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January 21, 2015

Orange & Lemons at Vellano – Candied Peel Recipe

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Darren Hackett @ 1:29 pm

Oranges & Lemons Said the Bells of Vellano!

The Scent is Fantastic

The Scent is Fantastic

Some readers will be familiar with the song, ‘Orange and Lemons Said the Bells of St Clement’s’. St. Clements’s may be St Clement Danes or St Clement Eastcheap in London both of which are near the wharves where merchants landed their citrus fruits. The tune is also reminiscent of change ringing or bell ringing and St Clement Danes rings out this tune to this day.

I had forgotten it is a singing game or dance where you were ‘out’ if the arc of hands came down on you and you were then ‘out’ to the words, ‘And here comes a chopper to chop off your head‘. The game was sung on festival days, on which bells would be rung.

This leads me to my problem as there are so many oranges and lemons on our citrus plants this January I wondered what to do with orange skins.

We have had orange juice, orange fruit cocktail and ice cream, zest in cakes and one idea was to make candied peal with the skins. Instead of composting it all, which is not advised as it can make you compost acid and thus your soil acidic. Very difficult to put right!!

So below is a method for making Citrus Candied Peel

4 Oranges

4 & a half cups of water

2 and a half cups of sugar

Sugar for coating

1. Cut the orange peel with the pith taken away with a knife into 6cm by half a cm strips. Do not worry if there is a little pith left on the peel.

Cut into Strips

Cut into Strips










2. Add water, sugar and peel strips in a wide pan and bring to the boil.

Simply add water & Sugar

Simply add water & Sugar










3. Simmer for 1 hour or so until the mixture of fruit and sugar syrup goes a little bit golden but before it turns to caramel!!

Simmer for 30 - 45 Mins

Simmer for 30 – 45 Mins










4. Remove from the syrup and place on a bed of sugar. Leave for a few minutes to cool. Then sprinkle with sugar and roll the candied peel in the sugar with the flat of your hand.

Dry over night or in  a warm oven

Dry Over Night or in a Warm Oven










5. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper and then put in a warm oven to dry. If you leave them on the kitchen table over night they dry just the same.

6. Keep in a air tight jar.

They are delicious.

Keep In an Air Tight Jar

Keep in an Air Tight Jar










Top Tip: You can also dip half of each strip in chocolate! Enjoy.


Oranges and Lemons:

St Clement Danes:

St Clement Eastcheap:,_Eastcheap

December 23, 2014

The Shortest Days & Christmas Presepi

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Darren Hackett @ 5:17 pm

We at Casa Verde would like to wish all our readers, friends, visitors and customers a very Happy Christmas and New Year.
Presepe of Bread San Miniato

There is in Italy, at this time of year, the great tradition of building presepi or nativity scenes in many religious and public spaces. Here in the photograph opposite, a bakery has made this one with their own bread. In San Miniato, coincidentally, twinned with Bethlehem, there is a whole festival dedicated this week to artistic versions of the presepi made with all sorts of materials including old garden tools, sweets, metalwork etc.

The quiet town of San Miniato in the province of Empoli is the Northern-most town in the Chianti region. It is strung out along a low narrow ridge overlooking the Arno valley for more than a mile.  It’s main street is part of the Via Francigena, the road from Canterbury through France to Rome. San Miniato was fought over fiercely in July 1944 between the German and American troops, leaving the town very badly damaged, it is hard to believe that it has ever changed for over eight centuries.

The town is home to the November truffle festival and famous for it’s white truffles.  One of these sold in the US recently for around 50,000 dollars!!!!

Precepe San Miniato

Precepe San Miniato

Everything is gentle and slow, time to sit in the Cathedral square watching the mist billow in and out of the towers.  The church tower in typical red-brick splendor, it’s gothic clock beautifully; but oddly placed to one side of it’s square construction.  The giant medieval watch-tower on top of the hill placed as if in solitude in a pretty, well-kept park.

