The fruits of Sardinia

The fruits of Sardinia

Sardinia is maybe the closest thing left to a Garden of Eden. With every new season, comes a unique selection of fresh fruits. I find myself devouring buckets of one fruit, just as I’m getting bored of the sweet taste, around the 30-day mark, I see a new type of fruit hanging from the trees. Time in Sardinia passes with a calendar of fruits. Nature has it all figured out. Providing oranges just before winter so we can dose up on vitamin D before the winter months you have been to Sardinia, you will know how relaxed the people are, every walk Is broken up with pit stops under fruit trees to taste the fruit. It never ceases to amaze me how the land can provide with fruit hanging in an abundance as I had never seen before.

This Mediterranean climate is a home for some of the tastiest and intriguing fruits in the world. Some have had a long journey to make it to this island coming from South America and Asia, often with a fascinating history. Aside from nourishment, Sardinians have found many uses for these fruit trees, some of which live on today.

I want to present a handful of the fruits that caught my attention while I was in Sardinia, they appeared exotic to me as a person from England, and the tastes and textures blew my mind. If you are heading to Sardinia soon, then these are the fruits that I urge you to try.

The Common Fig
Fiscus Carica

open figs on a dark table

Figs are one of my favorite fruits in Sardinia. You can find them everywhere on the island, they feel like a constant fixture in Sardinia, with a long season. They become ripe in June and July but a type that is larger and less sweet. The real prize comes in last July and September in the form of a smaller fig but packed with an intense and morish sweetness. It is one of the first plants to have been cultivated by humans. It has played its part in many ancient civilizations and even gets its mention in the bible for being a slightly erotic fruit. Before coming to Sardinia, I had only had access to dried figs, which cannot do justice to the multitude of sweetness, the beautiful texture, and the golden syrup inside.

A fig is actually a flower. It chooses not to reveal its beauty to the world, instead of flowering outwards. Its a very introverted fruit, maybe a drop of sweet syrup drops if it cannot contain all of its sweetness. Some consider this fruit one of the most significant technological innovations, and responsible for a critical shift in our relationship with the natural world. A large number of calories made available to our species. Figs are a parcel full of nutrition, but the high fiber can cause a laxative effect if you eat too many.

It’s great fun to collect figs, there are sometimes hundreds to a tree, with new ones becoming ripe every day. They do go off fairly quickly after being picked, so its good to eat them straight from the tree or lay them in the sun to be dried. Wasps are known to go inside the figs. So check the fruit before you grab it with your hands. In fact, there is even a whole variety of figs that rely on a fig wasp to pollinate them, before the wasps make there home within the fruit. It’s a mutual relationship that scientists don’t fully understand. But don’t be worried, this process only happens to a specific variety, that I haven’t seen in Sardinia. All I’m saying is have a look to make sure the skin of the fig is complete, to be sure there are no insects inside.

When eating a fig, some prefer to peel the skin away, while some enjoy to eat it. If you are looking to have fig in your life all year round you can make a tasty jam, and make the most of the buckets full of figs that seem to arrive in one go.

The Strawberry Tree, Corbezzolo
Arbutus Unedo

corbezzolo fruits in a tree

Known in English as the Strawberry Tree, and as Corbezzolo in Italian. This beautiful fruit is a bit of a dark horse and can easily go unnoticed if you don’t know what it is. It is a native species to the Mediterranean, Western Europe, Northern France, and Ireland. The tree is characterized by evergreen leaves and grows small red fruits about 2-3 cm, they have rough-textured skin. This tree is widespread in Sardinia, I used to walk them thinking that it was just a fruit for birds to eat, before I was told about it by a local Sardinian. It has a particular taste reminding me of apricots and kiwis, but with a robust woody undertone.

