The Swiss people, Pine Nuts and the Mantovana cake
As I was driving along the road, a few miles away from the Fattoria dalla Colle, I saw two children and a very tall man who were searching for pine nuts under a tree alongside the road. I said to myself “How strange! It is years since I have seen children searching for pine nuts like that”. Then I noticed that the car had a Swiss number plate and then I understood. In the Swiss Alps you cannot easily collect edible pine nuts from the trees so for this family searching for pine nuts is like the equivalent of us Tuscans being excited about being able to pick bananas straight from the trees in Egypt. It is a totally new experience.
I kept pondering and reflecting about this image and after a while it occurred to me how much growing up as a child in Tuscany has changed since I was young, even in the most simple little things such as this. Today there are so many video games and other distractions which encourage children to play insided, away from the Natural environment which surrounds them.
Before it wasn’t like that. In the Summer when I was a child I used to spent the entire afternoon with my friends collecting pine nuts and then crushing them on the wall. As a child I was almost addicted to the consumption of these pine nuts. My grandmother was so worried about how many I ate that she made someone cut down all the pine trees and made them take them away. Luckily after a few years I forgot all about them.
The outer shell of the pine nuts is covered with a black powder which stains your hands and you have to crush the shells skillfully to prevent the fruit inside being ruined. When they have just been shelled the nuts taste very good. However , long ago it was the responsibility of the children to collect enough pine nuts in order to make the Mantovana cake, a delicious sweet cake, which was baked in the bread oven after the loaves had been taken out.
The harvesting and the crushing of the pine nuts was a convenient excuse which allowed me and my friends to spend the afternoon together around a wall. For every pine nut which made it into the kitchen three ended up inside our tummys!!. What a fantastic time!
Below is the Mantovana cake recipe . I am sure that if you follow it you will make a lovely cake. If though you want to taste the exquisite Mantovana Cake which we make ourselves please come to the Fattoria dalla Colle.
100 grams flour, 100 grams of flour starch, 170 g sugar, 170g butter, 70 g pine nuts, 2 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks, 1 / 2 packet of yeast
Mix the the sugar with the eggs until the sugar granules have disappeared, add the yeast and flour little by little so that they are absorbed into the mixture slowly. Melt the butter in a double saucepan with water (bain marie) or microwave it, then pour the butter into the mixture along with a handful of pine nuts. Prepare the cake tin by buttering it and then sprinkle it with some flour. Stir the mixture for one final time and then pour it into the prepared cake tin. The tin should be about 3 cm deep.
Then cover the cake with pine nuts and cook in an oven at 150-170 degrees centigrade for just over half an hour. Test the cake to see if it is done using a toothpick, the cake is ready when the toothpick comes out of the cake dry. Take the cake out of the tin and leave it to cool, then sprinkle it with icing sugar and serve.