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A Cooking Experience in Puglia, Italy

Mary Clark takes us through the sights, flavors and surprises of her cooking class travel adventure in Puglia, Italy.

I have a confession to make: I am a self described Travel Whore. Yes, you read that right. I am addicted to reading about different places in the world, seeing pictures of different places and, well, you guessed it — talking about different places! A while back I read a book, Finding Myself in Puglia by Laine B Brown. It was a wonderful little story about her adventure moving to Puglia for a year (maybe four, I forget). I became intrigued with her descriptions of Trullos, these little, tiny, white cone-shaped houses that were built for the migrant workers hundreds of years ago. Within the last 10 or so years they are coming back in fashion and people are restoring them. They can only be found in the Puglia region of Italy. Well, you know I had my Google map pulled up the entire time I was reading the book. I was finding towns and dreaming about seeing these little houses. 

Lo and behold, along comes VAWAA (I told you I’m a travel buff). I saw something about going on vacation with an artist and it piqued my curiosity. I began looking at the site and I was filled with disappointment! I can’t oil paint, I can’t use a potter’s wheel… who am I kidding? I’m not artistic. But then I saw it: a cooking class! Now, cook I can do. So I looked at every cooking class available and, wouldn’t you know it, there was one in Puglia! In all honesty, I saw that you could sleep in a Trullo and I read no further. I called my friend to see if she wanted to take a class in Puglia, she said yes, I booked the class. 

I looked at every cooking class available and, wouldn’t you know it, there was one in Puglia!

This happened to coincide with a trip we had planned in Sicily. We would be going on a 2-week tour in Sicily, then to our countryside Trullo for 5 days and 4 nights to become immersed in the Art of Ancient Cooking. We flew into Bari, Italy and took a cab to a town called Martina Franca. That’s the nearest town to the farm we would be going to. There are less expensive ways to get there, but we had been on the road for 2 weeks and didn’t want to mess around with trains, buses and automobiles. This ended up being a good thing because when we got to town we realized we should rent a car. It was 75% cheaper renting a car in Martina Franca than it would have been at the Bari Airport. Score one for us! 

In this little town, the roads are skinny, crowded and windy. Hilly, too, I might add. The rental company picks us up at the hotel and takes us to the office to do the paperwork. On the way she says, “How do you like the car? Is it big enough?” It was a lovely car — with a MANUAL transmission! I hadn’t driven a car like that in 40 years. My breathing got a little faster and I let her know that little tiny fact. I told her, “It’s ok, I’m sure I remember how” (remember the skinny, hilly roads?) So, when we get to the office, she fills out the paperwork and the whole time is talking to her boss. When the paperwork is complete she says to us, “Ok, ladies, I will drive you out to the farm; it is not far. My boss will follow. That way you don’t have to drive in town. We will also pick you up on Sunday.” This was music to my ears and off we went.

Our Trullo for the Week

The entire experience was pretty amazing. Ursula, our teacher, her husband and daughter live in the adjacent house. There are vineyards and rolling hills surrounding the property. There are also no street signs and little white stone fences surrounding everything. It is breathtaking. Class doesn’t start until around 4 or 5 so you have all day to explore the area. The property is 15 minutes from the Adriatic Sea (and 10 minutes from a darling little cafe called Almond which serves the best pastries and gelato).

Our trullo for the week
Our feast the first night

The way Ursula has the cooking class set up is pretty cool. The first day, you begin in the Mesopotamian period. You cook what was available during that time in history. It is fascinating seeing and hearing what people ate so long ago.

I don’t know what’s more fun, cooking or playing with all of Ursula’s fun kitchen gadgets!

The next night was the Roman period, as seen above. I don’t know what’s more fun, cooking or playing with all of Ursula’s fun kitchen gadgets! There are so many cute little towns nearby, but one of the most unique things about the area is the landscape. You drive down these little tiny roads and if another car comes somebody has to back up! But our host told us, “Don’t worry, they will know you are tourists and they will back up.” Lucky for me, both times I encountered a car I was near a driveway and could move over far enough for the car to pass. As you can see below, the road was big enough for one. 

There is a little town nearby called Cisternino. It is a darling little place.

An abandoned Trullo I found while out exploring

Wednesday is “market day” in Martina Franca and it is not to be missed. Ursula and her husband took us with them on their weekly excursion. If — when — I go back to this part of the world, I am going to go back to that lovely market and buy some of that food and cook up a feast! I am telling you, it was a visual experience that kept on giving. 

One of the days we were at “the farm,” my partner-in-crime didn’t feel like exploring. I decided to strike out on my own. I don’t know the language nor the roads with no name but I figured I have a good sense of direction and I’d be ok. I got about a mile or two from the house and suddenly I thought, “There are no street signs. How am I going to find the road to get me back home?” I made a quick U-turn and backtracked. Slowly. Once I found the road, I turned around again and went on my way. I now felt confident enough to explore. I went into a couple of towns but bad news for me was that almost everything was closed. I forgot. It was siesta time. Everything closes between 1 and 4. So I took to the back roads. Down those skinny little roads hoping beyond hope that no one would be coming in the opposite direction. Soon I found myself hungry. So I saw a building that I thought looked like a restaurant. I parked the car and went inside. There was a restaurant but it wasn’t open. I have no idea why. The part of the building I was in was like a miniature 7-11. There were a few people up at the counter drinking espressos. I politely asked if anyone spoke English. No, no one did. I did the next best thing: pantomimed. I pointed to a little pastry pie and they heated that up for me. Then I went over to the cooler and got a nice cold beer to go with it. Next, I stood at the counter with the locals and enjoyed my lunch. I am not sure what the pie was called but it was divine. It was flaky, filled with mozzarella cheese and tomato. I would recommend it to anyone!

In conclusion, would I recommend Historic Cuisine with Ursula? One hundred percent. I will go back! I loved Puglia. I am already looking at the VAWAA website trying to figure out what my next class will be. This really was a lot of fun!

Written by Mary Clark for VAWAA.

Thank you to VAWAA for sharing this story with us.

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