Almonds, figs, quinces, grapes
When summer slowly gives way to autumn and the sun has given almost all its energy to the soil during July and August, the most sweet and delicious fruits begin to ripen in Salento.
First among all, the queen of the countryside, are grapes, a fundamental resource for our land due to the production of important wines, but also very good to eat at the table. There are many kinds of grapes: some are exclusively for the production of wine, and if eaten are much sweeter, then there are table grapes, with hard and tasty grapes. White, red, black, grapes are a temptation that no Inhabitant of Salento can resist. From early childhood we learn to steal bunches of grapes from the vineyards and distinguish among the different varieties. Often grapes are donated in sign of gratitude to family and friends. It is precious, that’s why it was sacred to the god Dionysus.
Figs are another September delicacy. Figs are an irresistable temptation for those who love seasonal fruit. Small, ripened under the sun, sweetened by the summer lymphs, they are an explosion of totally natural sugars. In ancient times, when snacks and preservatives didn’t exist, they were a precious and exquisite pudding. The figs were dried under the sun on the hotter days and then covered in ‘cooked wine’ or chocolate. Whoever is over 40 years of age remembers having stolen dried figs from the pantry.
Almonds on the other hand, are always good: when they are very fresh and just picked off the tree, when you sit on a dry stone wall and you break the shell with a stone; when they are ripe and are beaten and gathered in nets to be dried in the sun and preserved for the winter; when they are processed to make cakes and incredible dishes. The perfume of almonds from Salento is rich and dense, ancient. It’s very hard to forget.
Almond based cakes are the most exquisite also because almonds are highly sought after and expensive. So, while you are strolling around Leuca, stop at a paistry shop or in a bakery and taste some of their delicacies. The small almond paste cakes, that are traditionally given out at weddings, are the most common. They are decorated with candied fruit or coffee beans, but other delicacies also sit on the shelves, for example, marzipans made with sugar and almonds, or ‘mostaccioli’ made with hazlenuts, walnuts and almonds.
To finish this September array of delicacies in style, we cannot forget a humble fruit, simple and rare, the quince, the fruit of a tree that isn’t cultivated much. You cannot eat the fruit raw because it is very hard and sour but if you cook it, it releases an incomparable perfume and sweetness. Usually the quince iss used to make excellent marmelades to be eaten during the winter or to make the ‘cotognata’ a semi-solid preserve to be eaten in pieces with sugar. It can also be cooked in water with sugar and cinnamon and eaten as a snack or at tea time.
What are you waiting for? Immerge yourselves in the perfumes and taste of September in Salento!