Saturday, December 8, 2012

Adopt an olive tree this Christmas

Looking for a Christmas gift that is a little different then why not adopt an olive tree from
Casa Margherita.

With a beautiful initial gift box filled with an adoption certificate complete with your personal message, a sample tin of olive oil and an olive oil handbook, then in summer a copy of the
Casa Margherita recipe book and then in winter a guaranteed two litres of extra virgin olive oil.

Choose from a 'young & virile', a 'full flush' or an 'elder statesman' tree. All this for only €71.50 plus shipping. Find out more at

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pea souper

We have been engulfed in a good old fashioned pea souper whilst waiting for a courier to pick up the olive oil for our UK olive tree adopters. Naturally enough he has just arrived - 6.00pm.

The weather meant we were unable see this.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Flocking sheep it's cold

We had the first snow of the winter today. The thermostat in the car went from 4° to -1° quicker than you could have a gin and tonic and a kebab.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Autumnal vines

We have been wanting to go over to Montefalco on the other side of the valley to see first hand the vines in their autumnal glory and today was the day. We are a bit late but they still provide a great dash of colour in the landscape.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trevi in the mist

This was Trevi earlier today sitting in a sea of mist. The valley has been completely covered for days now whilst here at Casa Margherita we have been basking in the winter sun.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

It's milling time

Back down the mill again today for a shift to get another pressing under my belt. Once you have pressed olives a few times the child like awe of the first time has long since dissipated but the stylistic elements of the various parts of the mill can be distracting. Italian made Italian style.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More praise for Cuoco the recipe book

About thirty recipes from antipasti to dolci are included in this volume, and the photographs are simply gorgeous; anyone interested in regional Italian cuisine, Umbrian cuisine, Umbrian culture, or even food photography would likely enjoy it." Bleeding Espresso blog

Available from for a snip at €10.00.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Adopt a gargoyle

The gargoyles on the facade of the Milan cathedral are available to be adopted for a mere €80,000.

With the government cuts to spending the restoration budgets for Italy's litany of historical buildings is under massive pressure. The Milan council has chosen this method to try and raise €25 million for essential restoration.

For rather less, in fact only €71.50, you can adopt an olive tree from Casa Margherita. which makes for a great Christmas gift. Find out more at

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Porca miseria madonna mia

Whilst I am a fluent swearer in English I have thankfully not learn't any Italian swear words.

This was our car this morning after a night of torrential rain which has caused flooding in various parts of Umbria. The jeep was beached as the gullies caused by the rain were so deep.

I had unwisely left it there overnight having got stuck coming back from a social event - had you been drinking Sir - yes of course I had. Alcohol had no bearing on the matter as the L'Artista will vouch.

Anyway, a kind neighbour came down and dragged the jeep out with his tractor.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Olio nuovo arriva

Lovely. Vibrant green and at this point unfiltered. None of your anaemic supermarket rubbish here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Windmills of my mind

One of the many advantages of picking olives is that you have plenty of time to think as the actual task is very easy. So your mind is able to wonder and you can ruminate on all things great and small. The banal, the personal, the rude, the crude. The big ones - love and death. As George W Bush fabulously said the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns.

Good job you cannot pick olives all the time............

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tough picking

Our dogs Winnie and Ugo love the olive harvest. They get to spend all day in the grove watching, guarding, getting in the way, biting the net, chasing birds and generally having a fantastic time.

Now its dark and having been fed they are tucked up in small balls trying to get to sleep while I play loud music. Povera loro!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Festa della castagna

Manciano is the name of the small village where Casa Margherita is located and this weekend has seen the second year of it's Festa della Castagna or chestnut festival.

We wandered up yesterday evening to have a glass of red and have a chat today with friends and neighbors.

Today back to picking in between the showers.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Stagionato - I don't think so

Back to Assisi today to check out the festa they are having called Unto. There were numerous stalls with many offering tastings of this years new olive oil - olio nuovo. I am biased here but I thought most were rather lacking in taste as so rather disappointing. There was only one that had the big full flavor and deep green colour that is associated with new olive from this area.

