Elizabeth Wholey – Food Traditions
The Mag asked Elizabeth Wholey to tell us a little about her new, English Language guide book which is a “must own” for foreigners who want to feel closer to our valley. Sustenance: Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland, an Indispensable Guide to the Upper Tiber Valley
Visitors always ask me how I came to be living in Italy. For generations my family farmed near San Jose, California, planting fruit orchards in what is now Silicon Valley. Our family friends were Italo-Americans and I loved helping the neighboring farm ladies cook. Later I studied Medieval and Renaissance Italian art history at UC Berkeley. I became an Italophile.
When I drive to Bologna in the spring and pass the flowering fruit trees that border the highway, it reminds me of the countryside I knew as a kid. Sadly, those California orchards are gone forever, and that rich earth is covered over with asphalt. Our old country road now has four lanes and is lined with strip malls. I can’t even locate where we lived. This will, perhaps, give you an idea of why I feel it’s so important to support our local farmers and food producers here in the Upper Tiber Valley.
Sustenance, my English-language guide to its towns, farms, markets, and fairs, enables visitors to seek out the small producers, enjoy the best of local foods, and learn more about the territory’s fascinating agricultural history and culinary traditions. Twenty years ago I moved to the beautiful Niccone valley in Umbria, which looks a lot like California’s Napa Valley, except that here we have fewer vineyards and real castles.
I became a gardener and a cook. The cooking led to the farms—to the dedicated people who make cheese and cured meats, jams, truffle and chestnut products, who grow organic vegetables and make wine and olive oil, and raise lamb, pigs and Chianina beef. I wanted to learn more about how people here had sustained themselves throughout history, how their so-called “poor food” traditions have carried down to the present day, often with a modern twist.
And then I became worried that it is all going to disappear. A couple of years ago I was the only foreigner among 50 local Italians attending a remarkable dinner at which everything we ate had been produced by the people in the room. That night the seed was planted for a new association, Le vie del Buongusto (“the roads of good taste”), www.leviedelbuongusto.it, to promote the typical foods and crafts of the Upper Tiber Valley.
I hope the next generations here will feel encouraged to continue the work of their ancestors. This book is my valentine to them. Sustenance is available at the Aboca Museum Bookstore in Sansepolcro; Libreria Paci in Città di Castello; Liberpucci Bookstore in Umbertide; from Amazon.com (US); or directly from Elizabeth at www.sustenanceinitalysheartland.wordpress.com.