In Sardinia, they add this fruit to make bitter honey, known as Miele Amaro. It is a honey famous all over the world for its unique and astringent taste. The Sardinians have been using this honey for hundreds of years to aid sleep and improve rest periods. It is full of therapeutic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties and is believed to be useful for a whole host of medical purposes. It is used frequently in cooking too, complimenting fresh Sardinian cheeses, walnuts, and carasau bread. The fruits also go great in deserts without needing the honey, my friend Serena adds Corbezzolo to the cake mixture, causing them to caramelize wonderfully. Corbezzolo fruits that have not riped are sometimes taken for there ornamental value, making great festive decorations. The tree bears fruit from August to November.

Prickly Pear, Fichi D’India
Opuntia

sardinian prickly pear fruits

This plant is known by many other names, Cactus Pear, Barbery Fig, Prickly Fig, and Indian Fig (The Italian referring to the latter). This spiky fruit has its origins in Mexico before it made its way to Spain on a colonial ship, before heading across the Mediterranean to the Middle East. It grows incredibly well in Sardinia, as well as neighboring Sicily and Malta. This plant makes a constant appearance in Sardinia. I know first hand how difficult they are to remove. I had the project to remove these cacti, as they were obscuring the view from the kitchen, in an area that would be better used for growing herbs or tomatoes. I spend a day taking the cacti to their stump, before noticing the vast networks of roots underground connecting all these plants. It then took me a couple of roots to remove the thick roots. There invasiveness and strength are one of the reasons why they are so widespread. Farmers also planted Cacti near their boundary walls, to stop the sheep from leaving the pasture or and to prevent the beast from entering. After the blood sweat and tears, it took to remove this plant, I had looked disdainfully at it. But I think we can all appreciate a fence that we can eat.

The Cacti blooms in April to June with an elegant flower before bearing fruit. Once the cactus pears turn a deep red or even purple, then they are ripe. You have to be careful when collecting because they are covered in hundreds of small spines, that will irritate your hand for days to come. Commercially they burn off these spikes before picking, I recommend that you use gloves. Once you have the fruit, you can eat it like a kiwi, removing the skin and eating the goodness inside. The fruit is full of seeds. The taste is a blend of fruits yet reminiscent of strawberries. It’s a lot of work, but a small reward. But it is so bountiful in Sardinia that it is worth a taste. Supermarkets sell them fully prepared, but everything tastes better straight from the tree if you can take the skin of carefully. The fruit is packed with vitamin C and has been linked in studies to reduce type 2 diabetes. The Prickly Pears can also be turned into jams and juices, even the multitude of seeds in each fruit can be turned into flour. Once the fruit is taken, it can last for weeks without becoming rancid.

The Cactus pads can also be eaten, in Mexico, they like to grill the pads known as Nopales. This is one of the most edible plants if you are willing to remove all of the spikes.

Pomegranate, Melagrano
Punica granatum

 open pomegranate fruit showing seeds inside

This fruit is ripe in November and December in Sardinia. It contains clusters of gem-like seeds, each one full of flavor and vitamins. Across the world, the Pomegranate is known as a symbol of abundance, prosperity, and fertility. It is not a native plant to Sardinia, it originates from Persia (Afganistan and Iran) and also from the Indian Himalayas. It was introduced to Sardinia by the Phoenicians and has managed to adapt well and thrive in its new environment. The shrub requires little care and yet provides fruit each year.

Once the fruit turns completely red, then it is ripe and ready to be eaten. If it cracks, then it is starting to become overripe, allowing insects to enter for nourishment. It is a very joyful fruit that has long been used in traditional Indian Ayurveda medicine and contains a rich source of fiber in its seeds. I enjoy turning pomegranate into a juice or adding to a salad. Below, is a video showing the best way to get the juice clusters from the fruit.

