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An insider's view of Tuscany

Raymond Lamothe Facebook



A touch of tradition and an old story.

Ahh, summer in Tuscany. So what is it really all about for the Chiantigiani who live here year-round? What makes it summer for us and what brings it to mind? Well, I think that if you ask anyone here, they will automatically point to the vineyards and olive orchards that seem to lay a pattern over the Chianti countryside next to the carefully tended patches of woodlands and the red-tiled roofs of the farmhouses.

But this is the answer they would give to any tourist asking the question superficially about what summer is in Chianti. What really depicts it for all of us who live here are the fierce yellows of the broom that suddenly pop out from the darker greens of the hills and roadsides, the cypress-tree lined dirt tracks that lead to the houses, hidden among oak trees and stone walls, the rosemary bushes, the perfumed sage, the flowering lavenders with their heady aroma, and, last but not least, the occasional flowering Oleander bushes that are not native but present everywhere anyway. This is true summer in Tuscany for us.

It is hot, with temperatures around 30°-35°, but with light winds that cool off the houses in the evenings. It is a period when farm work is primarily dedicated to the vineyards and in the wine cellars to prepare for the September harvests, and it is a month of tension for fear of hailstorms. Everyone waits for that one sudden rainstorm that comes after the 15th of August and washes away the dust that has settled on trees and bushes and everything in sight and is the harbinger of the autumn about to begin.

But, one curious thing that many don’t know is that the strange trees with leafy branches that you always find near the houses, and that are full of rather tasteless berries that fall to the ground in June, once provided an important staple of income for the farm families. The trees originally come from Asia and are called Gelsi (mulberry trees) – and they were brought by monks when in the late Dark Ages/early Middle Ages, the silkworm was introduced to our lands.

It was the farm women who used to set up rooms in the farmhouses and introduce the cut branches from the Gelsi on special racks to feed the caterpillars that would eventually spin their cocoons out of pure silk. Then the women would gather them and sell them to wandering collectors called “Trecconi” who would range far and wide across the land picking up the silk “bozzoli” and paying the women for them according to quality and weight.

Next, the cocoons would be brought to one of the laboratories in Florence and Siena and thrown into boiling water to kill the caterpillars, and the silk would be spun off of the cocoons and several threads wound together to produce the raw silk that was used to make all kinds of items. It is probably a legend, but it is said that San Gimignano, which used to be the textile capital of Tuscany, actually even sold some silk in later years back to the Chinese.

Silkworm farming held out until the late 1950’s, until advanced industrial productions were devised and we were just left with the Gelsi trees, that for the Chiantigiani so well express summertime.



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