Chestnut Flour Cake

Getting someone in Italy to give you a recipe is not as easy as you think.
Take for example, Castagnaccio, a chestnut flour cake. I was visiting my friends' home in Sienna and they were going to show me how to make Castagnaccio, a typical dessert in several regions of Italy(more about that later).

Their directions: Take some chestnut flour, add water and mix till the consistency is right. Easy for them to say. Midway during the mixing they pour in some olive oil(the only fat-no butter anywhere in this cake). Then they added orange rind, pine nuts, and raisins.
Undaunted I looked on the package of chestnut flour. It said take chestnut flour and add water or milk till you get a dough. Add some olive oil, pine nuts, and raisins. Put in a cake pan.
Must be such a traditional recipe they are just filling up the back of the package with a requisite but semi unhelpful recipe.
Now about the 2 different toppings. My friends are from 2 different regions of Italy. Sienna is in Tuscany and Bedonia is north west of Florence, between Parma and the Mediterranean Sea. The Tuscan version is topped with pine nuts and rosemary. The Bedonia version is topped with sweetened ricotta. Both were delicious.

I had an amazing neighbor. Her name was Margaretta Thurlow and she died almost 2 years at 96.
I think of her often. When I had a question about plants, she was the person I called. She was better than the internet. Even at 96. Her dream as a kid was to work for Burpee seeds. So imagine, in rural Maine in the 1930's being a woman and going off to college(Margaretta was the first female graduate of the University of Maine Agricultural School) and then going to Pennsylvania to work for Burpees. After working in Pennsylvania for several years she went to California to help Burpee develop their big boy tomatoes. She had 100 staff under her cross pollinating tomatoes by hand. She came back to Maine in the 1950's and never left again. She had chickens, peacocks, and 2 huge gardens. Below is a photo I took years ago of her efforts to help her tomatoes survive the first frost. I call the photo the Tomato People. Never knew where she got all the old coats.

Arisaema sikokianum

Look what is blooming in my garden!
It is a variety of Jack in the pulpit called Arisaema sikokianum.
I have had if for 3 years and figured it was not going to do anything and then this year, voila!

Nacissus blunder

Do not let stinging nettle invade the space where you have narcissus growing.
It is very painful to pick a bouquet.

Spring dug carrots and garlic

I purposely left carrots in the ground last fall to dig up this spring. Luckily I didn't realize how many I left.
It is amazing to me how the carrots are still firm and crunchy after spending 4 months buried under snow and then suffering thaws and re-freezings. I find the spring dug carrots do not have quite as intense "vegetable" flavor and are much sweeter than those eaten last summer.

The spring dug garlics are also quite sweet, less intense. They taste more like the scapes than the bulbs. For dinner, I picked new ramps and sorrel and last season's sage and thyme. Then I chopped it all with the spring garlic(greens and all) put it under the skin of a local organic chicken, which I put on a bed of the sliced carrots and roasted it. Simple, fresh and flavorful.
I photographed the carrots in front of part of my stinging nettle patch. I am a nettle wimp. Pam Mountain, a fabulous cook, is a huge fan of nettles. She extols their health and culinary virtue. She sautes them with other greens and puts them in soups. I am convinced, even sauteed nettles, are prickly going down.
As I said, I am a nettle wimp.

Too early!

double blood root April 9, 2010 and in bloom April 11, 2010!