“The only sauce is olive oil – green as sun-struck jade – splashed in small lustrous puddles, through which one skates the flesh, the fat, the bones, the potatoes, the bread. In the last, best drops, one skates a finger”.
This book is a joy to read or (preferably) savour!
The stories are wonderful, the food is wonderful and they are each a part of the other – the stories don’t exist without the food, the food is the product of the storytellers.
Author Marlena de Blasi lives in the Umbrian town of Orvieto, where each week a small group of women meet, sometimes with their men, sometimes alone, for the Thursday night supper club. The “club house” is an almost derelict stone farm house in the hills above the Orvieto, but who needs luxury when you have food, wine and good company?
This is not a wealthy community; there is no money to spare, but a walk through the hills produces stalks of wild asparagus, wild thyme and mushrooms. Add some olive oil, a little salt, a hot pan and “Dinner is served”. Each woman contributes whatever she has; maybe flour for the bread, tomatoes fresh from the vine; or the olive oil crushed in her family’s shed. If someone has an ingredient, everybody has it.
Marlene de Blasi’s entry into this inner circle was a slow and cautious journey, but when the matriarch of the group, Miranda, announces her retirement, Marlena says “I’ll cook”. For the next four years, it became Marlena’s task, her joy, to choose the elements for supper, to plan the menu and with the help of one or another of the women in the club, to prepare the meal.
As they cook, they talk, telling Marlena the stories of their lives, lives of love, loss, mistreatment and food. Some of the stories are particularly sad, but these are not women seeking sympathy. They aren’t victims, they do not invite you to a “Pity Party”.
Miranda, for example, has been a widow since her 20s. At the funeral of her beloved Milo she met his lover and their son. How she handles this situation is dignified and her admission “In case you’re also wondering if I miss him, I’ll tell you that I don’t. I don’t miss Milo, not he himself … Ah but how I long for the man I thought he was”, went straight to my heart.
No story is complete without luscious, evocative food. Just as a story can’t be told without food, food can’t be enjoyed without the local wines the supper club love. Wine is used to cook, as a dunking accompaniment to fresh baked bread, and of course, to drink. This is the true joy of the book; food, love, wine and stories are not separated into compartments. They are integral to the whole. As a woman shares her history, she shares her favourite recipes.
The food sounds amazing, but it is amazing for its simplicity, not for its numerous ingredients. “The lowest circle in hell should be reserved for people who play with food”.
A few of the recipes included in the narrative are published at the end of the book, but this is not a cook book. It is the true story of Miranda, Ninuccia, Paolina and Gilda, who talked, laughed and cooked while sharing their lives with an empathetic woman who shares them with us. I recommend you savour The Umbrian Supper Club, for the histories and the food.
To whet your appetite for The Umbrian Supper Club, Allen and Unwin has generously given Starts at 60 exclusive access to an extract from the book which we are publishing on Wednesday 29 April 2015 on the Starts at 60 Book Club page.
About the Author
Marlena de Blasi is the bestselling author of A Thousand Days in Venice, Tuscan Secrets, An Umbrian Love Story, That Summer in Sicily, Antonia and her Daughters and a novel Amandine.
She has been a chef, a journalist, a food and wine consultant and a restaurant critic. She is also the author of two internationally published cookbooks of Italian food.
She and her husband, Fernando, moved from Venice to San Casciano in Tuscany and now live in Orvieto in the region of Umbria.
Have you ever had a club or weekly meeting/event where you shared stories with your friends? Will you read this book?