My mother is a busy woman. Not only is she a retiree with a very healthy social life, she is a lawn bowls champion at state and national levels. Finding time to catch up can sometimes be quite a challenge.
A couple of weeks ago she rang me.
“Quick, get your diary out. I need you,” she said when I answered the phone.
I pictured her at the dining table, phone on speaker, diary and calendar in front of her.
“Let’s see. The full moon is tonight, so not next week, the week after. What are you doing Thursday the 11th? Ti o bisogno quando la luna manca,” she said.
Had I heard right. On the phone she often switches between English and Italian and I sometimes get confused but I’m sure she’d just said, “I need you when the moon is missing.”
“The 11th? I think I’m free,” I replied cautiously.
“Good. We need to bottle the wine.”
Ahh. The wine.
My parents were wine making Italians and my mother has continued this tradition. I remember the last time she made wine because it was the same time that I decided I should head off on an interstate holiday. This is because when I was a teenager I remember many summer weekends spent under the carport squashing grapes and many winter weekends spent in the cellar extracting the wine from the barrels in which it had been stored. I knew that there were still several barrels of home made wine from my mother’s last wine making spree in the cellar. And I knew that it would now be very hard to get out of helping her to fill hundreds of bottles with the fermented and aged juice of grapes long harvested. But what wasn’t clear to me was what the moon had to do with it.
So I put my research skills to use. I like to prove occasionally that all those years at university weren’t a total waste. I discovered that in traditional Lunar calendar circles, the waning moon, or as my mother would have it, when the moon is missing, is the most favourable time for sewing and planting, harvesting and preserving. But nowhere in my research could I find any reference to the bottling of wine during a waning moon.
When I asked my mother she said, “Stop asking stupid questions. Everybody knows that’s when you do it.”
Luckily by the time I arrived at her house on the appointed day the old bottles had already been washed. Because I was now deemed to be an adult I got the job of filling them with wine. I had to use a length of plastic hose, a funnel, and my mouth. As each bottle fills, you regulate the wine coming out of the hose with your thumb and sometimes if the wine recedes, to restart the flow you have to suck it back out.
Now I’m not one to knock back a bit of wine tasting, even if it is 10 am, but my mother soon decided that my inexperience was holding up proceedings. By this time I was totally soaked in red wine, and feeling a little inebriated, so I was rather relieved when she put me back on bottle top detail, my old job from childhood days.
So for the rest of the day, while my mother filled the old wine bottles I screwed the tops on. When we ran out of wine bottles she filled all the old beer bottles that she’d collected and I got to put little gold bottle tops onto each one. This is a job that requires a certain level of intelligence, co-ordination and strength, and the use of a manual beer bottle capping machine made by my father many years ago. Needless to say my mother soon had to take over this job too. Not because I lack any of the job prerequisites but because my levels of fitness weren’t up to wrangling this medieval torture instrument. Several hours and sore backs later we had an enormous amount of wine bottled and stored in the cellar.
Highly satisfied with our labours we retreated to the kitchen, where my mother’s log fire had been slowly taking the damp out of this cold June day. We poured ourselves some of the new wine from old bottles, and my mother brought out the biscuits that she’d baked that morning. These are hard dry biscuits made with olive oil, fennel and chilli and perfect for dipping in wine. I actually love them dipped in a cup of tea as well. And so, still smelling of sweat and wine, we ate and drank, as the moon continued to wane.
Here’s the recipe for biscotti with olive oil, fennel and chilli:
1 cup self raising flour
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
A handful of crushed walnuts
1 pinch of dried chilli
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup white wine
Mix all ingredients together to form a soft dough.
Roll out the dough and cut into your favourite biscuit shapes.
Place the biscuits on a tray lined with baking paper.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes.