December 11, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Fretting and fennel

By |2018-03-21T19:02:30+01:00September 25th, 2014|"In Provincia"|
Not even Google the Dog can ensure everything works out perfectly.

so often hear the phrase: “I want your life.” It’s easy for our lovely B&B guests to say, of course. They’re on vacation when they land in our Umbrian home. They admire the giant rosemary bushes while Google the Dog greets them with her silly canine grin. They sip wine on the terrace and feel like they’re in paradise.

What they don’t know is that the phone lines are out because somewhere in the valley errant hunters have probably shot through the lines.

Or that I had a guest who locked herself in her room for four days (yes), refusing to come out and hardly making a sound the whole time. After a couple of days, I’d stand outside her door in the morning just to make sure she was still alive.

And they don’t know about guest who complained we didn’t serve proper English tea.

The problem with running a B&B is that you care about making people happy — all the people. It means waiting like a fretting mother worrying about guests who said they’d arrive at a certain time but show up six hours later. Learning they stopped off for a leisurely dinner but didn’t let you know doesn’t help.

Running a B&B is like waiting for your mother-in-law to visit. You worry that everything is spotless; that you’re at your best; that the food is perfect, or close. And the worries don’t even stop after she gets out of a car, hugs you, and tells you how happy she is to see you. Anything can still happen. She might even decide she needs to clean her shoes with your bathroom towel. She isn’t thinking about consequences.

Your guests are like dozens of mothers-in-law.

All in all, I get more hugs and heartfelt thanks than I do complaints and mud-stained towels. I’ve also received some beautiful thank-you gifts from guests, a painting or a bracelet. The gifts move me.

The finest hour of each day is when everyone has arrived safely. It’s a joy when someone says, “Your directions were perfect,” or, “What a beautiful place you have.” That’s when I think, yes, I want my life. I get them settled and walk out to pick some herbs, taking in the beauty of the surrounding countryside.

Harvesting Fennel Pollen

If you’re luck enough to live where wild fennel plants grow, harvesting this expensive and trendy spice is easy. Fennel pollen smells like fennel seeds, but it’s sweeter, more complex and richer. It’s an ideal additive to soups, white meats, pork and cookies, teasing out a nuanced flavor that combines the fennel with tones of aniseed and licorice

What you need

  • Scissors.

  • Basket.

  • A colander and possibly a food processor.

Fennel plants bloom for a few weeks beginning toward the end of August. For the pollen, pick the plants that grow far from any pollutants. Washing the flowers takes away most of the pollen and encourages mold.

In peak bloom, the flowers are bright yellow. These little “umbrellas” are best picked in early afternoon, the driest time of the day. Place them in a large basket, taking care to keep them separate. No crowding allowed.

Once back home, transfer them to a large tray or a crate lined with paper towels. Let them dry in the sun for a couple of days. Be sure to bring them in at night.

Don’t worry that they lose their golden color. Once they’re dry, you’ll notice fennel pollen and small bits of flowers scattered on the paper.

That’s what you’re looking for. To get additional pollen, shake the flowers over the paper or blend them (a few at the time) in a food processor.

Gather all this flavorsome powder, sieve it through a colander and transfer it to a Mason jar. Keep the jar closed tightly and store in a dark cabinet. In a dry place, the pollen will keep a long time.

Oh, and for the record my mother-in-law is adorable.

About the Author:

Letizia Mattiacci wrote the "In Provincia" column from 2011 through 2019.