ISSUES,INSIGHTS AND COLOURFUL MOMENTS-FROM THE DESK OF AN ENGLISH AUTHOR.
Turning Down the Heat.
For those who have been keeping their heads down hoping the present disagreeable time will go away, for sure, disappointment is just around the corner. The economic blizzard that is expected to confront us is continuing to gather strength, and will apparently, according to those of a mind to impress the fact upon us, make the new year far from a place full of the promised joy and good tidings! By some sleight of hand, governments have been keeping the lights burning but soon the back lash will come, and as Euripides’s Electra says: One’s citizens are quick to blame and hard to please. The fact that governments deserve this lack of approbation for their efforts is neither here-nor-there, as virtually all have been sitting on their hands waiting for the lights to go out. Indeed, something it seems, they have been doing for decades. And now it is all too late for those countries, like the UK, who espouse the ‘Green Agenda’, so named in reference to its incredulity! (See the September Blog) For a country sitting on an abundance of resources that make it independent of any outside providers this might be considered criminal negligence! Sadly, governments can only be kicked out, which seems less than adequate given the consequences of their crime!
In Italy, where energy is concerned, the onus has always been one of accommodation, as its individual resources, like most other nations, is not abundant, so the present aggressive ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’, has not been a feature up until now. Russia has indicated that, at least for the moment, gas supplies to Italy will continue as per agreement, but as it only represents c.45% of its needs, this is scarcely sufficient. Nature is a tease! Tuscany has that perfect supplier of energy at Larderello in its Geothermal power station. It is unique because, despite a huge effort, the nation has never found another such source. Despite that set back, Italy has one other important asset – 36% of it is Forest! Eleven million hectares of it, to be exact. That is c.28 million acres. And winter is coming!
Of course, at a local level, the problem is magnified by where your property is situated. If the lights go out then a candle or two is the same everywhere, but if it’s gas or electricity this is hardly the case. Methods of cooking and heating come at a high cost despite modern cookers being as efficient as possible. More importantly, as they don’t run on fresh air the alternatives in a crisis are very restricted indeed, and their practicality becomes non-existent in town or condominium. Though some pellet stoves do have a cooking facility, the storage of large quantities of fuel will probably only pertain to a few inhabiting the suburbs. To a city dweller, ‘Agnello al forno’ may become only a pleasant memory!
However, for those who live out of town, and certainly those who have country properties, then things are much simpler as you will probably have – if you are smart and read the runes – a functioning wood burning stove. Armed with these appliances you will probably be able to survive a great deal of the discomforts to come. Unhappily, it does not come as a universal cure. New regulations seem to confirm that wood burning stoves that do not meet critical regulation requirements cannot be used at under 200 feet above sea level. Most of the Tuscan countryside, with the exception of the considerable flatlands along the Arno, can probably squeeze themselves over that, though I admit, we did not have that in mind when we chose to live over seven times that high - “Love the view!”- and became enamoured of a very large and lofty ceramic stove. (November 2020 Blog gives an insight.) I don’t believe it was actually built to be used as a cooking stove being too elaborate and of a sophisticated, even artistic character, but like an ageing aristocrat fallen on hard times it lends its hand to a range of culinary activity. (Are the English the only race that give human virtues to inanimate objects, I wonder?) Despite that, and though liquids get very hot, it won’t boil a kettle! The craftsman who made her, you may remember from a previous blog, comes every year in the dying months of the summer to prepare her for the winter, explained that his favourite treat is to simply wash, wrap up a potato in foil, and toss it into the back of the fire box where it will bake very quickly. Roll on the winter!
But this blog was intended to be in some part about a most important partner in the running of a wood burning stove. Suppliers of the fuel. Lucky indeed you will be if you discover one that provides the sort of service needed straight away. An excellent “Boscaiolo”, the woodman, is worth his weight in gold out in those rolling acres of timber! Many farmers have woodland attached to their property providing them with a much needed ancillary income inclining them to have equipment capable of supplying that particular local market. However, from experience, they seem to fall short of the requirements needed to produce the sort of consistency terracotta stoves require. Not being an open range, any deviation in size is hard, sometimes impossible, to accommodate. Neither do some of these small suppliers have the time to fuss about the quality of the timber, being concerned merely to supply wood for open fires - or to those with an axe and a chopping block! It turns out that the timber for the purpose of a closed stove must retain about 20% of water if it is to maintain its heating characteristics. On the other hand, too much humidity means it will produce a high quantity of soot and catrame, a tar like substance, from the considerable amount of smoke. You may gather from this that it’s something of a tedious learning curve, and not one considered by many of those innocent sons of the soil.
But learn you do. After a considerable number of years, and much swapping of suppliers, we at last came across a professional company that has the supplying of firewood down to a fine art – they also supply pellets – though at first impression, their size was a little intimidating. Would they be interested in a small fry like us given they also had twenty miles to travel in delivering the wood. Admittedly, to an innocent by-stander, 100 quintali (ten tons) sounds a great deal of wood – and it is – but in the scale of some professional requirements, just the tip of the iceberg! How much wood do pizzerie get through in a year, for example, given it also has to be cut and sized to smoulder away happily at the back of the oven?
The Magozzi Brothers head a company that has seen three generations of the family build up a company that is the major supplier in the area. Commencing in 1927 with their grandfather they now carry out their wood husbandry from a one thousand square metre modern purpose-built factory area surrounded at certain times of the year by their very large yard being stacked with c. 8 metre high piles of timber, all carefully wired in cylindrical form for stability. Looking at the mountains of wood you realise from its formation that a great deal of care and skill has taken place in its selection. One thing’s for sure, the axe and the band saw have little place in their scheme of things once it reaches the yard. The whole system is finely regulated and controlled on a complex conveyer belt system where they feed trunks in, collecting the refined specified product at the other end in large metal cages. For our requirements it was simply supplying them with a cardboard template the size of the stufa door and the maximum length of the fire box. From there on Magozzi regulated everything to that size. There was also a further refinement they carried out for us. Each load is made up of c.10% of kindling wood enabling the few remaining morning’s embers to spring back into life without a fuss. Indeed, it does not go out for six-seven months! As the main timber is stacked, the kindling is therefore interspersed so they are always handy.
For those who have to contend with a wood fire two things about the fuel are important. Primarily it must be dry - but not too dry. That characteristic of its dampness is what provides heat – about 25% - so stacking the wood inside may not be so good an idea if you want to be nice and warm this winter! Better to have it covered outside with enough openings for the circulation of air. The second, is the type of wood, here Magozzi’s professionalism again excels, knowing their craft down to the last splinter. Properly seasoned Oak is without peer, something you may hardly see from small country contractors. The Magozzi company supply high quality Cerro and Leccio – Quercus cerris and Quercus Ilex - two types of oak better known to the English as Turkey Oak and Holm Oak. Leccio may also be known as Cork Oak – an odd tree in that, uniquely, the bark may be stripped from the growing tree without any damage to it! They also supply Corbezzolo, a tree probably unknown in Britain as it thrives only in warm coastal regions like the dense wild foliage of the Mediterranean Macchia woods. Its fruit is edible, and the logs burns as though they’ve been doused in kerosene. Perfect for lighting a fire!
SECURITY SERVICE - SOMETIMES I JUST SIT & THINK. OTHER TIMES I CATCH THEM!!
It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make men better be;
Or standing long an Oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere……..
Ben Jonson. (1572-1637)