italiano  orta-see

il lago d'orta, the most romantic of italian lakes il più romantico dei laghi italiani


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Cooking Classes on the lake  gif-new.gif (1002 byte)

They have disappeared, those "jolly taverns where the people of Orta in the olden days offered their libations to Bacchus, while discussing the affairs of the Prince Bishop, the decisions of the feudal court and the various events taking place on their shores". Partly because times and fashions have changed, partly because , bit by bit, tourists have become more demanding. From the first years of this century, taverns and drinking halls began to transform themselves into hospitable hotels and inns, each with its own specialties ready to satisfy every wish. Lake Orta is the land of cooks.

Every year in Armeno there is a reunion of all those, and they are many, who emigrated in search of their fortune at the stoves of the greatest kitchens in the world. And then there is much recounting of dishes, sumptuous banquets, lunches prepared for this or that ambassador, for this or that minister or ruler. A dream to listen to, a joy to imagine the colors and tastes of those dishes.
If you are an enthusiastic gastronome, remember that this region produces sausages of every sort, but a special joy for the palate in the classic Orta mortadella, which you will find always fresh in the Orta S. Giulio shops that make it. Moreover, don’t forget to scan the menu for various typical local dishes. One such is tapulon, which , in fact, is the gastronomic speciality of Borgomanero. This town, some 15 km from Orta S. Giulio, is said to have been founded by thirteen peasants from the southern Novarese area, on returning from a votive pilgrimage to the island od S. Giulio in Lake Orta.

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The thirteen traveled with a cart drawn by a donkey and, because of a brooken wheel, were obliged to interupt their journey where the main square of Borgomanero is now. Inasmuch as the locality appeared favorable and they were not highly esteemed in their village, they decided to settle there. On the advice of a woman in the group, they further decided to celebrate the event by killing and cooking the donkey, thus creating the first tapulon in history. The women chopped up the meat very carefully, added some wine that they had left and cooked it over a fire, adding garlic, salt and olive oil.

Another topic concerns the local poor man’s dishes, which are not to be found in restaurants, but form the basis of present-day local recipes.

It must be said that the earth was not very generous to the inhabitants of the Riviera d’Orta. The fields yielded only rye, maize, millet, barley and oats. Mulberry trees were cultivated for silk production and chestnuts and walnuts could be collected. Garden produce - celery, carrots, potatoes, rape, onions, cabbage, persimmons, apples - would be harvested before the first night frosts of autumn and kept in the cellars, where mainly wine was kept in barrels set on blocks of granite and held in place by a block of wood on either side.

In the 1800’s wine was an important source of income. Plantings of the red wine grapes vespolina, negrona, trebbiana, but above all borgognona, made many local people rich. These sorts of grape were later developed to the highest quality in favorable nearby places like Gattinara. Originally, the Orta wine was rather sour, hence often used for distilling grappa.

The forests have always been very extensive and of fundamental importance for the local economy. For example, beech wood was used to smoke and flavor meat products, while beech nuts, properly pressed, yielded oil for lamps and, later on, a coffee substitute. Contrary to what one might suppose, the mushrooms collected in the woods were usually destined for sale, being considered a non-essential food and a useful way to making a little money.

The most precious resource of the local population, however, was always the lake, which contained numberless kinds of fish. For a long period, the number prescribed (meatless) days reached 130 per year, and the lake’s fish though faced with the competition of sea fish in the market, was cheaper by far. Hence large catches of perch, whitefish, trout, char, carp, tench and pike. In 1439 tithes were paid in fish, and in the early 1800’s there was a large eel trap in Omegna where the lake empties into the river Nigoglia.

Nevertheless, life was hard and did not produce a real local gastronomic culture. Still, many dishes, improved and developed over the years, were born in the kitchens of our ancestors. Take first of all bread, the symbol of life. Everything connected with its production was used , the coals from the oven, bought by tailors to heat their irons.

Bread dough was prepared once a week at home, and, after being given an indentifying mark, was baked for a fee bt the local baker, who prepared dough only for wealthy families or those who had no grain to grind.

To prepare the dough, women always kept a lump of fermented dough as a natural yeast to which flour was added, sieved through utensils made by the umbrella-makeers who plied their trade from village to village. Their wares were also used for squeezing tomatoes and straining soup.

The "meliga" bread, once made with maize and wheat flour because wheat was too costly, has become decidedly rare. "Mistura" bread, the cheapest of all, was made with a mixture of rye, oat and wheat flour. After the bread was done, the oven was used for soups and various baked goods composed of bread, broth, onions and bacon, which were "strengthened" by addition of wine, or cakes made of bread with milk, butter, sugar, raisins, cinnamon, vanilla.

An alternative to bread was polenta. It might be servede simply with cold milk, with cheese or else fried in butter and sage. Dried chestnuts were also eaten with milk.

Main dishes normally consisted of boiled meats, of stews, of bird that had been caught or of the liver-mortadella already mentioned.