Between Tradition and Biodiversity: Forgotten Fruits
Agriculture is also changing: technological advances and the advent of large-scale distribution have led to the selection of certain crops, which are considered to be preferable to consumption and commercialisation.
What was commonly consumed in the countryside until fifty years ago, today survives only in traditional farms and in small niche markets. This special category of surviving fruits that are only known and appreciated by few, are now known by the somewhat gloomy name “forgotten fruits”.
They are especially nutrient-rich special fruits that make our farmlands richer in colours, flavors and biodiversity whether they are purposely cultivated or they grow wild.
Here we are listing the most significant ones which we have definitely heard about and should taste at least once in our life!
The loquat tree is a naturally growing shrub found throughout Europe that is resistant to cold and altitude. It was used as a fruit tree in the time of the ancient Romans. Its fruit, the loquat, is the queen of farming tradition. It is round with a thick skin, a diameter of a few centimeters and a very high tannin and vitamin C content.
This fruit can be eaten at the end of the autumn, only after a period of fermentation called astringency, which makes the skin brown and the pulp sweet, dark, soft and slightly acidic. In farming traditions, the harvested loquats were left to mature in the dark inside buckets covered with straw. (This is the origin of the Italian proverb “with time and straw even loquats mature”).
The jujube is a shrub of Chinese origin that was already known and appreciated in ancient Greece.
The plant is fairly rare today and typical of country farms. It prefers soils that are dry and resistant to cold. Jujubes are picked at the beginning of autumn, have a beautiful bright red color and are olive shaped. The pulp has a consistency similar to that of an apple and, when fully mature, it becomes softer and darker. They are rich in vitamin C.
Jujubes can be used to prepare syrups, candied fruit, liqueurs and jams, in addition to the famous so-called Jujube broth, typical of Arquà Petrarca, a village in the Euganean hills near Padua nicknamed “jujube country”. These fruits have soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as emollients and moisturizers for the skin.
The mandrone is an evergreen tree that produces small berries. Its fruit has a compact pulp and a slightly acidic flavor, it matures in late autumn and is traditionally used to make jams, sauces, candied fruit and other products to be preserved. Its fruit, flowers and leaves also have antiseptic, anti-rheumatic and anti-inflammatory properties. The plant is rare and well-liked for ornamental purposes.
This long-living tree has a number of varieties and it is not uncommon to find it growing wild in hilly woodlands. The fruits resemble small pears and, before being consumed, they are often left to ferment like loquats. Rowan berries have uses and properties similar to mandrones, in addition to being diuretics and rich in vitamin C, flavonoids and tannins.
This is a hard wood shrub that produces fruit similar to olives which are wine-coloured when they reach full ripeness in summer. These forgotten fruits are sweet, fleshy and slightly acidic, suitable for preparing jams and infusions. Cornelian cherries have tonic and astringent properties.
During your next day-trip out of the city, especially in the autumn, it’s worth it to keep on the lookout and try to find some fruit that may be ancient in origin but timeless in flavor.