About 1500 feet above the sea on the Pugliese Murgia plateau stands a mysterious castle keep... the Castel del Monte (Castle of the Mountain). Around 1240, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II ordered its construction as a supposed hunting lodge, but there is no evidence that the Emperor ever used it and it seems the castle was never really completed. Oddly, it contains no normal features like other defensive castles of the period--no wall, no drawbridge, no moat, no stables. When built the area was lush with both flora and fauna, unlike the rather dry surroundings of today.
Even historians are confused about the intended use of this fortress. By the 1700s, the castle originally had marble columns and walls but the marble and its furnishings were removed. Archaeologists tell us that it was constructed on the site of a much earlier fortress. At one time Castel del Monte was used as a prison and then as a refuge during a plague until it fell into a sad state of deferred maintenance.
Although many thought it was to be used as the Emperor's "hunting lodge", scholars now believe it originally had a curtain wall and did serve as a citadel. In fact, because it is built on the highest point of the local terrain, a defending force would be able to see 360 degrees in all directions and even to the coastline 15 miles away. This fact along would suggest that in fact it was built as a military fortress, but there is no evidence of it ever being used as such.
Frederick was responsible for the construction of many castles in Puglia, but Castel del Monte's geometric design was unique. The fortress is octagonal with 8 octagon towers at the corners. Originally, the towers were taller than they currently are. Each of the main rooms have vaulted ceilings and there are three towers with staircases. Castel del Monte also has an advanced plumbing system, which used rain water for the toilets and bathrooms of the fortress.
Eight seems to be a special number in its design--there are also eight rooms and an eight-sided courtyard in the center. There is much written about the possible symbolism of the octagonal design. The number 8 has secular, religious and mythological meaning; for example, the figure 8--or "lazy eight" (since it is rotated 90 degrees into a "prone" position) is used in mathematics to represent infinity; there are eight compass points; and eight is the union of divine infinity and human finiteness.
The area surrounding Castel del Monte has a DOC designation for producing red, white and rose wines with vineyards and wineries on the slopes of the surrounding area. In Europe, most people are very familiar with Castel del Monte, as they keep a picture of it in their wallets--the fortress is depicted on the reverse of the Italian 1 Euro cent coin. In 1996 UNESCO gave the the fortress a World Heritage Site designation recognizing its unique architecture and cultural importance.
Visiting: Castel del Monte is about 30 miles due west of Bari and about 15 miles from the sea.
March 1 to September 30 from 10:15 to 19:45
October 1 to February 28 from 9:00 to 18:45
(The ticket office closes 1 hour before closing)
Regular fee 5.00 euros, reduced fee €2.50 (18 to 25 years). Free for children under 18 and over 65 years.
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With everyone's tomatoes ripening in abundance at this time of year, I thought you would like to learn a way to preserve tomatoes for future use. Check out this video...
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1. Italians don’t “play dumb”… they “do the dead cat” (Fare la gatta morta).
2. Italians aren’t “wasted”… they are “drunk as a monkey” (Ubriaco come una scimmia).
3. Italians don’t “scold” somebody… they “shave against the growth” (Fare il contropelo).
4. Italians don’t “disrespect”… they “treat you with fishes in your face” (Trattare a pesci in faccia).
5. Italians don’t “have a bee in one’s bonnet”… they “have a fixed nail in one’s head” (Avere un chiodo fisso in testa).
6. Italians don’t “arouse somebody’s doubts”… they “put a flea in the ear” (Mettere la pulce nell’orecchio).
7. Italians don’t “do it with hands tied behind the back”… they “jump ditches the long way” (Saltare I fossi per il lungo).
8. Italians don’t say “it rains cats and dogs”… they say “it rains from washbasins” (Piovere a catinelle).
9. Italians don’t say “well cooked”… they say “cooked to the small point” (Cotto a puntino).
10. Italians don’t say “not the sharpest tool in the box”… they say “merry goose” (Oca giuliva).
11. Italians don’t “take things too far”… they “pull the rope” (Tirare la corda).
12. Italians aren’t “fidgety”… they “have live silver on themselves”(Avere argento vivo addosso).
13. Italians aren’t “dumbfounded”… they “remain as stucco” (Rimanerci di stucco).
14. Italians don’t “keep their mouth shut”… they have “water in the mouth” (Acqua in bocca).
15. Italians don’t “go to bed early”… they “go to bed with the chickens” (Andare a letto con le galline).
16. Italians don’t “sleep like a log”… they “sleep like a dormouse” (Dormire come un ghiro).
17. Italians are not “out of their mind”… they are “outside as a balcony” (Fuori come un balcone).
18. Italians don’t “bite the hand that feeds them”… they “spit in the plate they eat from” (Sputare nel piatto dove si mangia).
19. Italians don’t say “it’s the last straw”… they say “the drop that made the vase overflow” (La goccia che ha fatto traboccare il vaso).
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I thought I would share photos of the heirloom tomatoes I grew this year in our garden. If you haven't experienced the difference between supermarket tomatoes and heirloom varieties, you're really missing something. Their colors go from pastels to strong yellows, pinks, reds, purples, "blacks" and even greens (yes, they are green when ripe). They can be striped, spotted or solid color. They might be tiny grape sized or giant 2 pound plus beefsteak types. You can also pick and choose the flavors... some are sweet, some low in acid, some tart, and some just are... well, a taste of Heaven.
