Heart and Soul of the Farmhouse Kitchen

February 13, 2015 / Local Interest
Umbria

Winter weather predictions warn: “le irruzioni fredde sull’Italia potranno risultare particolarmente intense” (to sum it up, intense cold due). More than ever, the woodstove will become heart and soul of many an Italian household.

An Umbrian newspaper put it this way: “L’Italia si riscalda a legna e brucia il caro bolletta” (“Italy heats with wood – setting fire to a costly bill,” i.e, heating bill).

Woodstove logs carried into the house by Rufino

Cold will be nipping, fuel costs are soaring – and fire has been rediscovered. We cook and bake on the woodstove and it heats our water as well as the house (circulating heat through the floors). We have propane gas but don’t use it.

Woodstoves need a good woodpile

And we’re not alone: the importation of legna da ardere (“wood for burning”) was up over 26% last winter with gas oil consumption plummeting nearly 50% over the last twenty years.

The new wood stove boom took off in 2006 – when gas oil and methane gas prices skyrocketed – with woodstoves fed by pellets (pressed sawdust – introduced here at the end of the 1990′s) or cippato (wood chips) becoming popular too.

Striking technological advances in Italian wood stove design has made Italy the European leader both in production of woodstoves and in acquisition.

Look up as you stroll a medieval hill town: on rooftops, you’ll spot many a wood stove pipe flanking the chimneys.

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The kitchen – once the only room with any heat – was always the heart of any farmhouse. The only other rooms? The storeroom and bedrooms.

And the woodstove and fireplace were the soul of the kitchen. On the woodstove top, bruschetta toasted, chestnuts roasted, sauces simmered and the Umbrian flatbread, “la torta,” was spread out to brown. In the wood stove oven, juices sputtered as succulent roasting goose, chicken, duck, guinea fowl, or rabbit roasted.

ONe torta baked, another on the way!
Peppa's soup simmers on the woodstove
Too much!
Wood stove - TOASTING BREAD FOR BRUSCHETTA
Full plate
Peppa slides loaves into the oven of her woodstove
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Bruschetta drenched in olive oil, cheese, wine

Hanging off the spokes of a wire contraption encircling the woodstove pipe, rain-soaked jackets – or socks and underwear – could dry. And years ago, that improvised “clothes dryer” was strung with the cloth diapers of our first-born (a January baby, our Keegan).

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On another spoke, a rudimentary candle-holder dangled: Pino had made it out of a tin can, cutting one side off, so that our woodstove was illuminated (more or less!).

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Below the oven door, there was a warm space where wet boots or shoes dried – or newborn orphaned chicks or baby rabbits dozed in a box.

Winter visitors warmed hands and feet as all sat around the woodstove chatting, sipping wine, munching chestnuts and sharing tales of rural life during la veglia.

Peppa roasts chestnuts on her woodstove
Chestnuts in roasting pan
PEPPA HUSKS CHESTNUTS

A pot of boiling water was always on the stovetop (and in a cauldron hanging in the fireplace): none of us had running hot water in our homes.

We do now. Times have changed. But our wood stove remains the heart of the house, the soul of the kitchen.

Nothing like the warmth of the woodstove to put you to sleep - right, Giancarlo-
peppa, gentile again..near prosciutti
All 4

peppa, peppe, gentile, vino..old friends reconnec

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

31 Responses to “Heart and Soul of the Farmhouse Kitchen”

  1. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    As warming and important part of life as your wood stove was, so to is this article invoking my inner being to recall those happy days with nonna and mama in the cucina with the stufa a legna fired up con latte caffè e pane on those early mornings grazie Anna

    Reply
  2. Grazie for the glimpse into rural Italian living. Always enjoy any of your stories and writings. These pictures are wonderful!

    Reply
  3. Edowardo Manfredi

    Brava Anne, com’e’ al solito un piacere a leggere della vita italiana !

    Reply
  4. Jack Litewka

    Staying warm in winter is important. I feel nice and toasty from looking at the photos.

    Reply
  5. Tom Jordan

    Wood heat would be great if it didn’t remove carbon absorbing trees from the forest and then add even more carbon to the atmosphere, which means it’s just the opposite of great.

