Bright orange persimmons, or cachi, have finally ripened on bare trees, the first frosts have softened up the savoy cabbages, and hissing logs in the fire foretell the arrival of snow - once again it's the winter issue of the Marche Voyager newsletter.
The small, dark lentils grown in the southern uplands on the Marche-Umbria border are considered to be some of the finest in the world, and no New Year's Eve dinner is complete in Le Marche without a dish of lenticchie from Colfiorito or Castelluccio, as lentils are said to auger prosperity for the coming year.
The region is also noted for its cultivation of cicerchia - now a little-known pulse that was once raised as an "insurance" against drought and famine when all other crops might fail, thanks to its ability to grow in poor conditions.
The seeds of Lathyrus sativus are about the same size as peas but knobbly and buff coloured. Cicerchia has been officialy recognised as one of the region's prodotti agroalimentari tradizionali and the humble legume now has an annual festival in its honour at Serra de' Conti in Ancona province.
They need to be soaked for at least 8 hours before cooking, changing the water 2 or 3 times, then boiled in plenty of unsalted water for around 40 minutes. Once cooked they should be left in the water and only drained when ready to be used - this avoids hardening as they cool. They are best used in hearty soups but also make a good substitute in most recipes for ordinary beans.
Verdicchio goes DOCG?
The region's best-known wine, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, may well join the elite ranks of Italy's finest with the agreement by local authorities and producers to press for prestigious DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata garantita) status. This would make it a new addition to the 30-odd other wines across the whole of Italy entitled to this superior classification.
The region's best known red wine, Rosso Conero, has already won DOCG status.
Marche Voyager's wine page
While it may not be the Alps, Le Marche boasts a handful of small but well-equipped ski resorts up in the Sibillini mountains in the south. These include Bolognola, Sassotetto, Ussita and Castel Sant'Angelo sul Nera.
If you're planning to visit Le Marche next summer, Macerata's spectacular 2009 open-air opera festival in July-August includes Puccini's Madame Butterfly and Verdi's La Traviata. Pesaro's prestigious Rossini Opera Festival in August includes Rossini's Zelmira and Sigismondo and a concert performance of Tancredi.
Marche Voyager opera page for detailed programmes
Theobromine addicts should make for Ascoli Piceno on Sunday 7, and Monday 8 December when the town celebrates "Ascoli Chocolate", a newly-launched celebration of all things chocolaty.
Two wheels good
The celebrated Giro d'Italia, one of the world's most famous cycle road races, is to include a stage in Le Marche in 2009. The 230 km section, scheduled for Monday 25 May, starts from Pergola and includes gruelling climbs up three mountains - Nerone, Catria and Petrano - in Pesaro & Urbino province. The 92nd annual race runs from 9 to 31 May 2009.
The official Giro d'Italia website
In the run-up to Christmas, many places hold a lively mercatino, or Christmas market, usually selling handicrafts and prodotti tipici. The list of towns staging them includes Urbino, Fano, Jesi, Ostra Vetere, Senigallia, Macerata, Camerino, Cingoli, Monte Urano, Porto San Giorgio and San Benedetto del Tronto.
Stamp of approval
The Italian post office (Poste Italiane) has recently released a new stamp featuring Urbino. The EUR 2.80 francobollo portrays the classic view of the twin towers of the Palazzo Ducale with the dome of the Cathedral behind. Some 3.5 million have been printed.
The Poste Italiane page on the stamp
Once again Le Marche has come top of the regional tables for longevity - Italy's statistics office ISTAT recently revealed that life expectancy in Le Marche is now 78.6 years for men and 84.1 for women.
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