I've been growing this 1 - 1/1/2" long egg shaped tomato for about 20 years. It's taste is mild, sweet and very low in acid. They look great in a salad and give a visual pop when tossed with pasta cut in half.
Black Mahogany Plum
This tomato I discovered in a local farm stand in a basket with other varieties simply marked "hierloom". I've been looking on the Internet trying to find out its name but simply call it Black Mahogany Plum. They are very sweet and juicy... perfect in a salad or sliced into a sandwich. I even simply popped and smeared them on crusty toasted bread for a rustic bruschetta. The tops always are blackish. I've grown them for two years now and get great production our of them.
This one I grew for the first time again in about 10 years or more. The 2" globes are actually fuzzy like a very fuzzy peach. The taste is surprisingly tart and low in sugar. Not one of my favorites, but I grew them again this year just to get a new viable batch of seeds (I think I got less than 10% germination from the seeds I used from years ago).
Eva Purple Ball
I'm in LOVE with Eva... my tomato girlfriend. It's by far the best tasting tomato I've ever grown. It's always perfect and blemish free--very disease and pest resistant. I would use these for sauce if I didn't like eating them so much. It's the perfect size for slicing.... about 3" around. The production is always great.
Even though others swear by them, I've never had great results with the Brandywine varieties (there are several). This is the pink one... it blushes pink on the lower part of the fruit. This year, the sizes were pretty good--my largest ones just over one pound.
This is your classic, Italian ribbed beefsteak.... and it doesn't disappoint. I got several over 1 pound and one that would have been over 1-1/2 pounds if the chipmunks didn't eat it first! One slice fits on a sandwich. It's very sweet--almost as sweet as Eva Purple Ball, my benchmark for flavor.
Giant Belgium is a close second to Eva Purple Ball in terms of flavor. Very sweet and great in salads or sandwiches. These can be huge tomatoes if you pinch back the side branching and pull off some of the tiny fruits early on to let the plants put all their energy into only a few tomatoes. My all time record for size was a Giant Belgium... just over THREE POUNDS!
I've been growing these for about 3 years and love them. I've stopped growing typical Roma varieties in favor of this beauty. Obviously the story here is the large pepper shape. The story goes deeper though... it has a very meaty interior that is perfect for building thick sauces. They also grow quite large, some over 5 inches long. I love slicing these into discs for sandwiches. The flavor is very sweet... you pop these off the vine, add salt and eat like a fruit. Heaven.
For me, Regina is in third place for tomato flavor... it's a great sweet beefsteak tomato. It can be fairly ribbed, but not as a rule. It's also a beautiful tomato when sliced... the lower parts of the tomato are striped with red. If I want to have caprese (tomatoes, mozzarella and basil) I go to Regina or Belgium first for beautiful, thick slices. Regina can even make a tasty yellow tomato sauce.
Sport: Pink Brandywine x Black Mahogany Plum
This year I got a surprise. It seems that tomatoes market "Pink Brandywine crossed with Black Mahogany Plum and gave me these... a medium sized beefsteak "black" tomato. The tops turn darker mahogany color as they come down to the sides and bottom. The flesh is a bit tart, mildly sweet and dark crimson. I'll save these seeds for sure... now... I've got to decide on a name... How's Crimson Mystery?
If you'd like to start growing and saving seeds from heirloom varieties, ask your neighbors and friends. Perhaps they are already growing some and will give you seeds or seedlings at the beginning of the season. I start seeds under a very bright growing light in my cellar starting the last part of February. (I'm in Zone 6a where I live). If you see heirloom tomatoes this summer in your local markets, try to ask for the name of the variety and save seeds for next year. It's easy:
Imagine the feeling your grandkids will have knowing they are growing the same tomatoes that you did...
Here's a great source for heirloom tomatoes and other veggies:
and on Facebook... https://www.facebook.com/seedsaversexchange?fref=nf
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I wanted to share with you all a sculpture from the Chapel of Sansevero in Naples called the Veiled Christ for no other reason because it's one of the most amazing sculptures I've even seen in my life... Im my opinion, it easily rivals the The Pietà by Michelangelo. It was created by the masterful hands of the young artist, Giuseppe Sammartino of the Kingdom of Naples during the 1700s.
The delicacy of the translucent veiling showing the contours of Christ's hands, face, ribs and feet look truly supple and detailed... a magical feat to accomplish in marble.
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To have a little fun the other night, I took some little mozzarella bocconcini and capped them off with some of my heirloom tomatoes to make little mushrooms. The tomatoes are yellow Olivette (egg shaped), Fuzzy Peach (a pale yellow tomato that actually has peach fuzz) and a Burgundy Roma.
I took the bocconcini and sliced off a bit of the bottom (Lucas had the pieces) so they'd stand up. Then I slided the tomatoes in half (or a bit less) and cut out the middle membrane so they would "seat" on top of the bocconcini. I carefully placed them on fresh basil leaves from the garden and made a little stream of aged balsamic (from Pienza in Tuscany) running through the middle. A sprinkle of oregano represented the forest floor and some course sea salt sprnkled over the top of the tomatoes made them look a bit spotted.
My favorite way to eat these is simply dig into the whole mushroom then mop up some of the balsamic... then pop the whole thing right in my mouth..... When tasting something exceptional, my father used to pinch his fingers together, hold them up to the corner of his mouth, and while twisting his fingers let out a little kiss. Molto bouno!
I stumbled across this interesting idea on how to make an outdoor pizza oven using two large weather proof garden pots... Here's the PDF file showing you how to build one for your home.
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