Archives for December 2016

An inspiring Italian cookbook

The Watermill at Posara for painting, knitting, yoga, cookery holidays/vacations, Tuscany, ItalyThe name of the Watermill’s first-ever cooking course, L’arte di mangiar bene, the art of eating well, was inspired by the famous Italian cookbook La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, written by a rich retired 19th Century businessman and landowner Pellegrino Artusi. It was composed in his house in the Piazza Massimo d’Azeglio, very close to the apartment in Florence where the Breckon family live when they are not at the mill.

Artusi was 71 when he finished the cookbook in 1891. He failed to find a publisher, so he published it himself. After a slowish start the cookbook really caught the public’s imagination and sales soared. It is now a perennial Italian bestseller and has been translated into a number of languages. The recipes are classic and timeless and we’ll be sharing some with you on later blogs and in our cookery course at the Watermill next Summer (details below).

Artusi bustLike many of his class in those times, Artusi welcomed progress and embraced science — and his book can be  regarded as truly scientific ( the first part of the title), since the recipes were the result of observation and experiment. He lived alone in his house in the Piazza d’Azeglio, with a butler from his home town of Forlimpopoli and a Tuscan cook, who undoubtedly made the dishes while his master watched and tasted. (I’m sure the butler did, too.)

The book also had profound cultural significance: it was written in Italian rather than any local dialect and was the first to bring together recipes from all the various regions, so it helped to make the citizens of the Kingdom of Italy (created in 1861) feel part of a united nation. And it was not written for professional chefs, as was customary at the time, but for middle-class housewives and those servants who helped them cook family meals.

But above all the tone is friendly and reassuring, full of straightforward practical advice – and humorous comments.  I particularly like his note on apple strudel: “Do not be alarmed if this dessert looks like some ugly creature such as a giant leech or a shapeless snake after you cook it, you will like the way it tastes.”

We’ll have more from Pelegrino Artusi in coming blogs and we’ll also be celebrating his inspiration in our L’Arte di mangiar bene cookery course at The Watermill, where you’ll not only learn the secrets of healthy Italian eating but also savour la bella vita italiana.

The Watermill at Posara for painting, knitting, yoga, cookery holidays/vacations, Tuscany, Italypanzanella19-26 August – L’arte di mangiar bene 

with Lois Breckon, Ingrid Fabbian and The Watermill team

To learn more about this delicious cookery course, please click here




Forbidden Fruit tastes wooden, but the damigiana sparkles

Blog wooden fruitThe builders continue apace restoring the 17th watermill: the carpenters have raised high the roof beams and the rafters are now in position; soon we will be replacing the ancient roof tiles and then working on our new Ghirlandaio and Uccello bedrooms.

While the men work away outside, Lois (in particular) and Bill (a little) are working on turning some old mill artefacts and other items into decorative works of art to enhance our communal areas and guests’ bedrooms.

Above you can see Bill’s creation Forbidden Fruit, which he is thinking of submitting for next year’s Turner Prize! It’s a collection of wooden fruit in a Victorian-style glass dome.

And it behind it you can see tiny electric bulbs sparkling in one of the mill’s many demijohns, used for storing wine in the old days. Nowadays winemakers, even those who produce it at home, tend to use stainless steel vats, so damigiane are becoming obsolete. Many people are throwing them out – and our gardener Flavio Terenzoni has been gathering them up. We have quite a collection in the Watermill courtyard and elsewhere. So, Lois has been experimenting with ways to make them sparkle and to use them as part of our interior décor.Humphries demijohns

They’ll be as fun (and as difficult?) to paint as our outdoor ‘installation’ of demigiane above, but you can contemplate them calmly on a yoga, cooking or knitting course. Come and see for yourself on one of our sun-filled, fun-filled creative courses next year.

Here’s a rather fine painting of them by one of our students Grace McKee, who is returning next year with her husband Phillip for her third visit to The Watermill:Grace demijohns

And don’t forget our Early Bird bonus: if you book on any of our 2017 creative weeks before the end of this year, there’s a £GBP 75 discount. Please come and enjoy the sparkling damigiana, but don’t eat the forbidden fruit.  You can find out more about everything by clicking here.

The mill courtyard and demijohns by student Doug Mackenzie

The mill courtyard and demijohns by student Doug Mackenzie


Is this Santa Claus? A miller’s tale

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIf you’ve been to The Watermill you’ll know we have two rather fine little statues in niches in the façade of the Tuscan House overlooking the courtyard. There’s a serene Madonna and child in white marble and the little terracotta chap above, gazing benignly down on us. He looks friendly, despite seemingly missing his left hand.

Trouble is, no-one seems to know who he is. We’ve asked around, but we can’t find anyone who knows when he was put there and why.  The Tuscan House was built in the 19th Century and was originally a ‘pasta factory’, with all sorts of machinery run by water power (in the walled garden you can still see one of the marble wheels used for mixing dough), so presumably the statue was put there then.

We guess he’s a saint and we’d like to think he was the patron saint of millers. The online CatholicSaints.Info page gives a list of eight of them, including two women and the delightfully named Winnoc of Wormhoult.

St Nicholas in all his splendour

St Nicholas in all his splendour

It also includes Nicholas of Myra, better known to you and me as St Nicholas, or Santa Claus. A fourth century Bishop of Myra in Lycia (now part of modern Turkey), Nicholas was renowned for his generosity to the poor and his protection of the innocent. The most famous tale told about him concerns a local man who had fallen on such hard times that, unable to raise dowries, he was planning to sell his daughters into prostitution. Nicholas went to the house at night and threw three bags of gold down the chimney from the flat roof, saving the girls from a fate worse than death. From this beginning grew the story of St Nicholas or Santa Claus and our Christmas-time gift-giving.

I am sure our terracotta saint is Nicholas: he’s certainly not a woman, nor Winnoc of Wormhoult!

But why is Nicholas the patron saint of millers? There is an Italian folk tale of a starving widow praying in an empty church with her two children and hearing a voice telling her to go to the nearby mill where there would be food for her. She was sceptical, as the miller was notoriously stingy, but she went, and yes, he turned her away. But as he was doing so, an old man appeared from nowhere and touched the miller with his staff, turning him into a donkey.

In some countries St Nicholas arrives on a donkey, not by reindeer sleigh

In some countries St Nicholas arrives on a donkey, not by reindeer sleigh

St Nicholas (for it was he) showed the woman food on the table and warm beds to sleep in — and she took over and ran the mill with a young assistant provided by the saint, while the donkey brayed in his stall. A year later Nicolas returned and changed the donkey back to the miller, who was now a transformed character, one of the kindest men around, and who even gave the mill to the widow and her family.

I think the saint in our niche looks like he could have achieved all that and I see a twinkle in his eye as he looks out over our guests and, hopefully, approves of our hospitality. Come and see him for yourself!

You can find out more about all next year’s creative courses by clicking here. And why not give yourself a Christmas present: there’s a £75 Early Bird discount if you book on any 2017 course by the end of the year.