I also noticed one stall holder offering olio stagionato which means seasoned or aged. It is normally used in the context of cheese, wine and meat. The oil on offer was last years olive oil and frankly was just old.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The sky at night

The sky last night in fact.

Today we have been picking olives and are now getting ready to go to the launch party of the
Novello d'Autore of Di Filippo for which Rachel has created six paintings to form the labels for the wine. These can be seen at

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Up we go

Weather permitting we are going to start picking tomorrow. May need a bit of luck this year as there is rain forecast for 9 of the next 10 days. Proviamola.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

St Francis of Assisi

I was in Assisi today doing some leaflet drops. Assisi is tourist central of Umbria housing as tit does the amazing Basilica of St. Francesco celebrating the life of the great Italian saint St. Francis. The town is highly commercialized and is full of shops selling various tourist tat for the hoards who travel there.

This lead me to think was there a way Casa Margherita could help ensure the spirit of St Francis lives on. I think I may have something.

A t-shirt range - Frannie says

Frannie says step on

Frannie says brown's cool

Frannie says go travel

Frannie says poor is good

Frannie says one peace at a time

The range could be endless.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What price olives?

Rumours are swirling that 100 kilos of these will cost over €100 this year. This is a considerable increase on last year when the price was around €75. True, this year there is a notably less fruit but that is quite some increase. Great if your selling but are there any sellers. I spoke to someone today who was searching for fruit to buy and he had been unable to find any.

All will out as they say.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You wish they were all like this

Full of deep red/purple hued fruit with the branches of the tree hanging down with the weight of the olives. Alas nature is not always thus and so this is the exception rather than the norm. Maybe next year...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Autumn like spring

The combination of daytime temperatures in the early 20's and some very heavy morning dews has left the groves looking rather springlike with a carpet of lush green grass underneath.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Harvest lunch

The olive harvest  in times past meant the effort of the extended family and work was done exclusively by hand. This meant long days in the grove. The harvest now is finished before Christmas and the mills are all shut. Previously the harvest would have continued on into February and March. Hard work indeed but it was the vital cash crop for many families.

I am lucky in that my grove is outside my front door and so I can easily return home for lunch. This would have been out of the question for most pickers and so lunch was provided for in the grove. There would have been a fire and any food that could be found to hand, such as these mushrooms I found in the grove this morning, would have been a welcome addition to the menu. You can imagine someone would have gone hunting to see if they could quickly kill something for the pot.

Time for my lunch...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What's in a name

This variety of squash, which we bought today, is called Mantovani after the famous Anglo-Italian composer who died in 1980. He was Britain's most successful album act before the Beatles it says here!

Now is having a vegetable named after you good or bad. Well it could be a street, maybe a park, even a whole city that carries your moniker. How about a wine, a football team, a motor car, a planet or star.

Better something than nothing I suppose.

Anyway, I am looking forward to a piping hot bowl of Mantovani soup.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The mist and olives

This was taken Saturday morning and shows Trevi and the valley below full of mist. As the sun warmed the air this lifted and the valley was eventually clear again.

Today Alveiro came up to view the grove below the house which he tends for a local Avocate. We now get on very well with him having earn't our stripes over the years. At first he was quite off but because I was keen to work the olive grove we have some common ground and he is happy to stop and chew the cud - about olives of course.

He did drop in the conversation that one of our neighbors was looking for help to pick her olives and, as is common, was wanting to 'pay' with olives. So you help pick and take an agreed percentage of olives picked as payment.

I am quite interested as we have enough olives for our olive tree adopters but no more and so I would like more olives so I have some oil to sell.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


The mills are already pressing. Olio nuovo is upon us. The first oils of the new season's harvest.

I tasted some olio nuovo last night which quite honestly was the colour of some awful mint cocktail and tasted of nothing but it was new which is the only thing that could be said in its favour.

I am still holding fire on picking and keeping a close eye on the trees.......

