everywhere, as well as in the path!

It’s all very green with the odd touch of bitter crimson. The planting of the summer fruiting vegetables has begun.

The most versatile vegetable, the humble silver beet.
The most versatile vegetable, the humble silver beet.

Julie’s Spring garden in the North Island of New Zealand is always inspiring, especially given her brilliant photography. Find her at frogpondfarm

I am also linking in with Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective this month.

34 thoughts on “The Wisdom of the Contadini. Spring Garden Diary”

  1. You have such a gorgeous garden Francesca! Ah, I am envious. My balcony pots continually struggle, despite the large amounts of effort I put into them. Cannot wiat to see what you do with your produce once you harvest it xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the way you’ve done this post. Everything is looking so beautifully verdant and bursting with new growth. “A salad wants salt from a wise man, vinegar from a miser and oil from a squanderer, mixed by a madman and eaten by the hungry”. Might get that made up to hang in my kitchen wall, love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cucina povera… these days the ability to cook and/or grow fresh produce makes us rich not necessarily in a financial sense although via some grocers & markets it maybe so. But that we value the connection to the food and its provenance, as those words of wisdom have meaning for us still 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am often amazed at the price of organic vegetables so I do see my harvest as a kind of wealth and feel privileged to have land on which to grow it. It is amusing how the ‘cucina povera’ of old becomes the food of the modern ‘borghese’.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Not only is your garden amazing, I want to come over for dinner! I think you have just answered my broadbean disaster from last year. We got loads and loads of flowers but hardly any beans. The key must be to fertilize – thankyou

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello Miss, how lovely to get a mention on our fab blog. So nice of you Francesca! How eager are you getting those zucchs in early. I’m impressed. And what about al the super salad greenery much of it self seeded? Lucky chooks .. stamp stamp! Have fun in your wondeful garden .. Oh I’m also waiting on fava beans too .. might whizz out and give them another blast of seaweed brew! Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was wrong, I missed reading this one! It brings back memories of my Nonno’s home garden. He was from Supino, about 70 kilometres outside of Roma. Food like that is such a gift to oneself and family. My Italian is very rusty but this was a good refresher!

    Liked by 1 person

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