We visited San Miniato on the shortest day,  the 21st of December. One of those glorious winter days when the warm, strong sun creates such a soft light among the mists that rise from the river valley below.  There is little of the Christmas bustle and business that seems to be happening elsewhere.


Ipad  Photos 2014 097

San Miniato


In the main square stands a beautifully curved edifice known as the Palazzo del Seminario. It’s facade painted and decorated elaborately and distinctively.  On the ground floor there a many doors with steps that look as if they could have been shops and stalls.  This is the main market square for San Miniato; on various days full of food stalls or antiques.

Market Square at San Miniato

The architecture always reminds us that such is the glory and quality of Tuscan architecture that every comune or local council, has had to somehow find a way to create distinctive style or look that is unique to it’s buildings.  After wandering around more of the presepi we enjoyed our favourite winter treat at one of our local cafes……a delicious hot chocolate topped with whipped fresh cream.  Boun Natale a tutti!!!.

December 5, 2014

Roads to Casa Verde

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darren Hackett @ 2:40 pm

There are many roads up and around the valleys above Pescia and Lucca and they are vital in maintaining peoples access to the main shopping and working centres  located on the valley floor. For the past 70 decades there has been a gradual shift in workers looking for jobs in shops, factories and other businesses in the area. Meanwhile the life style of the ‘contadini’, the country workers, in the mountains has been slowly eroded. It was unusual for people in villages such as Vellano to visit the nearest main town of Pescia more than once a month. There were supplies of what was needed all around them in the village. Any transported goods were carried by pack horse as late as the last war and Vellano did not have surfaced road until the 1950’s. Here is a photo of the labourers building the road at that time; the photo has been shared by our neighbour.


Isn’t it such a beautiful photograph of these guys seemingly so happy in their work.  I wonder how many of them are still alive today. The road is of course particularly important as we move towards the heart of Winter with the threat of frost and snow.  The road is especially significant as it is one of the routes up to the ski resort of Abetone so it is kept open all year round.  This last year was a mild and damp winter followed by a lot of rain during the late summer and autumn months, this has led to a 40% drop in Italy’s olive harvest, probably with greater damage in the Tuscany region, other crops too have suffered in the unusual weather of 2014. Many coastal resorts in North West Tuscany and Liguria around Genoa have experienced floods and mudslides, with many losing their homes, roads and living from the land.

So this year we are all hoping for a drier and colder Winter season with lots of bug-killing frosts, and a necessary drying of the land for the Spring of 2015.

Talking of roads being built, those guests and friends who have enjoyed their visits to Casa Verde will know that there has been a small price to pay for the splendid view from the property; that is the ride (or walk) up and down our famous ‘strada bianca’.  It is not very long but was a bit bumpy and scary……well not anymore!!

HolidayDrive 051It may need a little more landscaping, and it is not quite the Yellow Brick Road, although it is the yellow required by the Florence authorities! However, it makes for a pleasant smooth, gentle ascent to the start of your holiday.  It is of course our new cement road.

A Pathway to Paradise?

A Highway to Heaven?

Well maybe those are too pretentious as names …so we can just call it…..

Una Strada pui Bello!!!


HolidayDrive 054

No more muddy shoes when you dine out at the Ristorante Bistrot!


No more unloading of bags or passengers at the bottom of the drive!


No more fear of heart attacks as you ascend the hill!


A formal opening will no doubt be made for the Summer season of 2015.


September 8, 2014

Festival Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Darren Hackett @ 6:10 am

Festival Time

The Vellenese crowd in our local Piazza

The Vellenese Crowd in Our Local Piazza

Well we have all heard of the Gunfight at the OK Coral……..this is the bunfight at the local Piazza!

