Tuscan Dreaming

By the end of February, winter starts to get old. The first crocuses are poking their heads above the soil and the air is starting to soften. The end is in sight but it can't come soon enough. When seed catalogs and gardening manuals fail to raise my spirits, my thoughts turn to the trip I took to Italy last May. The destination was an area of Tuscany called the Casentino, south-east of Florence in Arezzo province. The region is as beautiful as the rest of Tuscany, with castles, charming towns, monasteries, great hiking, and fabulous restaurants, but with one conspicuous difference: there are no crowds.

We stayed just outside of Poppi, considered one of the loveliest towns in Tuscany whose centerpiece is its well-preserved thirteenth century castle.

We spent our days exploring the countryside and some of the enchanting towns within striking distance like Stia, Anghiari, and Lucignano and even found that towns further afield like Assisi, Cortona and Montepulciano were perfectly manageable as day trips.

And of course there was the food - a never-ending procession of salumi, fine meats, great produce and amazing wines and cheeses.

Well, that cheered me up immensely - it's amazing the way that a few photos and some wonderful memories can change your mood.

Community Salmon Canning

Last Saturday a group of islanders got together for a community salmon canning workshop sponsored by our Food Program, an organization started about six months ago to get us thinking about food security and to bring people together to share practical skills related to sustainability. So far we've had workshops on artisanal bread baking, fish smoking, canning and sauerkraut-making, a nettle festival, and a community Christmas dinner that attracted over 100 people.

About twenty people showed up, some keen to get their hands dirty and others willing to just watch and listen. We cut up and canned a dozen or so very large chum salmon donated by a local fisher. A few of the participants were experienced fish canners who provided us with the expertise to get through the day without losing any fingers or blowing up a pressure canner. 

The process was simpler than I had expected. Our two experts had slightly different ways of preparing the salmon. The first had us scaling the salmon with a vegetable peeler and cutting it into chunks leaving the skin and bones intact, holding in more of the precious omega-3s.

The second technique involved skinning the fish, which eliminated the messy scaling process but also cut down on the moisture and nutritional value of the fish.

The fish was cut into chunks using the jars as a guide.

The salmon was stuffed into the jars, skin side out, leaving a one-inch headspace.

A small amount of salt was added, the jar rims were wiped clean, and the two-piece lids were placed and tightened.

The salmon was now ready for the canners.

The jars were processed at 10 pounds pressure in pressure canners for 100 minutes.

Seven hours and about 100 jars later the salmon was ready. Our goal for next year? 1000 pounds of sardines!