Hunters’ and gathers’ guide to the Maremma

If you’ve never been to Italy before, it’s likely you won’t visit the Maremma. This corner of Tuscany is the domain for Italian aficionados, who have been to Rome, seen Florence and conquered Venice. Travellers who are looking for a smidgen more than beautiful town centres and churches. One of the most appealing things about the Maremma is its natural beauty and the bounty it can provide intrepid travellers. Obviously most tourists have no plans to traipse through the countryside looking for food. To be honest, this isn’t even something most Italians would do. City slickers and hipsters (like my husband) wouldn’t be caught dead picking asparagus. But I love it. It reminds me of the stories my nonna would tell me of the old days in Calabria. She and her family would pick a different produce almost every weekend. They could almost exclusively survive on what they found in the forests around their small town. That is until they fell foul of some poisonous mushrooms, but that is a story for another time. So here it is, my hunters and gathers calendar to the Maremma, in case you want to do something that truly is off the beaten tourist track.

March-April

Photo: Renda via Flickr

Photo: Renda via Flickr

Asparagus

Wild asparagus are nothing like the ones you buy in the store. They’re thin and stringy and you don’t need to snap off the tough bit.You need a good eye to spot them. They grow like grass on the sides of roads throughout the Maremma, but especially in the Fiora Valley. Pluck them out like a flower and boil them for a few seconds. They’re so tender, you could eat them raw.

May-June

Photo: Nanimo via Flickr

Photo: Nanimo via Flickr

Finocchio di Mare

Sea fennel runs wild on the Argentario Coast. Just take one of the walking paths off the strada panoramica and you’ll be wading through fields of it. It’s more of herb than a vegetable. It goes great with fish and pasta dishes and on top of pizza, but you could just as easily batter it and fry it.

July- October

Photo: Cobalt123 via Flickr

Photo: Cobalt123 via Flickr

Wild fruits

The Maremma has so much wild fruit that's just begging to be picked. Usually these were planted by farmers and then abandoned over the decades. Plums, figs and prickly pears are the most common. If you've never eaten a prickly pear, it's a funny looking fruit. They grow wild on the sides of the road around Grosseto and are ripe when they're soft and purple-coloured. Watch out for the thorns! Also make sure you don't pick anything in nature parks or reserves... or at least make sure no one is looking if you do.

September-November

Photo: Farrukh via Flickr

Photo: Farrukh via Flickr

Chestnuts

Pick a good day to wander through Monte Amiata’s forests and you’ll be drowning in chestnuts. As always with foraging, you want to get in early otherwise the locals will beat you to the fruit.Be careful when you pick up the chestnuts. Their spiky shell can hurt the fingers. You gather chestnuts from the floor and not on the tree as the ripe ones fall off.

All you need is a sharp knife to cut open the outer shell. Chestnuts are best enjoyed boiled or roasted over an open fire. You can’t really eat them raw.

October-November

porcini maremma tuscany

Porcini mushrooms

It all depends on the weather, but you can find porcini mushrooms all over the Maremma at the end of autumn-beginning of winter. In Monte Amiata, you’ll find them sooner. Down my end, in the Fiora Valley, you’ll have to wait a couple more months.Or in a one-in-a-million situation, in August. No joke, I saw local porcini on sale this morning. Porcini mushrooms grow around the base of oaks and chestnuts. They thrive after heavy rain and grow in clusters, so you should always look for the mushroom’s ‘brothers and sisters’ when you find one. Plenty of other mushroom varieties grow in the Maremma, but to be on the safe side, stick to porcini mushrooms, and when in doubt, check with a certified mushrooms expert. You can find their details at a tourist office. Porcini mushroom have a distinctive shape and colour - they're brown on top, white underneath and nice and plump with a thick stalk.

Elisa Scarton Detti

Elisa is an Australian journalist who came to Tuscany for a year, fell in love (how cliché?) and decided to stick around. Not one to keep amazing holiday destinations to herself, she now writes a blog and travel guide about the infinitely beautiful Tuscany.

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