Persimmon, Kaki
Diospyros Kaki

persimmons on the table

This is my favorite fruit that I have ever come across. When I was younger I used to buy them from supermarkets in England, by the name Sharon Fruit, but these we hard less sweet fruits. When I first came to Sardinia, I finally discovered that the best ones are soft, heavenly, and full of flavor. I remember trying it for the first time when our Sardinian neighbor gave us some from her garden, the taste, and texture my mind. It was the most satisfying thing I have ever eaten. It also took me a while to figure out that it was the same fruit that I was eating when I was a boy, but to me, they are two different fruits. The Persimmon tree was initially cultivated in China over two thousand years ago. Today, these fruit trees are found all across Sardinia, though they only recently arrived less than two hundred years ago. The Sardinian climate really suits this fruit, and it is one of the regions of the world that may produce the highest quality Persimmon for the markets. If you are in Sardinia, you must try this fruit. Italians like to make La Crema Di Cachi from the fruit, by taking out the pulp and blending until the texture forms a cream.

This tree is also known as the tree of peace after one tree miraculously survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 and is a symbol today of the importance of life.

Carob, Locust tree, Carruba
Ceratonia siliqua

The Carob is a flowering evergreen tree that bears dark brown pea pods, with pulp and seeds. The fruit makes an excellent substitute for chocolate. It is an ancient tree that has been an abundant resource to civilizations of the past. The carob seeds have a very uniform weight, so was used to measure weights, in commerce and to measure diamonds and gold. A carat is a modern unit for the weight of precious stones even today.

The ancient Greeks first cultivated this tree over 4000 years ago. The carob tree is native to the Mediterranean basin, and have spread remarkably well across Sardinia and Sicily. This legume tree enhances poor soil and is commonly used in reforestation projects. It can reach 12 meters in height and has an unusual trunk with dense foliage. The pea-like pods are green when unripe before running brown when ripe in August to October. The pulp is sweet and a common substitute for chocolate. When I would go to harvest the olives in Sardinia, we would spend the whole day working, so I would take a bag full of Carob pods to snack on for energy.

The carob, unlike chocolate, contains no caffeine or theobromine (which is toxic to dogs) so it is sometimes used a treat for dogs and also for livestock as it is packed with nutrition and protein. This is a great food source for animals and humans alike. If you are in Sardinia you should try this, most people really enjoy the taste, and it is an excellent option for snaking.

Loquat, Nespolo
Eriobotrya Japonica

four nespolo fruit in a tree, blue sky

This is a hidden gem in the fruit world. The Loquat has its origins in China, it was naturalized in Japan, being cultivated there for over 1000 years. It is thought to have been introduced to the Mediterranean basin during the 1800s. In Sicily, the fruit has significant economic importance, grown to be exported. The round orange fruit has a fragile skin and resembles an apricot. The fruits are ripe anytime from early spring to early summer. Inside the fruit, there are 2 or 3 large seeds. You can tell the fruit is ripe when the pulp becomes soft, and the color darkens slightly, appearing full of life. I am always looking forward until these fruits become mature, they are sweet and soft and remind me of mango, mixed with peach with a touch of orange. The Nespolo is still used in Chinese medicine to relieve coughing. The Nespolo is used to make jams, syrups, and fit nicely in tarts and cakes. In other parts of Italy, they make a from the seeds known as Nespolino from the seeds and apricot kernels, for a taste similar to amaretto.

The tree has an early flowering, and it is believed that when this tree has a rich blossoming, then there will be an abundant harvest.

References

  1. Ficas carica https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_fig
  2. Fig Wasp http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160429-a-tale-of-loyalty-and-betrayal-starring-figs-and-wasps
  3. Can figs exist without wasps? https://askabiologist.asu.edu/figs-without-wasps
  4. Pomegranate Origin https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Plant-and-fruit-of-pomegranate-from-an-18-th-century-AD-herbarium_fig1_326625940
  5. Pomegranate Symbolism http://kashifsofa.com/the-pomegranate-as-a-symbol/
  6. Strawberry Tree https://www.gardenia.net/plant/Arbutus-unedo-strawberry-tree
  7. Carob History https://www.gardenia.net/plant/Arbutus-unedo-strawberry-tree