Come San Martino each year, we take to the castle, turning the holiday into something approaching a food festival. We roast our daily vegetables, the sea bass for lunch and the local DOP rabbits for dinner. We simmer legumes in our earthenware vessels, so that the whole castle begins to smell like one giant kitchen. But perhaps more than anything, it’s the pickling of the hyacinth bulbs that stands out to our visiting students. It’s hard to pin it down, of course, but if you had to pick one food to represent the flavours of the Salento in your mouth, i lampascioni would certainly come to mind. And pickling them together out in the countryside, well, it’s hard to think of a better example of how a food represents a place, a place a food.
Back when I was just a person, rather than a school, I used to dig them up myself, often armed with nothing more than a screwdriver. That was before we started to consume a jar or two a week as a school, which means that I need to buy them rather than forage. Actually flower bulbs, they arrive caked with the red mud of the Salento, which needs to rinsed away with cold water.
Then you remove the head and the tail, which exposes a strange, other-wordly serum that sticks to just about everything. Keeping a bowl of freshly-drawn water helps to clean the hands.
Beer is a good choice, for ‘the maintanance of the moral of the team,’, as is vintage soul music. As in most canning projects, the gossip usually starts early. And then dirty jokes well before we enter the second hour.
Today we were lucky that the sun was shining, a common occurrence here in the Salento, even come mid-November. Thus my need to squint.
Once you rinse them again, two schools of thought quickly divide: some insist on soaking the flower bulbs for a few days in cold water, changing the water every twelve hours (not unlike baccalà). And my camp, which says that you put them under water until you’re ready to pickle them, even if that works out to only be a few hours. Folks rave about our lampascioni, so soaking can easily be done away with me, if I’m to be trusted in such matters. Next you fill a cauldron with half vinegar (we make our own) and half water, a little salt and some fresh bay leaves and you bring them to the boil, simmer the pot for 40 minutes, turn them off and begin to jar them when they are cold enough to handle. In other words, it couldn’t be simpler.
If you visit us this next year, we’ll be opening a jar just for you, our lampascioni, golden jars of winter bounty, generous enough to last the entire year.
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