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Il Palio di Trevi

Saturday night saw the 32nd running of the Palio which pitches teams from the three Terzieri against each other pulling a cart weighing some 430kg's over a course ending in the central Piazza of Trevi.

The three terzieri are Matiggia, Castello and Piano. This year it was Piano who triumphed with a time of 2' 23".

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ramblin' man

Been in the orto today tidying up some bits and pieces. The tomatoes still have a reasonable amount of fruit on them and the weather is still very warm. A lot warmer than the same time last year I believe.

At this point Rachel would say I should keep a weather diary, like someone she knew in New Zealand, so in a thrice I could refer back and discover what the weather conditions were exactly this time last year or even 5 years ago. Not my thing really.

Now, mutterings offstage that 'there is not much to do in New Zealand' will be ignored as being without foundation.

We are going to leave parts of the veg garden fallow over winter and bring in a load of compost and manure in a concerted effort to improve the structure of the soil.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On your bike

As Norman Tebbit famously inferred in 1981 to the Conservative party conference.

Fast forward to another recessionary period and the Italians are getting on their bikes. Sales of bicycles in 2011 outstripped cars for the first time since the second world war. Quite astonishing really given how much Italians like their cars.

The another thing that is noticeable is that we are in the hunting season and there are significantly fewer rounds being shot. I do not know how much a hunting licence costs but it will run into hundreds of Euros' easily I would thing so another possible saving in these straightened times.

Monday, October 1, 2012

More praise for Cuoco

I made the semifreddo last night for our guests. They were stunned. It was the perfect partner to a few glasses of Moscatel.

Rupert Kirby
Casa Rosada

The Casa Margherita Cookbook - Cuoco - Recipes From Umbria's Larder is available to buy at

Saturday, September 29, 2012



Seeing these horse chestnuts on the ground yesterday reminded me of when I was a small boy and of playing conkers at school.

The chestnuts were collected and then hardened by various methods (brine, baking or vinegar) and then a string was inserted through the middle and knotted and you were ready for competition.

Conkers were played at every single opportunity at school - between lessons, during lessons and at break times. You had one strike in turn with the object being to break the opposing players conker into pieces. If you were victorious then your conker was a oner. Victory a second time a twoer and so on.

If someone had a champion conker - say twelver then you would normally only expose it to similarly successful opponents.

Them were days.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I read somewhere recently that the global weather was confused. This is an apt phrase as the autumn so far has been extremely mild. This has mean't that our pear tree is in flower and today I saw some wild asparagus in the olive grove.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lazy Sunday afternoon

This is a sketch of Winnie rolling on the grass this afternoon. Very relaxed and at ease with the world.

I, in the meantime was hard at work watching the F1 in Singapore. What a fantastic venue. Result so so with la Ferrari in third.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The shape we're in

We have had a couple days of rain recently which has helped fatten up the olives. They are on the verge of starting to change color and take on some purple hues. We are looking to start picking sometime in early November but will play it by ear nearer the time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Ugo has been with us here at Casa Margherita for about a year now. He had been abandoned and had taken shelter outside of a friends house. They we unable to take him in as the already had a menagerie of animals. He was so desperate to be adopted that I succumbed and we brought him home with us.

Quite a flight of fancy as we did not really know what sort of dog he was but he has turned out fabulously. He is still a bit of a puppy and has a penchant for shoes, socks and feet in general. Winnie our Westie has taught him all her bad habits......

Anyway auguri Ugo.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Today was the 33rd edition of the above in Montefalco. A celebration of the sagrantino wine which is unique to the area and also of the current years harvest which is currently underway. Time for a porchetta sandwich washed down with a glass of 2012 ruffino red.

