What makes the Tuscan spring so special?

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It depends on who is asking the question. We, fairies and elves from the North, are accustomed to clear and sharp differences. White is white, black is black. Winter is winter, spring is spring, and so on. We are trained to withstand low temperatures, and we truly appreciate the first warm sun rays which caress our skin (and our souls). Everything is announced plainly by the creatures of the goddess Flora. When the snowdrops sprout winter is about to leave, and the sight of the first tiny daisies and primroses confirms that spring is at the door.

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In Tuscany things are not quite like this. The winters are never very cold, which makes the transition to spring less sharp, more fluctuating, shall we say; and, the reassuring signals from the divinity are not at all so clear. Daisies, for example, can be found throughout the year and many other wildflowers, which in the North are considered to be summer flowers, bloom without great difficulty even in the winter. Maybe for this reason people here are not particularly interested in the changing of the seasons.

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We think of nature rendering this event as noisy, colourful, and generous as the country and its population, beginning with the black magnolias which have so much energy at the start of spring that they bloom even before sprouting green leaves!  After this spectacular entrance nothing and no one can stop the daughters and sons of nature. Camelias, azaleas, rhododendrons, tulips, daffodils, lillies, and violets, all together. And then, without stopping a single second, the season jumps directly into the summer vegetation with bluebells, daisies, poppies, and meadows rich with all types of grasses; the best of the best that the new year has to offer.

Already in April, one sees the lightning bugs flying in the dark of night above the lawns and fields of Tuscany’s soft rolling hills.

Just as the taste of orange marmelade with violets somehow represents the austere rigours of winter, every year the spring welcomes us with a truly special preparation:  strawberry jam with acacia flowers.

Depending of the season, but almost always in late April or early May, the air is filled with a light but intense and sweet scent that is particularly noticeable at sunset. The odour is so seductive that one wishes to preserve it in some way. The bees do this by producing acacia honey. The Azienda Agricola Farfalla di Toscana, on the other hand, prepares a jam with strawberries, acacia flowers, a bit of sugar, and a few drops of lemon juice and grated lemon peel.

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The precise recipe

  •  3 kg strawberries
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 4 handfuls of acacia flowers
  • 4 lemons of peel
  • 1 lemon of juice

Rinse the strawberries quickly under running water, dry them, remove the green stem and slice into pieces.  Place the strawberries in a container, cover with the suger, and let sit for two hours. Meanwhile, remove the green leaves from the acacia flowers. Pour the strawberries and the sugar into a large pot and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for about thirty minutes over a quite high heat, stirring constantly. Remove any surface foam.  Now combine the acacia petals with the lemon peel and juice. Boil over medium heat, stirring often, until the jam has reached the right density (pour a small spoon of jam on a plate, leave it for one or two minutes, then incline the plate: the jam should slowly run down the plate). Pour the jam into clean glass jars, close immediately and allow to cool. Sterilize for thirty minutes.

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The jam is really exquisite, so it will not be easy to create a summer recipe equal to this.

Anneliese Rabl (translation John McAuliffe) x

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