Before the fall

We’ve returned to the house for what is likely to be the last time before the reconstruction works begin. We were expecting demolition to have taken place by now, but the approvals have taken much longer than we expected, largely to the changing legislation governing the “superbonus” we will be using to help fund the works.

In our absence there has at least been some progress…we discovered in the summer that the electricity supply to the house was ancient and needed replacement. Initially we expected to have to fund this work ourselves, but following investigation by the utility provider it seems that because ours was the last property on the line, the cost is borne by the network themselves. We arrived at the house to discover a new small structure built, we assume, to house the new meters and the incoming supply.

The latest update from our architect seems to indicate that works will now be starting some time in February, and with an estimated programme of fourteen months, we’re hopeful that we can spend some time in the finished house in the summer of 2023.

Clearing the Cantina

It’s been twelve months since we were last at the house, although it seems like yesterday. The garden has slowly taken over, and we arrived on Monday to find the front steps almost entirely enveloped in ivy. We’re here to clear the contents ahead of demolition later this year, and our mandatory five days of isolation have given us a chance to make good progress.

Since buying Casa Zefferino six years ago, we’ve rarely ventured into the corners of the cantina. Decades of junk – boxes with uncertain contents, ancient tools, pots of forgotten paint and the skeleton of a long-dead rat – have given us little reason to do so, and we’ve used this space ourselves as a repository for unwanted boxes we’ve not managed to throw away.

In the end, the task took less time than we expected. Sorting everything into a couple of piles – one to keep and the other to throw – didn’t use quite as much of our five-day quarantine as we expected.

With the space finally empty, and the house above it largely devoid of possessions too (with the exception of bulky furniture too heavy for us to haul down the stairs), the plan is for our builders to make a start on demolition this side of Christmas, albeit pending the formal approval of works from the Office for Reconstruction.

Raccolta delle olive

In November 2018 we returned to Casa Zefferino to harvest our olives – the first time in three years we’d had anything approaching a decent crop.

Over the years we’ve had the house, and for a few preceding this, the olive trees had grown wildly out of control. As well as being choked by ivy, rather than being slow growing, as we’d expected, the branches extended well out of reach without specialist equipment.

With only small plastic rakes, and borrowed nets, we set to work scraping as much of the fruit as we could manage from the branches. If anything, we’d left it a little late in the season and some of the olives appeared to have shrivelled a little (we later found out that this is of no consequence for the oil). Working with our friends Marc and Stella, proprietors of Il Bacio del Lupo, we quickly worked our way around the garden, stripping as many trees as we could and gathering the fallen fruit from the nets as best we could.

After a few hours (and a couple of glasses of wine) we began to see the product of our labours: the baskets (also borrowed) were starting to fill, and we resorted to alternative containers – recycling bins, wine boxes – to accommodate the rest.

Sadly we hadn’t allowed sufficient time to both harvest, and press, the fruit and we left the latter part of the process in Marc’s capable hands.

It was only on our return to Cecanibbi at Christmas when we finally able to taste the fruit of our labours. The fresh oil was green in colour, and peppery to taste; too “wet” to use for cooking, but perfect for salads or drizzled on fresh bread with a sprinkling rock salt.

Over time the remaining oil has matured to a more familiar golden colour, more refined in taste but still delicious. We are unlikely to be able to repeat the harvest soon, however: in early 2019 we had the trees cut back in an attempt to reverse the years of neglect, and as a result we don’t expect a similar bounty until at least next year.

Olive Crop

For the first time in three years the garden’s olive trees are covered in fruit. Since buying the house in 2015 the trees have grown wild as we haven’t had the time, nor the tools, to keep them in check. We’d assumed that the lack of fruit was a result of this neglect, although 2016’s crop was pretty terrible across Italy. So the abundance of fruit this year has come as a surprise.

Because the trees have been allowed to grow, many of the olives are out of reach of the ground, so when we return in the autumn for the harvest we’ll need ladders to reach most of it.