Fresh salmon in the summer. We’re so fortunate here on the Pacific coast. Now, where else did I enjoy salmon in summertime? Ah yes, it comes back to me now. In Bella Italia, Tuscany, that’s where. I was house-sitting for five months, a renovated thirteenth century farmhouse.
Here's a picture of me on the terrace. The building had been transformed into a villa and was situated deep in the heart of Brunello wine region. It was a classic Tuscan setting, overlooking vineyards and olive groves. Close by was a forest of holm oak trees, home to wild boar, cignale. My closest neighbours were in the valley, a hard-working Tuscan family who got up every morning at 4 a.m.
The father was a wonderful man who spoke no English. He was a poet of the land, the vines, the wine, the people and their history. His sons helped him out. They also had beehives for honey.
House-sitting is all very well, but I wanted to learn the language and get to know the people and wine-making procedures. The family was surprised when I offered to do some work, but quickly gave me a task. I was to put labels onto the wine bottles, all by hand. Each bottle was corked with a simple gadget, also by hand. During the very hot and dry month of August, I also helped out with watering the olive trees, very early in the morning.
By lending a hand, I was invited to have lunch with the family. “Ni labore, ni mangiare!” was the Senora’s watchword. From Canada I’d brought as a treat 6 tins of Pacific Sockeye salmon, knowing I’d be landlocked for months. Also I thought they might make nice little gifts.
After a month or two, Natasha flew out from Vancouver to join me for 3 weeks and to attend an environmental conference in Cortona. She rented a Fiat. We were gone for a few days. When I got back, I felt like having some fish. I went to the cupboard. No salmon. . . Puzzled, I wondered where they'd gone. I was sure I put them away, but then didn’t think more about it.
Next morning I went down to the winery to work. At lunch Senora announced after the antipasti, “Enrico. Today ‘speciale’. Caserole con salmone de Canada!” Beaming, she placed a steaming terra cotta dish on the table and began to serve us.
So, that’s where my salmon swam to! I didn’t say a word, other than “Delicioso, Senora”. One of the boys must have ‘borrowed’ the tins, and never told Mama their origin. I’m sure La Dona did not know via which ‘channels’ the salmon landed in her kitchen.
It was curious because earlier I had once asked Senora when we first met if she liked fish. But being of the land, she wrinkled her nose and said ‘Ah, no”. (That’s why I didn’t offer a tin or two to them before.)
Who would have thought, when those salmon freely swam in the Pacific, one day they’d end up in a delicious Tuscan caserole, served by a hard-working but proud Tuscan family? Did I notice one of the boys looking a bit nervous? Maybe not.