Fruits (Prickly pears, Figs, Raisins, Pears, Quinces)

 

Prickly pears

The prickly pear plant that grows on the peninsula of Mani is of particular interest. Rows of this aggressive looking plant are widely used to define property lines. But during summer months, this effective fence produces unique taste fruits.

Special tools have been invented in order to collect and peel these thorny but rich in nutrients fruits.

The consumption of prickly pears is widespread both among locals and visitors. In the past, the leaf of the prickly pear plant was considered a delicacy. While still tender and before thorns grew on it, it was split in two, baked and eaten like a sweet pie.

It was also used in the cleaning of saws as it helped remove the pieces of wood that were left on the blade. Moreover, due to its healing properties, the prickly pear plant leaf was used to prepare poultice for wounds.

Did you know that…?

  • Collecting and peeling prickly pears requires great care. It is advisable to ask about the way they should be peeled.
  • It is very rich in potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin K and fiber.
  • It can be used to prepare jam, marmalade and liquor …
  • Prickly pears require great care when peeling. To peel a prickly pear first you make three cuts on it.  You make two deep, vertical cuts at the ends, and a horizontal one, connecting the other two and as deep as the peel, in the middle of the fruit:

 

The prickly pear has an ovular shape. Cuts A and B give the fruit a cylindrical shape. Cut C cuts the peel vertically. The peel can now be detached with a simple pull.

This drawing shows how to peel a prickly pear using a fork and knife. The numbers indicate the order of the cuts. After the three cuts are made, the peel is removed and the pulp of the fruit is removed by hand or with a fork.

The fig tree

Fig trees thrive in Mani. Figs mature and are harvested from late July until September. In the past, figs were systematically gathered and dried in order to meet the population’s nutritional needs for a whole year. Due to their otherwise poor diet, people used to eat dried figs with walnuts and oregano, a food combination of high nutritional value. In the drying process, oregano was used as a natural preservative.

 

During the years 1930 – 1935 the cultivation of fig trees was at its peak in the county of Laconia. Dried figs were regularly exported to Europe, the USA and the East. In the archives of “Laconia”, a local newspaper,  there are interesting reports about the quantities shipped from the port by the steamers of the time. In the years that followed, cultivation of fig trees was gradually replaced by that of olive trees. Fig production in the counties of Messinia and Laconia reached 30,000 tons in 1960.

Did you know that…?

  • There are lots of different ways in which you can enjoy figs: dried, sun-dried or green. They can be used to make sykomelo (fig honey), tsapeles, (fig jam), tsipouro , even alcohol.
  • It is very rich in fiber and therefore is recommended to people with poor bowel function and constipation problems.
  • Due to their high calcium content, dried figs can cover 17% of the recommended daily intake.
  • Figs have been known since ancient times and it seems that fig trees were first cultivated in Egypt, from where they were introduced to Crete and the rest of Greece around 1500 BC.
  • Besides its nutritional value, the fig was also a symbol of prosperity, fertility, knowledge and unity.
  • In ancient Athens, figs were first choice for consumption and of course for cultivation. Exports were strictly forbidden and anyone who would export illegally was strictly punished. The person who would inform the authorities about offenders was called “sykofantis” and received a reward. With time, the word “sykofantis” came to mean “slanderer”.

Raisins

Raisins were exported from the port of Gytheio along with other products of Mani and the whole region. In the archives of “Laconia”, a local newspaper, there are interesting reports about the quantities exported from the port by the steamers of the time.

The great importance of raisins in international trade began in the 16th century when the Ionian Islands were under Venetian rule. In the Ionian Islands, raisins were systematically cultivated at the expense of grain. This alarmed Venetians, who imposed taxes on raisin exports. Eventually, the cultivation of raisins was transferred to the Peloponnese, where it originated. After the liberation from Ottoman rule and until late 19th century, raisins were the main export product of the newly established Greek State.

Did you know that…?

The first law on raisin production was made in 1836. Article 69 of the law stated that, in order to ensure good raisin quality, the date harvesting should start was to be determined by police order as it depended on climatic conditions (rain etc). In order to protect raisin cultivation, the Greek government established the mandatory withholding of an amount of raisins for alcohol production.

  • There are two raisin varieties, the blonde and the black. The difference between them has to do with size, colour and taste. Black currants are small in size and are cultivated in the Peloponnese, except the Korinthos area, and the Ionian Islands, while the blonde, also called “sultanas”, are larger in size and are cultivated in the counties of Iraklion and Korinthos. The “sultana” variety owes its name to its area of origin, the district of Soultanien, Iran, and was introduced into Greece by the Greeks of Asia Minor.
  • Having many beneficial qualities, raisins and currants are a protecting shield for the body. They have been widely used since ancient times mostly in desserts and breakfasts.

Quinces
Quinces grow in many areas of Mani. As women took advantage of everything nature had to offer, they used quinces in the preparation of quince spoon sweet.

The quince plant originates in the Caucasus region but it is also indigenous of Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Quinces belong to the same family as apples and pears.

Their nutritional value is particularly due to their high vitamin C content and they contain a lot of tannin too. The quince is mainly used in confectionery and more specifically, in the making of spoon sweets, jams, quince paste and liqueurs.

Ancient Greeks connected the quince with fertility and it was the custom to offer quinces as a wedding gift. Also, brides used quinces to freshen up their breaths before weddings.  In Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives”, it is mentioned that Solon is said to have issued a decree that “the bride and the groom must withdraw in a room and have quinces together”.

It is also reported that Paris offered Goddess Venus a quince and it could be because of this that the Goddess of Love is depicted holding a quince that symbolizes dedication and faith.

Did you know that…?

  • The original meaning of the word “marmalade”  is “quince jam” as it comes from the Portuguese word “marmelo”, meaning “quince”.

A riddle about quince

  • “I am yellow, plush and astringent, yet fragrant.

I grow better if they make me sweet.”

What is it?  It is a quince.

Proverbs and sayings

  • “A sweet smelling quince gives out what it has” is a proverb from Kythnos meaning that people are characterized by what they can give.
  • “Grapes in September, quinces in October!” is a proverb from Crete.
  • “When the grandmother eats quinces her grandchild gets numb” is a proverb from Vithynia meaning that descendants pay for their ancestors’ sins.
04/04/2019