Friday, September 14, 2012

La vendemmia

The wine growers in the area are busy harvesting the grapes whilst olive growers like myself are cleaning the land they didn't get to because it was too hot and starting to check nets and crates ready for picking at the end of October/early November.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

No more queues at the Post Office

Unbelievable but true. One of the measures that the technocrat government of Mario Monti has introduced is that state pensions over €1,000 a month need to be paid into a bank account and can no longer be collected in cash from the Post Office. Previously every Post Office was heaving with pensioners queuing up to collect their pension. No more.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A little something from the Casa Margherita cookbook

Zuppa di lenticchie (spicy lentil soup)

Umbrian cuisine uses the legume family a lot. Chickpeas, lentils, cannellini, borlotti, butter beans and local varieties such as roveja and cicerchia all feature widely.

Castelluccio lentils are king in Umbria. Castellucio itself is another impressive hill top town in the Monti Sibillini hills but the Piano Grande, the flat plateau below Castelluccio, is breathtaking. Completely undeveloped it is a magnificent sight which I recommend to anyone coming to Umbria.

Serves 2

2 tins 800g (28 oz) of un-drained red lentils
1 small onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon curry powder

Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the onion and garlic to a pan and soften gently over a low heat for 10 minutes without browning. Add the lentils with their juices and turn the heat up so they reach a simmer.

Separately in a small frying pan add the other tablespoon of olive oil and add a teaspoon of curry powder, Brown this lightly and add to the soup. Mix well. I like to whizz the soup in a food processor until it is smooth. However you can opt not to whizz it at all or have it half and half.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lager, lager, lager

Earlier in the year Rachel designed a set of labels for a start-up brewery based in Spoleto. The beer is now on the shelves and hopefully will sell well.

You can see the labels Rachel designed here at

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Very lucky indeed

On Sunday our Westie, Winnie, suffered a snakebite from a viper. We did not see the event itself but saw her lying down and shaking. This was familiar from when she was bitten three years previously. We tried to find the two distinctive puncture marks but couldn't and so called the vet and met her at the surgery.

The vet prepared to inject the serum into Winnie and you could tell that she worried that Winnie would not be able to withstand the anaphylactic shock should one occur. As it turned out there was no shock and so Winnie spent the rest of the day on a drip and returned home on the Monday. She is exhausted from the event and is recovering slowly. She is one very lucky dog however.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pickling and preserving

As well as making jars and jars of passata, this is the time of the year for some serious pickling here at Casa Margherita HQ. We are pickling onions, chillies and garlic.

Can't wait for the taste of the pickled onions with some porchetta. Wow. Luckily our friends brought us some mature cheddar which will be very nice as well.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Riprendiamo il ritmo

We recently celebrated the birthday of L'Artista with some lovely peach blinis.

This week has seen Italy return to work after the traditional two week summer break. We too are getting back to work after taking time off whilst we had some friends to stay. Rachel is back in the studio and I am working to publicise the cookbook - Cuoco.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The rural life

Leaving the house last night to see a choir in Trevi in the trusty Panda and got beached on our very rutted track about 20 metros from the house.

Few choice words and then back to the house to change, and get the other car and tow/prise free the Panda free.

Job done. As you were. It was never like this in London.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A sounder of wild boars (cinghiali)

We have seen wild boar here before but not for some time. So it was a shock this morning to see a large group (sounder) of wild boars walking in file down the track passing below through the groves below the house. It was even odder it that there was a large number and it was broad daylight (09:00) and  they are nocturnal animals.

Luckily our dogs decided not to chase them.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A palindromic day

The 12.8.12. But the big done will be 20.12.2012 and the last of the century.

Today we went to Bevagna to have a stroll , take some photos and sell in the recipe book.  A couple of shops took it which was great. On leaving we bought a loaf of bread and without doubt it was the tastiest loaf we have had since moving here. So tasty I just had to have a slice of toast and marmite. How English.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Voodoo night

We are currently in the middle of Trevi's summer music festival so tonight we are going to see Denise King and the Olivier Hutman quartet. This will be outside at Villa Fabri which has a wonderful view down the valley towards Spoleto after a geat pizza at the Casareccia. I fever you come to Trevi you must have a pizza here . They are great.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Casa Margherita Cookbook - Cuoco

Filled with great recipes both traditional and inspired by the food of Umbria. Its full of evocative images that give the reader a real feeling of life here in Umbria and a taste of its cuisine. Avaliable at for only €10.00 and throughout Umbria.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's passata time

Not quite as we intended as what were sold as being San Marzano have turned out not to be 100% SM but Cuore di Bue and another unidentifiable type. One of our neighbors had the same problem and went back to the nursery to complain!

