I was looking forward to reading Ferenc Máté’s new book, The Wisdom of Tuscany: Simplicity, Security & the Good Life–Making the Tuscan lifestyle you own. I have had a copy of his A Reasonable Life: Toward a Simpler, Secure, More Humane Existence on my bookshelf for many years. I had hoped that Wisdom of Tuscany would be an updated commentary, reflective of the current state of the world. Máté does try to make the book current; however, it is flawed on several fronts.
First, I’m not sure if W.W. Norton does not employ editors at its Albatross imprint or if the editors simply failed to do their jobs. Perhaps, in an attempt to write and include material that reflected events current at the time of the book’s publishing, editing was simply skipped. I don’t know, but I almost didn’t get past the first two chapters. The errors are numerous. For example, this begins the first paragraph on page 19:
Siena’s municipal hall. has a delicate tower that surveys the countryside.
Yes, there is a stray period between hall and has. I don’t expect a book to be 100% error free. But this kind of problem is rampant throughout the entire text.
Second, Máté has lived in Tuscany for 20 years. I fully expect him to tell me about Tuscan life and what it has to teach us about a simpler, more fulfilling way to live. Unfortunately, he often refers to “we” when talking about those of us living in North America. This strikes me as presumptuous. If you haven’t lived here in 20 years, then you cannot make comments about the culture in the first person. You can make comments based on your observations, but not as if you are here living it alongside us. I, for example, grew up in South Carolina, but I have not lived there in 20 years. I can no longer say “we” when referring to anything that happens in South Carolina. I may comment on what I see in the news or what friends or family tell me, but I cannot relate firsthand, first person experience of the culture.
Third, although the book sets out to tell us about making the Tuscan lifestyle our own, it never quite gets there. Máté relates many stories from his life in Tuscany, these are informative and instructive. However, not until the end of the book does he begin to address how to incorporate these ideas into our American lifestyles. The one ten-page-long chapter simply fails to provide any useful details.
Fourth, Máté fails to acknowledge that few people have the resources to pick up and move to the country and start a new life. In addition, plenty of folks, myself included, have no desire to live in the country. That doesn’t mean I can’t find a way to live a good, simple life.
Fifth, it’s true that North Americans could stand to put down their electronic gadgets and spend a bit more time actually talking with family and friends. But if you listen to Máté, every family on the continent is totally fractured. This is too great a generality and certainly does not reflect my own experience of family.
Finally, while Reasonable Life often referred to research and data that helped Máté make his points, Wisdom of Tuscany is filled with too many of Máté’s opinions without the data to back them up. He has a feeling something is wrong and a Tuscan-inspired lifestyle could right that wrong. Unfortunately, his hunches alone don’t provide us with the details we need to adopt that lifestyle.
I still heartily recommend Reasonable Life to anyone seeking a more authentic way to live. I cannot recommend Wisdom of Tuscany. Instead, read Stephanie Mill’s Epicurean Simplicity for a much more inspiring, North American take on simple living.
Make apple butter. It’s not hard, but it does take 3 to 4 hours. I made a batch yesterday with the following recipe that I’ve perfected over the years. This works for apple butter and also for apple-pear butter. I’ve never tried it with just pears, but I think it would still work.
Here’s what you need:
Notice I didn’t give measurements for the spices, you’ll have to adjust the amounts based on how much apple/pear pulp you end up with.
- Cut the apples/pears into quarters. You don’t need to peel or remove the core. You should remove the stems. Place the cut fruit in the pot.
- Add the apple cider vinegar and the water. Bring to a boil and cover the pot. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until the fruit is soft and easily separates from its skin. Remove from heat.
- Place the sieve over a large bowl. Ladle the fruit mixture into the sieve a little bit at a time. Use the wooden spoon to force the fruit mixture through the sieve, leaving behind the skin, seeds and any tough pieces of the core. Discard the skin, etc. (add to your compost bin!) as you go along. You should end up with a bowl full of fruit pulp and liquid.
- Measure the fruit pulp back into the pot. You need to know how many cups of pulp you have in order to add the rest of the ingredients.
- Sugar: Figure 1/2 cup sugar for every cup of pulp. Then, figure the amount of white sugar to brown sugar in a 3:1 ratio. For example, if you have 8 cups of pulp you will need 4 cups of sugar. Three of those will be white sugar, and one will be brown sugar. Confused? Just used all white sugar!
- Salt: 1/4 teaspoon up to 8 cups of pulp. Never add more than 1/2 teaspoon.
- Pumpkin Pie Spice: 1 teaspoon for every 4 cups of pulp.
- Add the sugar, salt and pumpkin pie spice to the pulp and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture to a bubbling simmer. On my stove, this requires medium heat.
- Stir the mixture frequently to prevent burning. Continually scrape the sides and bottom with the wooden spoon to prevent sticking. Cooking will take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, depending on the liquid to pulp ratio of your mixture. The butter is formed as the excess liquid evaporates.
- After an hour, test the butter to see if it is the thickness you desire. The easiest way to do this is to spoon some out and let it cool for a few minutes. If it’s still runny, it’s not ready. If it stays thick and spreadable, it’s ready.
Once your apple/pear butter is ready, you can ladle it into hot, sterile jars and refrigerate. If you want to keep it for more than a couple of weeks, you’ll need to properly preserve it in a water-bath canner (process for 10 minutes).
Questions? Just ask!
I was talking with a friend about how the downturn in the stock market was impacting people who have built up wealth mainly via relying on their (seemingly) every-growing portfolio of investments. I commented that people who choose to live simply are essentially unaffected by such a troubling market. Choosing a life a voluntary simplicity means you’ve already chosen to live humbly below your means. You don’t rely on phantom dollars. You rely on concrete calculations of income and expenditures. Your income is diversified and so are your savings. And lo and behold on the heels of this conversation I find this article in the 2009 March-April Simple Living News: Recession-Proof: Voluntary Simplicity As The Key To Living Well Even In A Recession. The author closes the article with this comment:
I think Henry David Thoreau summed up the key to living recession-proof when he said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
How true that is. The more we leave alone, the more we can enjoy the truly valuable things in life.
Someone on my New Okie Pioneer list posted a link to the Garden Girl TV website. I love it! What she has accomplished is what I am working toward. A completely sustainable urban garden and home. She has lots of videos on her website and a great explanation of what Urban Sustainable Living is all about.
With all the uncertainty in these times, I think we all could learn to live a little more independently!
Go check it out — two thumbs up from me.