What a month!  I have been so thrilled to welcome back so many guests returning to Bellaugello for their holidays and also to have the immense pleasure of welcoming guys here for the first time.

I so love my ‘job’ is it really a job?  It is a lifestyle and a great one at that.  Living in this beautiful corner of rural Italy and sharing my home with fabulous guys.  Bellaugello Gay Guest House is a place of relax, a place to recharge, unwind and of course make friends and share experiences.

After the mixed weather in May the clouds vanished and the garden burst forth.  I netted the cherry tree in good time and one evening as the fireflies danced I plucked the cherries off the tree.  The next morning Mauro checked them over and stoned five and a half kilos of dark red fruit.  Some went to make a ricotta tart for dinner, the rest now repose in the freezer for when I find a cooler hour or two to make cherry jam.   The tree is small, and I am so proud of it for giving so bounteously.  The Apricot trees are laden, the fruit still to ripen. I see with a sad eye that the little plum tree is so full of fruit that two boughs have all but snapped off.  Sad that such a generous act is met with such damage.

We have been dining on the terrace.  Our menus this year feature much more home-grown and local produce.  Homegrown that is until a rabbit got into the Orto and ate the tops off the lettuces.  Grrr…  More lettuces have been planted but still to grow.  Despite a healthy crop of weeds the vegetable garden is coming along nicely and having feasted off broad beans we are now cutting our first zucchine and watching the tomatoes turn red, black, orange and yellow.  I went to town on a rainbow of tomato colours this year.   Cooking using local produce is a rewarding experience.  It has challenged my menu planning and also forced me to seek out local suppliers who actually have local foodstuffs.  In the journey I sadly have discovered just how many companies mark their produce as local, but deviously how  they masquerade  the provenance, and are in fact in many cases products from afar, packaged or re-packaged locally.

The warmth also brought guys to the pool and a chance of a photo-op for three lovely guys from Puglia.

yes, one of them is Mauro!  The mere fact he is in the pool demonstrates just how warm the weather has been from early this month.

My Dutch contingent returned again this June, they are just some of my many regular guests who have become firm friends.  I was spoilt as ever with gifts of my favourite  super yummy “Stroopwafels” and Dutch biscuits in the traditional blue and white Delft design tin.  This year they introduced new friends of theirs to Bellaugello Gay Guest House and together with a great couple of British guys posed for the annual pool photo.   We had such fun trying to have everyone in the right place as the shutter clicked.

We almost managed it!

I guess a vacation in Italy is about sunshine, pool and food, and this week I ‘allowed’ a guest to enter my kitchen and for the second time this year we had a guest baker and bread from his home country, in this case Israel.  Declining the offer of the mixer, he said he preferred to feel the dough in his hands.  A have to agree, and that is also how my Danish guest chef baked his bread.

As the dough proved and the insects flitted on the lavender now heady with scent we spent a hot afternoon in the shade of the terrace chatting endlessly about history, culture and bread making.

After an alarmingly long absence since the flowering in April of the Rosemary the bees have begun to return and now in the company of a myriad of butterflies feasting on the perfumed lavender.

Several hours later the Challah bread was baked and out of the oven.  We both agreed one knows when bread is cooked by the smell that seems to magically fill the air.

and of course the bread was on the table for dinner and had to be cut and served by the chef!

This got me thinking.  Whilst most Gay Guest Houses and B&Bs offer weeks of naked yoga, at Bellaugello we are different; and a thought is germinating that we dedicate an autumn or spring week to international bread making.  Each couple of guys baking bread from their country combined with tours of the culinary delights of Umbria.  A feast for the senses and spiritually healing.

In January and February the markets it Italy abound with citrus fruit driven up from Sicily and Puglia, and for me it is time to head to the market in our local town of Gubbio choose finest fruit and to get busy making marmalade.

Delicious unwaxed fragrant oranges and knobbly lemons were the fruit of choice for the last batch of marmalade.  Into the kitchen, I must admit that citrus marmalade is not one of my favourites to make, it involves a long and tedious procedure but the final result is delicious and knowing it will be served and enjoyed on our breakfast table throughout this coming season makes the effort worthwhile.

Fragrant oranges #eatbellaugello

The fruit washed, time to get the knife out, the zest needs to be pared from the fruit, zest of orange #eatbellaugello

and then the juice squeezed.  Then with a silver spoon pare the pulp from the bitter white pith, that is a really tedious job that does my hands no favours.

zested oranges #eatbellaugello

Put the zest, chopped pulp and the juice in the jam pan add a bit of water and turn on a low heat to soften the zest and reduce the liquid by one third.  This takes two to three hours.  To me this is the best few hours, the kitchen filled indeed exploding with heady perfume of fresh crisp fragrant oranges so redolent of the sunkissed fruit being tenderly plucked from ancient trees in rocky fruit groves overlooking the azure sea.

Then the sugar goes in,

making marmalade #eatbellaugello

and I stir madly to melt the sugar and combine with the orange mix.    Once brought to the boil and incorporated I turn off the flame, cover and leave the mixture overnight.  The following days jam jars and lids sterilising I add pectin.  Strangely enough for a Brit used to making orange marmalade in the UK this is a heinous crime.  We use ‘Seville’ oranges, those bitter tough oranges full of seeds but are just not available, they are Spanish not Italian so are not sold, which is why I use the fragrant ‘Tarocco’ oranges, but they have no pips so no natural pectin, so I have to add pectin.  This to me is a cheat but without the addition the marmalade will not set, it will remain orange soup.  Set to boil, a sweeter aroma filling the kitchen, before filling the sterlised jars, allowed to cool just a bit, with one very important extra ingredient, a good dollop of Whisky…

Johnnie Walker whisky #eatbellaugello

et voilà homemade whisky marmalade.

Orange Whisky Marmalade #eatbellaugello

All that remains to do is to attach the labels, a new exciting design this year and still at the printers, and Scotch whisky orange marmalade is ready for serving at breakfasts here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House, with smaller jars available for sale for you to enjoy back home.  #eatbellaugello