Self Sufficient-ish

Family friendly villa in Puglia
Sun drying our figs

One of our aims when we moved here was to become more self-sufficient. We’re not unusual, there’s a big movement in growing your own and anyone can do it wherever you are. I’ve seen little window boxes outside the smallest apartment windows here crammed with herbs, chilli peppers and tomatoes.

Our first step was putting in some raised beds which are in easy reach of both our own kitchen and our guests. Andy used stone rather than wood to border them, they being in huge natural supply. And they certainly raised some Italian eyebrows too, it seems they’re something novel here and it’s true that while we see plenty of kitchen gardens they’re all set out direct on the ground which means you’re having to walk on the soil every time you want to grab some broccoli. Very muddy in winter.

We grow a huge mix of veg: tomatoes galore, lettuce, what we think of as a cross between cucumber and melon called cocomoro, courgettes, aubergine, chilli peppers, melons and watermelon, peppers, onions, potatoes, the aforementioned broccoli (green and purple), a broccoli-like plant called rape (pronounced rappay), cauliflower, asparagus, rocket, peas, beans, squash and artichokes. Herbs grow like weeds and we have plenty of that Mediterranean celebrity basil as well as thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, mint and bushes and bushes of rosemary.

Our second step was to get some hens. Andy built a henhouse and they have a huge paddock to free range in, and it’s immensely satisfying collecting the eggs every day. We encourage guests to help themselves and it makes a rewarding ritual for our little guests – a warm freshly laid egg in the palm of their hands. Last year saw us take up the offer of 10 free chicks with a sack of corn, Andy’s mum wondering if the next thing would be free puppies with a pack of dog food! Out of the seven that survived, three were hens who joined our flock and the males made for delicious coq au vin.

Our biggest challenge was choosing the date for Bella’s offspring to contribute towards our self-sufficiency. But we comforted ourselves knowing that there was no stress from being crated in a lorry, no long journey and no horrors of an abattoir. We did it here and it was instant, and knowing that we’re eating home reared, organic lamb that tastes absolutely delicious wipes out any guilt. Next time Bella weans a lamb we’re going to milk her and try our hand at making pecorino cheese.

Even the trees provide us with food, the olive trees give us oil, and we have almonds, figs, persimmon, cherry, apple, pomegranate and quince.

All this helps us live seasonally, not just in the moment when you watch the cherries or tomatoes ripen, but also planning ahead to make sure we plant in time for the seasons ahead. The summer glut of tomatoes are sun dried and stored in olive oil or mashed into a gloriously rich paste to add to soups, casseroles and sauces. And figs are dried out in the sun, stuffed with almonds and marinated in lemon rind so we can enjoy them year, although they never last long because they’re too delicious.

The fantastic thing is that we’re doing nothing special – it’s what everyone does here. A quick trip to a friend to buy some of his fantastic home produced fizz and we were invited to try some of his home cured salami and ham. Maybe we should get a pig next, said Andy . . .

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