Is there a garden anywhere worth the trouble of a 7 am wake-up call? Before today, even an invitation to rendezvous at 7 am in the Garden of Eden would've gotten a big fat, no thanks, Adam, from me. Too many snakes, don't like apples. But today? Today the answer is yes.
If I had any doubt this whole Agriturismo thing, for all its romantic illusion of a simple return to a simpler time, is really incredibly hard work, it is put to rest when Louise drops me off at the Sapori for a farm tour.
Before the car door slams shut behind me, I feel like a sloth. By the time I arrive, the entire family is hard at work, checking guests out, cooking, cleaning. The same family I left last night at 10 pm, when they were clearing the dinner dishes from my table, the dining room still full, is back at it a scant few hours later.
After a boisterous 'salve' and the welcome offer an espresso macchiato and a light-as-a-cloud slice of ricotta lemon cake, Livia introduces me to her father, the farmer of the operation. He and I pile into his car, and immediately go off-road into one of the many fields that create the velvety, tapestry-like landscape of Abruzzo. The car smells curiously of sheep's milk cheese, a not unwelcome aroma to me.
'Oh,' he says, 'I forgot to drop off the cheese.' I turn around, and sure enough, a dozen wheels of sheep's milk pecorino, the Cannestrato del Castel del Monte, are tucked into the trunk. He smiles sheepishly. (Sorry, I couldn't help it.)
He's all business. I don't even learn his name. He's very serious about his farm, and perhaps a little put out that he's taking up valuable time showing me around. He reminds me that it's late in the season, the fields are almost farmed out. Not much left to see. Don't expect too much.
As we move deeper into the countryside, across wide, grassy expanses of early Fall fields, we talk about the Slow Food Movement, about the Presidi of his region. He is able to rattle them off in short order, and I learn he will represent the region at the Salone Del Gusto in Turin later this month, something he has done for the past several years. Hmmm. A farmer with the soul of an advocate and activist. Things are getting interesting.
The frostiness in the air abates. We're finding common ground. He's speaking slower, I'm understanding more. The fluency of food talk is again working it's magic.
More than three hours later, after touring field after field, crop after crop, stables, animal pens, olive groves, fruit and nut trees, I am in awe. I am going to take a page from the Farmer's book and set expectations. The pictures will not do this enterprise the justice it deserves. But I can try, and try, I will.
What you will see is evidence of the fall growing season. At this time of year, the Farmer and one helper work the land themselves. During high season, the season of tomatoes, zucchini, celery, lettuces, peppers, peas (I could go on and on) he hires up to five helpers.
In addition to what he cultivates, he is quick to forage for wild herbs and vegetables, including wild asparagus, thyme, mint, lettuces, persimmon, wild fennel, mushrooms, quince. Nothing will go to waste.
Enjoy. And think about your own garden. If you like to get dirty, this post's for you. And my friend, the Farmer? His name is Signore Costantini, and I am in his debt.
Remember, you can click on any image to begin a slide-show tour.