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A Texan in Toscana (part 3): I moved to Tuscany and it hit me

This is the third installment in Chef Harvey Harris’ memoir, “A Texan in Toscana.” Click here for part 2 and click here for part 1.

Here, in San Gimignano (Toscana), I would find the truth and simplicity of Tuscan cuisine rolled out day after day, and here, I would feel my culinary life come full circle.

This circle began over forty years ago in a small west Texas community called Decker.

My grandparents had a small but productive farm with just enough acreage to support an abundant supply of wild game, livestock, and several large gardens. All men in the family were avid hunters and serious domino players while the women were prolific cooks and masters of this domain.

What good was basket of quail if no one could make them taste good?

Each Sunday all my relatives within a sixty-mile radius would gather at the farm to visit, hunt, fish, play dominoes, cook, and eat. My Grandmother was always at the center of this culinary maelstrom. Breakfast with black coffee, fresh milk with cream still on top, fresh eggs with bright orange yolks, biscuits with fresh churned butter, ham and bacon from the smoke house and fruit, usually cantaloupe with its distinctive aroma that to this day triggers a flood of memories.

Lunch was always light and consisted of a myriad of leftovers from previous huge suppers, cold fried chicken, corn and sweet pepper salad, more biscuits, green bean salad, sliced ham, pea salad with mayonnaise and boiled eggs, carrot salad with raisins, cornbread, and sometimes fried fish, usually small crunchy perch (depending on how lucky my cousins and I were at the fishing hole earlier).

Dinner was always huge, the food was seasonal and the variety stupendous. In the fall and winter it was platters of braised venison, fried venison, roasted quail, huge pork chops, fried cottontail rabbits, butterbeans with ham and sage, oven roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, roasted wild turkey, rich brown gravy, fruit cobblers, bread puddings, chocolate pies and lots of sweet tea.

In the spring and summer it was wild green salads with cucumbers and cider vinegar, tomato and red onion salads, braised dove and dumplings, fried chicken, rosemary roasted lamb, corn on the cob, big pots of vegetable soups, yeasty rolls and lots of sweet tea. It was the kind of food I though would be around forever. I had no idea that a future of packaged, bland, instant, dietetic food was looming on the horizon.

As year passed, I drifted farther and farther away from that solid, simple, honest home cooking, even though I became an accomplished chef and I enjoyed cooking at home, I could never reproduce the flavors, smells, and freshness of those Sunday suppers. I could always come close but there was a certain wholesome element missing.

Then I moved to Tuscany and it hit me.

—Chef Harvey

Stay tuned for part 4!

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