A Morning In The Majella
…blogs for the price of one. A wordy one and a photographic one. The photos didn’t sit particularly well within the text, so I’ve grouped them all together at the end.
I won’t mind if you ignore the words and scroll through directly to the pics.
But I’ll know. Never mind how. I just will…
The story so far…
Me and Pauline have just made our annual autumn trip up into the Majella National Park to gather pine cones.
To which the usual annual response is – why ?
And the answer is because they contain large quantities of resin, pine cones are nature’s firelighters.
They’re also free.
You need just a few scrunched-up bits of paper to get handfuls of pine cones blazing away merrily, as opposed to setting light to half-a-boxful of those deeply ecologically-unfriendly petroleum-based cubes and then seeing your firewood sit on top and smoulder.
Great for smoking kippers. Not so good for warming up a chilly room and roasting chestnuts.
Being inherently the nosiest people on the planet, Italians will see us rooting through the undergrowth at one of our two or three favourite cone-gathering spots and ask what we’re doing.
The usual reaction to our explanation is blank incomprehension. Pine cones burn ? (Chuckle) Really ?
Even though we now speak Italian moderately OK, it’s obvious in a heartbeat we’re not actually Italian. The fact that then comes out we’re English, and therefore – as any Italian knows – wildly eccentric, instantly excuses our bizarre behaviour.
I suppose we gathered about 20lbs of cones, which’ll happily keep us going throughout the winter. I’m not sure whether harvesting them deprives some hapless creature of food, but as there are several million conifers in the Majella – and there’s only other cone forager we know of (English of course) – I hope we’re keeping our footprint on the landscape as small as possible.
Foraging done, we drove right on up as far as you can go, to just below the Blockhaus peak at around 2000m – (about 7000 feet).
Irritatingly – and astonishingly – we found ourselves sandwiched between two cloud layers, so while we had the normal spectacular views sideways, down below was obliterated, while above us was a high grey mantle.
Astonishingly – and not at all irritating – was that the temperature was 25˚ – about 10˚ more than at home. Normally, it’s the other way round – the higher you go, the colder it gets – but at the moment we’re being fanned by a highly unseasonal Scirocco, the fierce, hot wind that blows up into Italy straight off the Sahara.
Sometimes, it can be like standing in front of a hairdryer. This time though, it wasn’t much more than a warm, fairly brisk breeze.
Off we went, ever-upwards, past Blockhaus at the start of a fairly long walk that wends its way through some truly spectacular scenery, before obligingly returning you to where you set off.
Not that we were quite that athletic or ambitious. This was primarily to build up an appetite for lunch. An uphill amble of a mile or so, enjoying the views; the absolute tranquillity; and the fact we had as far as we could see – and we could see a very long way – entirely to ourselves.
And the big plus of a mile-long uphill outward stretch is that the mile-long return is all downhill.
Halfway down, as befalls even the most experienced and well-prepared hiker, I needed a pee.
Not a problem you’d think, when you’re just a speck in the wilderness.
But while I was peaceably passing the time of day and enjoying the scenery, the silence and the solitude, not one…not two…but THREE cars emerged from a weather station on the Blockhaus slopes and noisily barrelled down the track towards me.
What did I do ? Not a lot. Aside from wishing I was somewhere else, what can you do when you’re suddenly interrupted in full flow halfway up a mountain ?
And of course, with the same inevitability of night following day, when we’d eventually walked down to the lunch-stop, there were the same three cars parked outside, and – of course – inescapably sat at the first table inside were seven or eight guys.
The only thought I had as I sidled past trying to avoid eye-contact, was that my face might not’ve been the first part of my anatomy they recognised…
Aside from a table well away from them, I’ll tell you what cheered me up.
Freshly made Crespelle plonked down on the table as a not-so-little nibble
Have you come across them ? I have no idea whether they’re just an Abruzzese delicacy, or famed – as they should be – Italy-wide.
The only foodstuff I know which causes you to put on 10lbs just by looking at it.
Crespelle are a doughnut variant. Not ball-shaped like a doughnut, but flattened into a thinnish disc before being deep-friend in smoking-hot olive oil, which makes the rim puff-up and go crispy.
Then they’re sprinkled generously with salt and eaten as soon as you can pick them up.
Washed down with a tumbler of local house red, nothing could’ve been finer.
Except the chitarra (Abruzzo’s take on spaghetti) with home-made meat ragu which followed.
With another tumbler of red.
I don’t know what it is about the simplest of simple Italian food, but after a couple of hours of cone-foraging and mountain walking, I absolutely promise you nothing could’ve been better.
And next time, yes, I definitely will go before I leave home…