In mid-July, a very special season starts in Venice when the city is preparing for the Redentore Feast. For some of us this will be the most difficult time of the year. Afa is overwhelming our town – very humid, thick and hot air often emphasized by a light southerly wind, the scirocco, bringing even more heavy moisture into town. Life in Venice is now very languid and walking all day long like visitors usually do becomes unbearable. Most Venetians also avoid stopping outside as much as possible.
Yet, for a few others, this can be a wonderful time to savor. I confess that I’m one of them and so is Grandmother Lina. But you must know how to take the heat and here we are telling you how we spend these giornate da solleone – the hottest days of the year during July and August in Venice.
Use the early morning between 6 and 9 am. Life takes place in the early morning only. You’ll notice the difference to spring in the behavior of the birds in town. There are quite a few of them, stationary living in the courtyards and garden sanctuaries. By the first days of July, the blackbirds stop “fluting” in the morning. There is still the twittering concert of sparrows and the cooing of doves but the defining tunes of the blackbirds are missing. They haven’t left town though but spend hours on end in the shade next to the fountain and are only active in the very early morning.
When you savor the early morning for your activities like walking around, watering the flowers or shop for groceries, you benefit from the light breeze setting in around 5:00 am, a heaven which lasts until about 7:30 am before the sun will heat up the town again ..
So imagine waking up around 7:15 am, beckoned by a sweet scent coming from the direction of the kitchen, because Grandmother is up and baking a summer cake for breakfast (mostly fruit cakes made from almond dough which we call crostata di frutta di pasta frolla).
She loves baking apricot / peach tarts, tarts with blueberries, red and white currants, and amarene cherries .. We’ll share the recipe for one of our favorite summer breakfast cakes – crostata alle albicocche con glassa di lavanda – apricot cake with lavender icing below.
We must be up rather early to breathe in cool air and eat breakfast on the terrace. You cannot have breakfast anywhere in a sun-exposed location after 9:00 am because the sun is relentlessly parching, hurting your eyes even if you wear sun glasses.
Mornings are used to buy groceries at the market nearby before 8:30 am, or in case I need a special ingredient, at the Rialto market. I try to arrive there by 9:00 am, otherwise the Rialto bridge gets too congested and it is very hot crossing it at a slow pace in the full sun reflected by the white Istrian stone.
I also avoid walking along the crowded arcades and usually take the narrow side calle leading into Campo Rialto Novo to reach the market area. It is often rather tricky entering shops or bars for a morning coffee in summer because of the “thermal shock” you get. Often, it’s like entering a deep freeze because of their air-conditioners.
Imagine the bounty the Rialto Market is offering now … We get lots of baskets of the most colorful food: cestini di ribes rosso, mirtilli and other mountain berriesarriving from the Dolomiti, from Belluno and the Trentino area. Apricots, the one I need for the recipe described below, come from Montebelluna but also from farther south, Somma Vesuviana (yes, that’s on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius).
Verde turchese and the moving walls effect. Now there’s a time for summer turquoise and winter turquoise. These colors are strongest in July and in November / December. With the flickering sun rays of July, it looks like the walls are moving, not just the water in the canal below and its reflections under the vaulted bridge … A world of its own, accessible only in summer, that I can’t resist marveling at every time I cross the bridge at Fondamenta de l’ Osmarin.
Enjoy a luxurious morning break. Inevitably, by 9:30 am the arcades lining Piazza San Marco get very congested, yet there are a few refreshing places from where to enjoy the morning in a memorable spot. I love the fluffy, transparent-looking curtains shielding the arcades from the burning sun. Now they are closed to protect the guests having a cappuccino break.
I’d rather go and sit outside at Caffè Florian tucked in the shade in the morning. You could also sit opposite but the shade of the Campanile is moving fast and soon, this side will be fully exposed to the sun. So do savor a cappuccino in the shade at Caffé Florian’s. It’s expensive but a leisurely hour you will want to remember for a long time …
Protecting our plants from the sun. Even on a terrace facing south-east like the one you can see above, it’s impossible to grow herbs and vegetables from seeds in pots in case they are exposed to the sun for more than one hour. No use buying rucola seeds right now even though the offer at Fioreria Fantin’s is tempting me very badly. But then, seeds only grow after August 15 when the sun rays get flatter and morning mist starts rising up from the canals.
Instead, we are preparing preserves in the kitchen, for example with the apricots we just bought. Here is marmellata alle albicocche, foglie di menta e pinoli – apricot jam flavored with pine nuts and mint leaves. And now you know what we are doing inside once we are back from our market tour :-)
Enjoying chocolates despite the heat, or gelato ? There’s a reason why there is a chocolate variety in Venice not using dark cocoa powder. When it is hopeless to keep a bar of chocolate anywhere else for an hour but in the fridge .. As a child I loved the vividly colored chocolate bars. They taste like chocolate for they are made from cocoa butter flavored with ingredients like anis liquor, strawberry or mint syrup. That would make for blue, red or green chocolate bars and they’ve got the advantage of being heat resistant. They won’t melt and you can take them anywhere :-) But perhaps you’d like to eat some gelato instead. Here’s some vanilla-caramel ice cream.
Evening walk. The only time we go to take some air in the evening is after 6:00 pm when a slight breeze comes in from the sea and the daytrippers have left town. For example, taking a stroll around the Giardini Reali can be very refreshing. You can also see how dry the place is.
Summer nights can be very quiet but you are likely to wake up when the sound of rolling suitcases on the street reverberates because people look for their hotels in the maze of narrow alleys. Venice is completely quiet at night, so the slightest sound is tripled in effect. Depending on where your apartment is located, the gondolieri’s barcarole (songs) might keep you awake, but I think it’s nice to fall asleep listening to their voices in the distance.
Torta della nonna all’albicocca e glassa alla lavanda (Grandmother’s Apricot Cake with Lavender Icing)
Ingredients: 100 gr butter, 3 eggs, 200 gr powder sugar, 1/8 liter milk, 300 gr white (all-purpose) flour, 1/2 package (1 teaspoon) baking powder, 2 teaspoons vanilla sugar, 10 apricots.
Preparation: Use a mixer to carefully blend butter and powder sugar and vanilla sugar in a bowl, then add the milk and the flour mixed with baking powder. Then line a baking tray with paper and fill it up with the dough. Be careful to create an even surface.
In a second step, arrange the apricots (sliced into quarters) on the dough, and fill up the rest of the cake with the icing (recipe below). Bake the cake in a fan-heated oven at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes OR until it looks golden brown, like in the picture.
Glassa alla lavanda e alla mandorla (Almond-lavender icing):
Mix 2 tablespoons tap water (or still water) with 40 gr ground almonds, 40 gr maize starch and 40 gr powder sugar and five drops essential lavender oil (only use essential oil from pharmacists !!!) Mix well and cover the dough carefully, leaving out the apricots.
This is a breakfast cake, which means it is best eaten within 1-2 hours after taking it out from the oven :-) We’ve got a few more apricot desserts and a refreshing drink (gazzosa) which we will share in our blog post on the Redentore Feast.