Friday, October 31, 2008

october poppies

Red poppies bloom in the spring in Italy. Fields of poppies blanket the rolling hills of Umbria and Tuscany in April. The bright red fluttering blossoms line road sides in Lazio and Puglia. In the very south of Italy, at the bottom of the heel of the boot, there is an old recipe for a fieldworker’s soup using the paper thin petals, olive oil, and pan-fried bread. I have the recipe written down somewhere in a notebook, transcribed from an old cookbook I found in an old farmhouse outside of the seaport town of Otranto, known as the Gateway to the Orient.

I bring home a packet of Italian poppy seeds bought at a plant nursery not to far from Rome. I smuggle in the thin sealed envelope with the picture of a poppy field that goes on forever packed carefully between my dirty socks and underwear in my suitcase. The little beagle with the big brown eyes is none the wiser. I’m not sure he needs to be.

Our season starts much later than springtime in Italy, so we don’t plant the seeds until late May. We wait all summer for them to grow. Their frilly leaves make a thick carpet at the edge of a messy holding bed filled with plants that haven’t found a proper home yet. Several boxwood recuperate from winter kill, as does a Munstead lavender that looked so poorly that I cut it all the way back, its woody stems down to the quick. That was when I didn’t know that lavender does not thrive under such severe measures. Planted nearby are the two old fashioned tea roses with incredible crimson blooms that wait for their spot in the perennial beds. They smell of cinnamon and bergamot.

By August, the poppies begin to bloom showing their red faces, one here, one there. And now, in October, they are strangely at their most plentiful. I cut a clutch for a vase inside the house. I’m sure the temperate autumn has had a hand in this poppy abundance, these warm days and slightly cool nights that have felt like perennial September. But the bounty can’t last, even though the season has lulled us into feeling like winter will never really come.


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