Aglio Rosso di Nubia

A bunch of Nubian garlic in “Nonna’s kitchen”

Aside from keeping vampires at bay garlic is perhaps one of the most important ingredients to keep in ones kitchen.

Red Nubian garlic in a wooden bowl

The nutritional and health benefits of garlic have been known for thousands of years. In sicily, certainly in and around the town of Trapani, the Aglio Rosso di Nubia is a common sight. It is grown in the countryside centred on the village of Nubia, just outside Trapani in the direction of Marsala.

While a single clove of garlic is not going to have a significant impact, health-wise, a 100 gms (rather a lot even spread throughout the day) offers significant qualtities of vitamins B6 and C, and the dietary minerals manganese and phosphorus (approx 20% of daily need).

I once ate a whole garlic bulb that had been roasted. Delicious at the time but I suspect those near me weren’t so pleased with the garlic smell that stayed with me till next day!

Source: US Department of Agriculture

Garlic has been used medicinally as a cold remedy, though it seems there is no evidence to prove it works. It does have anti-bacterial properties and may be beneficial in reducing hypertension and some forms of cancer.

Personally I enjoy garlic with soups, sauces and salads and will take it with honey if I have a cold.

Where it is from:

Here we go round the Mulberry bush

Ripe mulberry fruit in a punnet

“Here we go round the Mulberry bush”

These are the words that start an old nursery rhyme that is believed to be about 150 years old, though its origins are subject to speculation. The same tune and some words are used in similar rhymes eg “Here we go gathering nuts in May” and “The wheels on the bus go round and round”. But back to the subject if mulberry fruit.

The mulberry bush, genus Morus, is well-known both for its fruit, similar in appearance, but not related, to blackberries, and for its leaves that are used for feeding the larva of silk worm moths. Its leaves are also used for making nutritional supplements.

Leaf of the mulberry bush

Nutritionally mulberries are high in vitamin C and a significant source of iron.

High in vitamin C

Significantly rich iron content (14% of daily requirement per serving)

Sources: US Dept of Agriculture via Wikipedia

Ripe mulberry on the tree

This bush is located in the garden where my mother lives. There were just two fruits on the tree, one appears to have been eaten by birds, the other by me!

The fruit varies in flavour, depending on maturity, from acidic to mild. They are ideally suited to eating with yogurt on breakfast cereal. I usually eat fresh or dried fruit with oatmeal each morning.

A Sicilian Caper!

Caper bush (Capperis spinosa), also known as Flinders Rose

Capers are well known as a pickled condiment. It is the flower buds that are harvested and pickled though, after flowering, the fruit or berries can also be harvested for pickling.

The bush, with its long stems, is a perennial plant that is found throughout the Mediterranean region and in my mother’s garden in Erice.

Flower buds and leaves on the Caper Bush

In addition to the culinary use of the buds and berries the leaves can also be pickled and used in salads.

The delicate flowers of the Caper Bush

The plant is said to have several medicinal benefits including remedies for diabetes, fungal infections, chest congestion, intestinal worms , and skin disease caused by a form of leishmaniasis.

Slender, young seed pods

Capers are used in many Sicilian dishes and salads, while the leaves are more often seen in Cypriot food.


While rich in some nutritional aspects pickled capers have a high sodium content.



Sources: US Dept of Agriculture via Wikipedia

Brazilian wine

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An old wine barrel outside a winery in Vale dos Vinhedos, Rio Grande do Sul

I love wine. I was brought up on the stuff from an early age (a glass or diluted red wine at mealtimes was common in many Italian households). My maternal grandfather was Venetian hence my wine preference is that of Italy, though I do like Chilean, French and Portuguese wines.

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Sunlight through the winter red leaves of a grapevine

Brazil is a wine-growing country. Its immigrant populations arriving from Italy and Germany brought with them skills in viticulture and the initial vine stock from their original homelands, so when I first came to Brazil a little over 20 years ago I decided to try the local wines. Not a pleasant experience! The issue was that I could rarely get past the bouquet which I found to be very strong and heavy. The grapes that grew in the garden of the rented house where I lived had the same taste – a leathery skin and thick pulp that I didn’t enjoy. When I eventually summoned up the courage to taste a wine I found it unpleasant for similar reasons. I stuck to imported wine for a few years before taking a journey to the wine valleys of Rio Grande do Sul.