    Reply
    • Joseph Krak

      Yeah, I know…and let’s kill all the cows because the are farting away our ozone layer. Tee-hee.

      Reply
  6. Katie Larsh

    Loved your story of the kitchen as the soul of the farmhouse. And how fun to see the photos of you and Pino in your early years! Thanks, Annie!

    Reply
  7. Marie Giacalone

    You have inspired me to cook more with our old cook stove, which is warming us this morning as it does every chilly day here in California. Your photos are lovely- the food is sumptuous!

    Reply
  8. Another reason why I love the ItalianNotebook. The kitchen reminded me of my Zia Chiarina’s kitchen in Chieti, Abruzzi. I could almost smell the chestnuts roasting….Grazie!

    Reply
  9. Jane Ellis

    Wonderful, and loved seeing the pictures of you, Annie, and Pino from back then . . .

    Reply
  10. Stephanie Webb

    Great nostalgic piece! I want to squeeze right back into Peppa’s kitchen & get cozy. Love the pictures of yester year, Pino’s hair…wild! Thanks for sharing another bit of your lovely rural life.

    Reply
  11. Wow, what a fascinating writing! Loved the historic references. Makes me appreciate the luxuries I have here of heat and hot water whenever I want it… which is so taken for granted!

    Reply
  12. Rosemary

    A wonderful post! Your descriptions are always so vivid one feels as if we are there with you! Grazie for sharing your life and memories with all of us!

    Reply
  13. BLUEBERRY

    DEAR ANN YOU HAVE STIRRED UP MY MEMORIES THANK YOU SOO MUCH FOR ALL THOSE GREAT FOTOS. WHEN I WAS A KID IN DEUTSCHLAND WE WHERE DIRT POOR SO THE ONLY ROOM IN OUR APARTMENT WHICH HAD SOME HEAT WAS THE LIVING ROOM.
    LATER ON WHEN WE LIVED IN KENTUCKY WE ALSO HAD JUST ONE STOVE IT IS NOT A FUN WAY TO SURVIVE BUT WHEN THAT’S ALL YOU HAVE YOU WILL MAKE IT :)

    I DO LOVE SEEING THE DARLING FACES OF YOUR LADIES TOO THE REMIND ME OF ONE OF MY DEAREST AUNT GRETEL SHE HAS HAD TO ALSO USE WHATEVER THEY HAD ON THEIR FARM AND IT HAS MADE HER ONE OF THE DEAREST PERSONS THAT I HAVE HAD THE PRIVELIDGE TO KNOW. GOD BLESS US ALL

    Reply
  14. Angela Nelczer

    This reminds me so much if my grandmother’s kitchen and a special Aubt, too. The warmth around those stoves and the smells is hard to duplicate but so nice to remember! This brought a tear and a smile…thank you, Annie.

    Reply
  15. Patrice Makovic

    I love how you mingle the past with the present illustrating it all with fantastic photos from YOUR past personal experience. Your experience is so unique!

    Reply
  16. Francesca Giacalone

    Brava!!!! Love to read this heartwarming article!!
    I use my wood stove all winter!!!!

    Reply
  17. Janet Eidem

    Thanks Annie. I love seeing these beautiful people. What you write reminds me of my early adult years in Maine. There we had abandoned piglets close to the stove too.

    Reply
  18. Sandra Potter

    Great pictures. Food, family and friends. The real deal – living the good life.

    Reply
  19. Sandi Spector

    Annie,
    would you, per favore, write a wonderful book of your stories. You are the best. Hope you are having fun here in the USA! Sure is warm enough here in N CA
    abbracci

    Reply
  20. Angela Melczer

    I remember do many wood stoves…my grandmother, my aunts!

    Reply
  21. Angela Melczer

    I remember so many wood stoves. I can still feel the warmth and smell the food being cooked on them. Even when there was an elective stove in the house, they kept the wood stove to cook certain thibgs

    Reply
  22. I enjoy seeing the photos of your good friends and of you and Pino from years past!

    Reply
  23. marianna raccuglia

    A great story with wonderful photos – a book should be in the works!

    Reply

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