On Wednesday morning, I woke up to the eager screams of “IT’S SNOWING” or “STA NEVICANDO” in the Tuscan Maremma.
At first, I thought my household was being a little over exuberant. We live fairly close to the sea, in a part of Italy that never sees snow. In the five years I’ve lived here, it has snowed once, and the snow melted into a dirty muck in a matter of hours.
So I stumble out of bed, looked outside and low and behold, it’s actually snowing. Mountains of snow, fluttering down on the completely unprepared olive trees in my garden. For a second, I actually felt pity for them. They don’t know how to react to this sort of weather. They’re olive trees! Made for sunny climates and warm thoughts.
Unfortunately, this snow didn’t follow conventions and melt away before it got annoying. We’re now in day 7 and what started as a fun diversion from daily routine has turned into a bit of a pain in the arse, frankly.
Europe is being hit with its coldest snap in decades. Cars are freezing on the streets in Norway. Planes are being cancelled in London. And people like me in the Tuscan Maremma are slowly being driven insane by the unwanted and inconvenient snow that refuses to abate.
We haven’t seen weather like this since 1935, and being Italian, we, naturally, haven’t prepared for it since 1935. When my mother-in-law heard that it might snow, she stocked up on every non-perishable she could get her hands on. Her basement looks like a WWIII bunker.
While I admit, she was taking things to the extreme, the local supermarket shelves are looking a little bare after days of delayed deliveries. The Maremmani didn’t consider snow when they built their roads. Why would they? This is central Italy we’re talking about, so far from the Alps, they might as well be in another country.
But as every day dawns with a new dusting of operating room white snow, I’ve devised my own surviving-unseasonable-snow contingency plan.
It starts with a pot full of richly made and slowly stewed beef ragu, which I can dish up at a moment’s notice with pasta to freezing hubby after a day of work.
To make it, I simply season a piece of braising steak, brown it and add it to a pot with a can of tomatoes and a cup or two of chicken stock. Then I just leave it on the stove until the meat melts into tender pieces. It takes a couple of hours, but I don’t have to do more than stir it once or twice.
Yesterday, the pipes from the heater froze and exploded, so the ragu has definitely come in handy when trying to trick the body into thinking it’s warmer than it actually is. So has a good glass of Morellino di Scansano, the Maremma’s national red wine!
But the number one survival technique I’ve adopted since we became snowed in is… drum roll… company.
No I don’t mean stripping down and huddling together for warmth.
All over the Maremma, friends and family have been getting together to wait out the snowstorm together.
We head over to my father-in-law’s every evening and he lights the wood stove in the kitchen. Almost immediately the freezing temperatures are forgotten as the flames flicker across the room and everyone screams over one another as they try to share their close encounter with the recent snowy conditions.
It mightn’t sound like much, but there’s a certain comfort to be had in sharing life’s extreme with your nearest and dearest. The snow doesn’t seem so thick, the olive trees don’t seem so sad and your bones don’t feel as frozen.
The Maremmani are a naturally social bunch. They’ll take any old excuse to gossip, or complain, but the recent snow has brought out the most hospitable in all of us, and I have to admit, I sort of like having an excuse to spend more time with my extended family.