Anyway there is passata to be made. Very simple no onion no garlic just olive oil, chopped tomatoes and salt. Bring them to the boil and then simmer away for an hour or until you have a thick tomato sauce. The bottle in sterilised bottles.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A view of Trevi this morning

These are rainclouds and not smoke. Today we have had quite a lot of rain which has been a relief to everything as it has been too hot and too dry for too long.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The scourge of southern Europe

No not Mrs Merkel in this instance but wildfires. This is smoke hanging in the valley just the other day. Nothing like as serious as those in Portugal, Spain and Greece but the first time I have seen this here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Do I not like that

We've had a summer heatwave now for about a month with temperatures in the high 30°c. This on top of a winter where we had only about 40% of the normal rainfall means that the olives, whilst very hardy are starting to let some of the fruit go. They dry up and are dropped from the tree. Not a good sight.

The forecast has some very heavy rain forecast over the next week which may halt this process.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Don't publish in summer

Obsessing as I am about the Casa Margherita cookbook - Cuoco I finished off the ISBN application today. For those who don't know the ISBN is the bar code on the back of a book. Each country has it's own body that issues these numbers. The Italian one is closing down for holidays soon which means that any application for an ISBN received after the 25th July will not be worked on until they return on the 27th August. You relax guys take the weight off................

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gerard Depardieu

Feel a bit like his character in Jean de Florette at the moment as the pump for the water tank that supplies all the outside taps is broken so we are having to siphon water from the house water tank and water the garden and veg patch by hand. It's blistering hot as well.

Life on the land eh.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

We are nearly there...

It's getting very very close. Can you feel it?

The recipes have been cooked and eaten. Cooked and eaten. Cooked and eaten again. The text has come together and the photos all taken. The design been designed. and now it's at the printer............

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Adopt a cockney accent and ...

Onions. Lovely onions. Look at these lovely onions. I bet you know your onions missus. What do think of these lovely beauties. Plump and lovely. C'mon what you gonna offer me for these.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Roveja 2

These are the roveja or wild peas that I sowed back in February which are now fully dried. They have a very earthy dense flavour which I really like especially in a vegetarian chilli.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Where will you be...

Sunday 24th June, 19.45 GMT 20.45 CET

Well I'll be in Piazza Garabaldi watching the Italy vs England game on the big screen after having had a pizza at the Casarecchia.

Who will win? England better!

Monday, June 18, 2012

E voila!

Soap for the house of Margherita that needs to dry for a few weeks.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The fine art of saponification

Great use for cheap supermarket olive oil - make it into soap.

We had recently run out of the last batch of soap so today it was time to make some more. It is very easy. You need olive oil water and lye. Mix them together adding scent and colour if you wish. Leave the mixture for 24 hours and then cut into bars and leave to dry for 4 to 6 weeks.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

At this moment

As you can see from this photo the olive flowers have set and their remnants remain at the end of the set fruit . The small round green olives are starting to grow. The grower can now sit back and wait till harvest time.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ooh err missus

Bastia Umbra is holding the Sagra del Wurstel shortly. I passed a billboard advertising it this morning proudly proclaiming 43cm - le misure contano! I don't think we need a translation for that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


One of the advantages of having to cut the grass in the grove is that you get the chance to look at all the olives with being seen to be obsessing, nerdy or train spottery.

These are the roveja (wild peas) that I have grown from sprouting some peas in water. No GM here. I will be drying them and looking forward to using them in winter.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sun shining and mowing the grass

A bit late this year due to the damp spring but all grove owners are now getting the grass cut in the grove. At the moment it is higher than the bonnet of our Fiat Panda.

The hill in the background of this picture is where Casa Margherita is located.

Forza Italia contro Spagna in Euro 2012.