You know where we are, right? We’re in Gargano, the northern part of the Apulia region in Southern Italy. Here we take a walk around Zio Michele’s garden, taste some great fruit and veg, and learn about organic farming.
How we ended up learning about lemons
If you’ve read our previous post, you’ll know we stayed at the lovely Pizzicato Eco B&B, run by Pino, a top bloke. Pino offers all his guests an ‘aperitivo bio’; a platter of crudités sprinkled with olive oil and lemon, some olives ‘from his uncle’s garden’ and a drink of your choice (we opted for some artisan beer).
As an Italian, I am not new to good food. But let me tell you, I have never had such amazing vegetables. So, when I congratulated Pino for the delicious food, he offered to show us where the vegetables came from. “Would you like to visit my uncle’s garden?” he offered. Instantly, we were sold.
The following day, we walked down the hill atop which Vico del Gargano stands, towards the sea. Twist after twist, bend after bend, we walked past olive groves and citrus trees. The air was scented with the coconut aroma of broom flowers, and the herby smell of Mediterranean shrubs.
Zio Michele’s Gargano lemon groves
Zio Michele was waiting for us in front of the garden. A middle-aged man, who left the restaurant he used to run to tend to the family’s land. “Everything you see here goes to the bar, they need lots of fruit for cakes and icecream” he said. We walked under a tunnel of kiwi vines. As I saw the fruit, small and firm, hanging off the branches, I savoured again the mini kiwi pastry I had for breakfast that morning.
It was hard to understand Zio Michele sometimes, when he spoke the local dialect. He laughed whenever he asked me ‘Did you understand?’ when it was clear that I hadn’t. We walked past a huge mulberry tree; Zio Michele shook its branches and plump, pearly berries fell on nets placed under the tree. ‘Mangia, mangia’, he kept saying, passing over handfuls of mulberries. I hadn’t eaten mulberries straight off a tree since I was in primary school.
Then we headed towards the lemon groves. “The lemons of Gargano, the most delicious you’ll ever try” Zio Michele promised. I couldn’t stop him; he packed our bags full with what must have been 10 kilos of lemons. The lemons were huge, with knobbly, opaque skin, rough to the touch; not unlike Zio Michele’s hands.
We wandered the lemon groves for a while, looking at baby mandarines, no bigger than a cherry. ‘The lemons of Gargano’ are harvested three or four times a year; oranges and mandarines just once.
Learning about organic farming
He showed us the compost pit, where he collected coffee grounds and vegetable peelings to fertilise the land. “We don’t use medicines! Everything here is biologico“, he promised, explaining how coffee is also excellent to get rid of both ‘naked’ and ‘clothed’ snails.
After the citrus grove, we walked to the vegetable garden, where the silver olive trees were bordered by rows of courgettes, salad leaves, tomatoes and more. We passed the outdoor kitchen and barbecue, complete with long table, where Zio Michele hosts dinners for family and friends. “You can’t believe how much we ate last time! Sausages, costine…”
Zio Michele encouraged us to pick the fruit right off the trees, and eat it straight away. We had plums, figs, oranges and cherries, each more delicious than the other. It was a childlike joy; there we were, muddy shoes and dirty knees from where we knelt down to pick up some fallen oranges, juice running down our chins.
Before heading back, Zio gave us the tastiest morsel of all; a tiny wild strawberry. “No, not that one” he said, as I picked a big juicy one. “That one”, he said, pointing at one that was a red so deep it was almost purple. An explosion of flavour. Not only strawberry; it tasted of summer and of rain, of wet leaves and of memories.
After walking around Zio Michele’s garden, I understood that the ‘Eco’ in Pizzicato is not a simple promise to recycle and use energy-saving bulbs. It is a commitment to the land; it is respect for the land.