Highlights from La Fattoria Dalia
View from the farm house
1. The Farm Stay
Jodie and Kevin moved from England to Italy three years ago to start a new way of life. Leaving their friends, family and jobs behind, they decided to live and work on their own farm in the beautiful rolling hills near Sibilli National Park in the region of Marche, east Italy. The house is situated rather grandly on a hill overlooking the most spectacular patchwork valley….we’re told they bought this property for the view and the view alone! They have 12 geese, 25+ chickens, 5 ducks, 5 goats (soon to be 4 as one is going in the pot soon), 2 cats and 2 dogs. As you can imagine, looking after this many animals is a full time job, hence why they need the help of workawayers like us. They also have the most impressive vegetable patch, with not only every vegetable you could ever imagine…but the quality and sheer quantity is just amazing.
Taking the dogs Holly and Walter for an afternoon walk
The beautiful wilderness
2. The Work
The work had both routine and variation. The animals had to be fed twice a day, and let out in the morning and locked up each night, so this we took turns at doing. I got rather nervous feeding the geese as it turns out that they are incredibly territorial and bark and hiss at you if you come near them…even to feed them. So I would cautiously approach them, then fling the food into their bowl and make a quick dash for the fence. As soon as you turn your back on them, they run after you, with their heads to the ground and their beaks open and tongues out hissing at you menacingly. Such ungrateful nasty creatures. I comforted myself thinking of them roasting away in the oven…getting all nice and crispy skinned (Slightly morbid I know…but you haven’t met these evil geese!). Other then this, Owen and I worked mostly apart on separate tasks. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping Jodie with the abundance of freshly picked produce. I spent a total of two days deseeding and chopping chillies to freeze for winter or to make into chilli jam. I must admit that the sight or smell of chillies makes me feel a little dizzy now. I also chopped and froze a few kilos of peppers (or capsicums) and cut and stewed some quinces to freeze for winter. I got to spend some time out in the pumpkin squash patch weeding and maintaining the produce. Owen spent a good deal of time chopping up and stacking wood which I’m sure was rather therapeutic. He was Kevin’s handyman, doing some more strimming (whipper-snippering) on the steep and slippery hillside as well as general manly-fix-it type stuff.
Owen working the field with his trusty wheelbarrow
A gaggle of geese
Frank, the lone duck who spent his time with the goats and geese (he was exiled from the younger female ducks as he was a bit of a womaniser…well, he demanded frequent mating).
A brood of broody hens (they had a rooster in their midst).
Baba, one of the frisky goats
Owen and Bambi
Fatty-Stripes, the farm yard cat
3. The Food
Jodie is a wonderful cook, using produce wholly from her garden. It seemed to us, revolutionary to only buy milk, cheese and spices from the shops. They slaughter their own meat, dry their herbs, made their own tomato passata and other preserves, make delicious fluffy bread by hand and collect fresh eggs daily. Nothing is wasted and any food scraps are given to the chickens to plump them up nice and good. The menu for the week consists of the ripe picked produce, which is super tasty and economically savy. They also eat a lot of vegetarian meals. This time in Italy has given me a real appreciation for the delights and practicality of vegetarian cooking. I would love to live like this, living off the land. It’s incredibly satisfying.
Chopping, deseeding and freezing these chillies
Chopping and freezing the capsicums from the garden
Sewing dried chillies to preserve for the winter months
Simmering tomatoes to make passata
Sterilising beer bottles for the preserved passata sauce
Pouring and preserving the homemade passata sauce
One of the vegetable patches
Beautiful, fresh produce
Jodie’s Chilli Jam Recipe
This recipe is similar to sweet chilli sauce, it’s a tad runnier than jam. Unlike fruit jam recipes where you bottle the liquid searing hot, in this recipe, it’s important to allow the chilli jam to cool completely before bottling, otherwise it won’t set. Use in stir-frys, as a sauce to accompany meat or potato wedges or as we discovered in Italy… it goes swimmingly on a pizza!
150g red capsicum and 150g red chillies, sliced lengthways and deseeded
(or 300g red chillies for a hotter jam)
1kg preserving sugar (Or use normal sugar and add pectin)
600ml white wine vinegar
1. Pulse chillies and capsicums in a food processor until finely chopped.
2. Heat the vinegar in a saucepan until simmering, add sugar and dissolve.
3. Add the chillies and capsicum and boil for approximately 10 minutes. Only use the wooden spoon to scrape any burning sugar off the edges but don’t stir it too much. Allow to cool completely before bottling, otherwise it won’t set.
How to bottle preserves:
1. Fill the jars or bottles to the top with hot water.
2. Place them snuggly into a deep saucepan, pour water around the bottles until the pot is almost full (If using jars, place the lids in too). Bring to the boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the bottles with tongs and mittens as they are hot!
3. Pour the cooled chilli jam into the bottles, leaving no more then 1cm at the top. Carefully screw on the lid, making sure not to touch and contaminate it.
4. When the jars are cool, label with the name and date of preservation and store in a dark cool place. When opened, store the bottle in the fridge.
Alternatively: You can sterilise the empty bottles on shelves in the oven, at 120°C for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven with mittens and continue from number 3 in the method above.
SO…We have now completed all of our farm stays. Not every aspect of our workaway experience was easy, but we can say that we have learnt a great deal about how others live and for this we are really grateful. We are currently spending a week on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, after spending 3 days exploring Rome. We have Paris and a month in the UK to come. Until then… ‘Arrivederci’.