This is a traditional event, a cake festival at the beginning of August, as part of the Ferragosto celebrations.  Local people bake the most delicious and beautiful array of cakes, displaying them in the square and there is a competition.  I assume that the prize is for the best looking cake….or perhaps for who gets to taste them first in the frenetic cue for pieces of this delicious fayre.

(I had a piece of the grand white cream cake, with icing and pistacchio, the one at the bottom of the table…in case you might be interested!)


This picture was taken at around 10.30 in the evening as to display cakes outside on a warm August evening would have been very difficult earlier in the day.  The small piazza at the top of our village of Vellano was crammed with people at this time and music was provided by our local crooner Liscio.  He also provided all the music for our 50/60th Birthday Party in June this year and very entertaining it all was….part Italian country songs and part Karioke.

Whilst the weather in Tuscany has been strange and unusual for us all this year other normal summer activities and festivals continued on.

The Giusti Garden's Verona

The Giusti Garden’s Verona




We visited Verona in the Veneto in August, for another of Italy’s more famous festival, the Verona Opera Festival in the Roman Arena.

Where gladiators once fought with Lions and Tigers opera goers now vie for seats at one of the most spectacular theatres in the World. The audience of about 12000, dressed in a range from the most glittering to tourist casual began the spectacle with the overtures and a sea of traditional candle light……then after about half an hour of the performance…..rain! After waiting 2 hours for the showers to peter out the performance was abandoned.  So now we must wait for another twelve months for the next years round of Verona performance to begin and another chance to see the fabulous Aida emerge from the artificial but beautiful stage representation of Memphis (this time not waiting for Elvis).

There are other delights in Verona of course to sea and we took a meandering walk and climb around the lovely Giusti Garden’s, with it’s great views over the city.

The Giusti Garden's

The Giusti Garden’s


July 16, 2014

A Pilgrimage – San Pellegrino in Alpi


San Pellegrino in Alpi – The Legend


We reached San Pellegrino after a very steep climb to almost 1525 meters 5000 Ft . The church and shrine sits on a small mound with steep drops at each side. It must have one of the most spectacular views in Tuscany although it straddles Tuscany and the Emilia-Romagna (see photo of the divide).

Popular imagination has created a legendary life for San Pellegrino, which was spread by the lay brothers of the communities that attempted to collect alms for the poor. According to the legend, San Pellegrino is the son of King Romano of Scotland and his wife Plantula. (I cannot find anything about this king!) He performs miracles from the day on which he was baptised and after a childhood of penance, he renounces the succession to the throne and sets off for the Holy Land, accompanied by a band of thieves who he has miraculously converted! After suffering persecution by the Saracen’s he ran away and legend has it that he reached the Appenine mountains sailing upon his cloak and guided by a star, nice!

So green and so high!

So green and so high!

The boarder with Tuscany and Emila - Romana Italy

The Border with Tuscany and the Emilia-Romagna Italy

At San Pellegrino he lives in a cave where he is visited by wild animals, whom he then befriends. Many years later he removes to a suitable location for penance, sheltering inside a hollow tree. S. Pellegrino dies at 97 years old, after having written his life on the bark of the tree.

A man and wife from Modena, guided in a dream by an angel found his body intact, guarded by a great number of animals. The bishops and populations of Tuscany and the Emilia flocked to the place and a dispute breaks out between the Emilian’s, who want to transport the Saint to the plains and the Tuscans’ who claim him; having died within their borders. To resolve the issue they then put the corpse in a coffin on a cart and it is then pulled along by two wild bullocks, one Tuscan and the other Emilian, and they stop at a place called Termen Salon which became St Pellegrino in Alpi. A basilica is created here in honour of San Pellegrino, whose Dedication is given 10th August 643 A.D. At this location, where many miracles occur, the site becomes honoured by popes and emperors, is then created a house of refuge to receive those who flock to venerate the Saint.

Pilgrims visit the site to this day.

Pilgrims visit the site to this day.