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Wine is so important to Bento Goncalves that even the main church takes the form of a wine barrel

Bento Goncalves is the heart of wine production in the south of Brazil. In the centre of town, there is a fountain across the road from the Mayoral building that squirts out red water in homage to the town’s principal product. Many of the wineries have been awarded prizes in internationally acclaimed wine contests. Those wines tend to be quite good but I find them to be expensive. For the same price in the shops, I can get better quality imported wines.

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Wine fountain in the centre of Bento Goncalves

My first visit to Bento Goncalves was in 2005 though in September ie at the end of the austral winter. Wineries were still working though not all open to visitors. I had made arrangements to visit the Miolo winery, one of the more famous brands, to take have a conducted tour of the complex, to take photographs, and to sample the wine.

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Staff at the Miolo winery putting the tops on the bottles ready for sale

I visited the Miolo winery again last year but the place was crowded with busloads of tourists so didn’t do the tour. The wine shop (and indeed the whole complex) had undergone something of a transformation – expanded, freshly decorated all round, and more of a tourist destination that a winery, though wine production seems to have expanded too.

Miolo is not the only big winery in Rio Grande do Sul, there are several including Chandon which produces sparkling white and rose wines (champagne style). Some of these wines are certainly world class, while some are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I have not yet established which wines I would buy on a regular basis – I am not keen of white wines generally, but I shall experiment.

                            Wine barrels and bottles in the heart of the Miolo winery

As a footnote, I recently discovered that the neighbouring state of Santa Catarina, also in the south of Brazil, produces wines. The small town of Urussanga held a wine festival that I decided to visit. I was able to sample just one of the red wines, which was enough (!) but the one Catarinense wine that I found in a supermarket (at about £5 a bottle) proved good enough for me to buy on a regular basis. More on the wines of Santa Catarina at a later date.



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NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.

A small garden

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The “main” garden – a small plot of about 5 to 6 square metres

A garden is not a garden unless it has plant life. Our garden in Natal, measuring at most 12 square metres including a gravel border along the length of the house, was a very modest one in size. Just after moving into the house we decided it needed a bit of colour so we had a local landscape gardener provide a few plants in two areas – a few Ixora chinensis plants to create borders that would, in due course, make three small hedges, a few tall spindly trees of some type (name escapes me) that were to provide wall cover, and some variegated creepers that have pale pink flowers (name also escapes me).

In addition to these, we had some small ornamental grasses to hide the runner for the electric gate, two agave plants and a couple of small box bushes. The latter died and were replaced by a pair of thick-leaved variegated plants that were doing well.

The creepers grew uncontrollably so I eventually pulled them out. In their place, I planted Chilean Boldo and Lemon Basil as well as some small-leaved succulents and some Mother-in-laws tongue. All of these were now well-established and thriving despite the heat. The Chilean Boldo is not an attractive plant so I planned to replace that.

After two years the Ixora was starting to look like a hedge to the point that I had begun pruning the plants to coax them into shape. I had, at one recent point in time, planted the small-leaved succulents (Callisia repens, known also as “mouse ear ivy” due to their shape, underneath the Ixora, as well as some basil to fill gaps. Unfortunately, someone mistook them for weeds and they all disappeared!

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(Front to back): Anthurium, Chilean Boldo, Pineapple, Agave, Sword of St George

There is a semi-paved corridor that runs along the side of the house, bounded on one side by a tall wall. Half of the width is paved but the other side is gravel on a sand base, to act as a soak-away when we have heavy rain. While it tends to flood under torrential rain it takes less than half an hour for the water to drain away when the rain stops. The area gets sun during the day so, despite the apparent challenges, it proved to be a good place to plant life. Over a period of a year, I planted Chilean Boldo (a straggly mess which I started dealing with), Lemon Basil, Pineapples, Aloe Vera, Agave, garlic, Sansevieria trifasciata (Sword of St George) and the small-leaved succulents. The pineapples started well but half of them began withering – not sure if the roots became waterlogged or too dry or if some other issue.

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Cuttings of callisia repens, known also as “mouse ear ivy”, in a pot

I bought a couple of Anthurium plants in pots, always meaning to re-pot and train them up the wall, but never got around to it.

We moved out of the house last month. I forgot to take cuttings of the Anthuriums but did take the Callisia, Sansevieria, and an acerola plant that I had been nurturing from seed. These are all now thriving in pots on our veranda in the temporary accommodation of a flat. I can’t wait to move to a house.

Plants add life to any home, no matter what size the garden is.