When Mike Sola and Amy-Louise Pfeffer and their daughter Marta sit down to Christmas Dinner at Tuckaway Farm in Conway, Mass., they have one fork in Italy and one in America. The dishes are prepared with olive oil from their former grove in Citta della Pieve, Umbria, and the meal ends with steamed cranberry pudding, a New England recipe handed down from Pfeffer’s mother.
In 2000, Sola and Pfeffer moved to central Italy, from New Haven, Conn., where Pfeffer had been a teacher and Sola worked as an editor. At the time, they knew nothing about farming. “We knew there were farms,” says Sola, but working the groves and fields of their bed and breakfast inn in Umbria “changed my outlook on what I wanted to be doing with my life.” In 2004, they returned to the States, choosing the Five College Area of western Massachusetts for its mix of culture and agriculture, and began to import certified organic olive oil, a business that helps subsidize the farm. They grow and sell San Marzano and Pruden’s Purple tomatoes and greens, including agretti, puntarelle and arugula, all grown from seeds imported from Italy.
They also raise Buff Rock hens and sell free-range poultry and eggs and plan to expand their sheep flock to soon begin offering meat and wool. At work with them is Pinto, the Sicilian donkey, who guards the flock and who would be at home in any nativity scene, or presepe, the most popular of Italian Christmas traditions. With their move back to the States, the couple returned to an “American-style” Christmas with decorated trees and wrapped presents. In Italy, the main day for gift giving is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, when La Befana, the witch, arrives to fill stockings with candy, some of which resembles coal. And the prospect of a witch and a lump of coal is a good enough reason for their daughter Marta to prefer the American Christmas.
By JoeAnn Hart, a food writer in Gloucester, Mass.