It is worth remembering that the cult of San Pellegrino, despite having had a great popular following in the past still receives pilgrims to the present day. However he has never been officially recognised by the Catholic Church.

San Pellegrino is laid out with his former pagan friend San Bianco; whom he converted. The Saints’ look very comfortable together in their reliquary which is a large gold and glass case. I was not sure about seeing them so close up. However when I went forward, San Pelligrino’s remains show a smile on his face, which you could be forgiven for not expecting on a corpse! The most noticeable things were their shoes, with no wear on the bottom as they have never walked in them….. in this life!

San Bianco maybe the same saint as Bianco da Siena who wrote the Discendi amor santo, the words for the hymn Come down, O love Divine, known by most to the music of Ralph Vaughan- William’s ‘Down Amphy’, see link below. However this seems unlikely as the dates for San Pellegrino and San Bianco da Siena are too far apart to fit.

Top of the World

San Pellegrino in Alpi has three places to eat, a church with a shop for pilgrims to purchase icons etc, a museum of local life and gift shops. The area is a fantastic place for walks in some of the most spectacular mountains in the Alpi. Take an extra layer, as we went in July and I needed a jumper: which I did not have with me!!

Another prominent visitor was the poet Shelley. The poet walked up to San Pelloginro in August 1820 after taking the waters St Giuliano Termi near Pisa and was inspired by the experience to write The Witch of Atlas, published posthumously in 1824. The work, which Shelley called “a fanciful poem”, was dedicated to Mary Shelley, the dedication “To Mary” first appearing in the Poetical Works edition of 1839. Mary Shelley wrote that The Witch of Atlas “is a brilliant congregation of ideas such as his senses gathered, and his fancy coloured, during his rambles in the sunny land he so much loved.” She objected, however, that Shelley was “discarding human interest and passion” in favour of “fantastic ideas” which were “abstract” and “wildly fanciful” and “full of brilliant imagery”. She argued that Shelley should have written works that were more consonant with the popular tastes of that time! Hark at her, anyway she then edited it!! a small portion is reproduced below

The silver noon into that winding dell,
With slanted gleam athwart the forest tops,
Tempered like golden evening, feebly fell;
A green and glowing light, like that which drops
From folded lilies in which glow-worms dwell,
When Earth over her face Night's mantle wraps;
Between the severed mountains lay on high,
Over the stream, a narrow rift of sky.

See link to full text below (its Long!):

(Sources: P. L. Biagioni, D. Hackett. Wikimedia)


And in local news the potatoes are ready - five sacks of potatoes sitting on a wall

And in local news the potatoes are ready – five sacks of potatoes sitting on a wall!! No singing please!











See Links:

  1. San Pellegrino:
  2. The Hymn: Come down, O love Divine
  3. Emilia-Romana:
  4. Bianco da Siena:


June 8, 2014

Roads to Vinci

Pieve di Compito

It is quite possible to travel around the edge of the triangular valley that sits between three sets of hills and mountains.  These are the Appennines, where Casa Verde sits on the lower slopes; the Colle Pisani to the south west and the hills of Montalbano to the south east.  Between the lower slopes of these hills lies the flat-lands of the Valdinievole; the misty valley.  The valley contains the Padule di Fuccheccio but also larger towns, industrial areas and also the town of Montecatini Terme. In the lower slopes of the hills, around the valley there are many smalerl and larger hillside villages that many visitors may miss but are very worthy of further exploration.  The hills near Lucca specialise in March in exhibitions of exquisite and colourful Camellias.  Many of these villages take pride in the gardens and flower displays that make any visit between March and July a visual and fragrant journey.

