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Autumn: Sep to Nov

After the summer heat, when you can fry eggs on the car bonnet, the ground cracks and only things that are watered grow, the gentle slackening of late September is a relief. The sun only dips from fierce to strong, however, and the pool is still required although the long summer has taken off its chill. Le Radicchie moves from Italian summer to, effectively, an English heatwave.

Yet this unfailing Indian summer is only one delight of the Italian September. Another is the harvest, that crucial week when every hillside vineyard comes alive with vine workers moving slowly down the rows, their straw hats leading the heaped trailers. Fretful winemakers, gambling a year's crop, try and take their ripening vintage at the very last minute and pray against rain and frost. In the fattorie, the grapes are trampled with rustic aplomb and their discarded skins are placed between clear plastic sheets in the yard to cure in the sun for next year's grappa.

Only in October do the nights begin to feel chillier, a damp breath that shuts Le Radicchie's windows and fills the log basket in readiness for the rains. The rains, when they come, do not last long but are drunk greedily by the land, thirsty after the long summer's toil. The veins of the land are replenished as the rivers reappear from their dry beds, and green-coated Tuscans are to be found out with baskets sniffing out porcini for their omelettes and griddle.

These kings of funghi, the royal cep or boletus, start to appear in the restaurants. Huge, plump and still cool from the soil, the waiters bring them around the tables in a great basket. Osteria La Piazza does them particularly well, a porcini griddled fiercely with much garlic and parsley to be eaten by itself: a meaty dish that would put a steak to shame.

The farms take little rest after the grapes are in. Plums and other fruit needs collecting and the hardware store is emptied of jars for homemade fruit preserves. The artichokes and chard begin to appear at market.

Then in November comes the olive harvest - most laborious of all - when the glossy green and black beads must be combed down onto nets without damage to the ancient branches. The olives are then weighed, washed and pressed, with great turbines agitating the paste to release the oil from the bitter flesh. The spicy new oil, luminous green and opaque, is tasted on garlic-rubbed fett'unta toast and poured raw on thick vegetable soup. It is a world away from regular golden olive oil, in which the short-lived chlorophyll has wasted and the taste is faint.

The skies in late autumn are often clear, and the sun low, casting long shadows. This shows off the soft textures and colours of the autumnal landscape to breathtaking effect.




Misty Vineyards

Autumn at Podere le Radicchie