UPDATED IN AUGUST 2018
In the week after Ferragosto, you can usually feel a slight plunge in the temperatures in Venice, lasting for just a few days. Thunderstorms develop and bring rain to cool down the torrid summer in the Lagoon. This short “break” from the heat ushers in the so-called Quinta Stagione, the “Fifth Season”, and you can also notice it in its colors. La quinta stagione comes between summer and fall, harvest time in Venice and the Veneto. The vendemmia, the grape harvest, has just started, and the grapes Venetians sometimes grow in their courtyards, usually blue and succulent uva fragola are ripe. Yes, there are even some restaurants in Venice where you can enjoy lunch or dinner under a pergola overgrown with this favorite grape, just as you can see below, at Ristorante Al Giardinetto Da Severino.
You can also notice the shift of season, even though just a little, in the colors, which become clear and bright, even blinding. At dawn, little clouds of fog rise up from the canals. But just for a few minutes, this effect is instantly erased by the sharp rays of the early morning sun, regaling us a very special color effect which I tried to capture in the video below. I call it the “Moving Walls” Effect, because the canals, ruffled by the tiniest breeze, cause the sun rays to be mirrored on the walls above:
I took the video in the last week of August 2016, before restoration work in the Giardini Reali started. You can also turn on the sound in the video, as you will hear the bells of the Campanile di San Marco chime at 8 am in the morning. Now this is the look and feel of the fifth season, and the moving walls effect, live for you.
In late summer, herbs, fruit and vegetables have soaked up all the energy they can get from the summer sun. Venetian grandmothers are busy making jams, syrups and other vegetable relishes, and they say that the energy of the sun increases the life of their product :-). It’s the season of blue and green fruit, so in addition to the blue grapes, you now get plenty of figs, prunes, and berries at the Rialto Market. And, there are the first, tender slices of squash. This summer squash tastes so much finer and is easier to cut than the heavy zucca marina di Chioggia, which we love eating in autumn.
In August and September, we harvest all the ingredients to make “Venetian soul food”. You’ll find out later in October when I’ll share the recipes! Right now, we harvest chili, peppers, courgettes, melanzane, and also, beans and soft sweet tomatoes. For example, the tomatoes go into a canned sugo, a wonderful reminder of the sunny flavors of the Fifth Season.
It is still too early to harvest herbs, though, as they feel parched after being exposed to the torrid sun without getting enough water. By mid-September, the herbs will benefit from the early morning humidity, and will have regained freshness and taste.
In Venice, we love lavender and thyme, often growing wild in dry corner in the garden. We collect them in bundles hung up to dry in a protected space on the roofed terrace. In that manner, the herbs take on the salty breeze which provides a special flavor to them.
In early autumn, we also use them to make medicinal syrups, especially from a mixture of the mints, thymes, lemon balm, and ysop. We have a few wonderful recipes that really help fight the flu, coughs and colds, so useful if you live in Venice. Due to the extra humidity you breathe in autumn, it’s easier catching cold …
We also make canned tomatoes (pomodori pelati) in late August. There’s so much to choose from these days at the Rialto Market, irresistible to try out old recipes and experiment with new ones. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!11