Borgo Cecina

Borgo Cecina

We have travelled to pretty villages in the area close to Monsummano such as  Montevettolini.  It is here in this village atop it’s own small peak that the Medici’s could see all the Valdinievole before them,  any enemies that approached over the hills be it Pistoia, or from the south west  in the direction of Lucca and Pisa, from the south in the direction of Siena, all the approaches were covered from this lofty place.  For the Medici we imagine that they came here because the palace they occupied was also a quiet and beautiful escape from the intrigues and violence of the Florentine court.  Smaller villages such as Borgo di Cecina have such a charm to the peaceful passer-by, set as it is, among the most immaculate olive groves full of blood-red poppies and white daisies that thrive in the terraces that  borders these ancient villages.  In the hot weather you can hear a cat breath on the stone walls.  It is these rolling landscapes that make the hills of the Montalbano so picturesque and attractive to artists, at Anchiano near Vinci it produced one of the world’s most famous of these.  The small town of Vinci has its own attractions of course, but his two-building birthplace up the hill side has a magical and humble feel to it.  You can see why one’s sensory imagination is so heightened in such havens as these.

da Vinci's birthplace Anchiano

da Vinci’s birthplace Anchiano


April 29, 2014

Nonna’s Winter Warmer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Darren Hackett @ 8:31 am


This pumpkin soup is creamy and comforting, but also has enough spice to be interesting. You can easily double the recipe by using a larger pumpkin simple. If you’re going to use fresh pumpkin, just put the pumpkin on a baking sheet, slit it to let out the steam, and cook it in a 170 oC or 350 F oven until soft — about 45 to 60 minutes. Split, let cool, and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Mash, or use blender or food processor until pumpkin puree is smooth.


  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic – chopped or pressed
  • 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander (ground seed)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 450 kg 1 lb of pumpkin.
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup of cream
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (can use bouillion)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar


February 27, 2014

Mountains and Sea

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Darren Hackett @ 7:20 pm
Serra Pistoiese

Serra Pistoiese


There are many beautiful walks up around the mountains near to Vellano.  Some of these we have chartered before in this blog, but we love to share them with you anyway.  The walk we completed a few weeks ago was from Panicagliora to Serra Pistoiese.  It is a walk that meanders delightfully down through a wooded valley past lovely streams, full from winter rains.  From the valley pathway you can look up to snow covered alps in the distance.  The peaks are still covered with snow at this time of the year, an undisturbed frosting even though the winter has been milder than of late.  In Vellano barely a flake has fallen in these last months, with some sadness on our part as it is a winter wonderland after snow.  Many of the pathways are ancient by-ways and important historical trading routes through the countryside. On this walk there is a little ruined chapel abandoned in the woods on the track between the two mountain villages, a lost remnant from the times of monasteries and pilgrim’s ways over the Apennines.  The early signs of spring are here in abundance; early bright blue crocuses, yellow mimosa blossoms on tall shrubs; lots of fresh green grass among the well-tended Accacia woods.


December 29, 2013

Casa Verde: Artist’s Impressions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Darren Hackett @ 2:59 pm

Casa Verde Tuscany Italy

Above is an artist’s portrait of Casa Verde.  It has been painted by a Anne-Flore, a German artist who has lived in Vellano for many years.  She has actually completed three paintings of the house  but this one is the image that captures most the specific setting of the house, among the trees of the hill-side in it’s prominent position.  The colours she has used reflect perfectly the predominant green shades that are memorable to any view of the house, and which give the house it’s name.


December 1, 2013

Pisa ‘Chartreuse’ Charterhouse

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darren Hackett @ 6:06 pm
A Baroque Masterpiece

A Baroque Masterpiece


Pisa Charterhouse, also known as Calci Charterhouse is a former Carthusian monastery, or charterhouse, currently part of which is the home of the Natural History Museum, some 10 km outside of Pisa. I visited it this week and found a gem of a place full of beauty and a bygone atmosphere.

The Monastery is noted for the fresco of the Last Supper, by Bernardino Poccetti (1597), in the Refectory, which is interesting for its eye level view of the feet of Jesus and the Disciples just above the abbots dining chair. I am not sure I have seen the feet before in other depictions of the Last Supper.


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