Some people bring Bruno Magli shoes and Fendi handbags home from Italy. I brought home a Pugliese drying rack.
It’s a simple contraption, made from dried bamboo canes tied together with sturdy wire. It’s about the size of a standard cookie sheet and looks like a tiny raft.
I purchased it at the height of summer at an open-air market in Puglia (the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot), in the ancient town of Ceglie Messapica. On the day I bought it the sky was a deep cloudless blue and the air was hot and dry—in other words, perfect weather for sun-drying tomatoes, chili peppers, figs and more. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more than that rack.
Mostly I wanted it for figs. A few days earlier I had spoken to a local woman, a farmer who had described to me her method of slicing figs in half, drying them in the sun, then sandwiching the halves back together with an almond tucked between them and packing them into jars.
I could practically taste those figs. Back home I even had a little fig tree waiting for me that was finally beginning to flourish and produce fruit. So I bought the rack (a bargain at 12 euros) and carried it on the plane back to Virginia.
Yes, Virginia. Hot, sweltering, swampy, humid Virginia. As is often the case with impulse purchases made abroad, something was lost in translation. In this case it was the climate. I sliced the figs, arranged them on the rack, and covered them loosely with cheesecloth to keep various critters at bay before setting the rack outside. But between the moist air, the overcast skies, and generally unpredictable weather, the figs failed to dry properly, shriveling slightly and turning musty. I chucked them and decided to turn the rest of my modest fig harvest into jam.
However, all was not lost. I did find the rack great for drying chili peppers, presumably because they are already low in moisture. I spread them out on the rack and set it on the kitchen counter, where over two weeks’ time the peppers slowly shriveled and turned perfectly dry without any assistance from me—or the sun.
PLEASE SHARE: What is the most memorable food-related thing you’ve brought back from a trip abroad? We’d love to hear about it.