Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Figs to pomegranates, olives to oskorusa ripen in Croatia's sun
The figs weren't quite ripe but we passed plenty of them during our hikes on Croatia's islands.
Mediterranean fruits and vegetables were commonly encountered during our harvest season voyage among the Adriatic islands off the coast of Croatia. Even though we set sail from Dubrovnik in the middle of September, when tomatoes were at their delicious peak, there were lots of things not yet ready to be picked. Olives and figs still had a few weeks, at least, before becoming ripe enough to use but since I’m not familiar with growing either, I’m not a good judge. We saw both fruits growing abundantly as we passed farms and gardens on our hikes.
Every morning on board the ship, our chef put out fresh ripe tomatoes layered with freshly made mozzarella cheese and drizzled it with the most delicious olive oil. Eggs with the almost-orange yolks produced by free ranging chickens also were a part of every breakfast. There was not a single meal aboard the Romanca that overlooked the wonderful produce that surrounded us on land and in the sea.
This is what the local market vendor called an oskorusa
My love of outdoor markets was easy to indulge in villages we visited. At one of them, I discovered a fruit the vendor called oskorusa, a small reddish brown fruit resembling a small apple but tasting much different. The vendor gave me a taste and it wasn’t like anything I’d tasted before. I didn’t buy any but wish I had since the lore surrounding it claims it improved concentration and memory and aids in digestion.
It almost tastes like an apple.
Luscious olive oils were sold from farmhouses found along our hiking routes.
We also were able to engage in an olive oil tasting at one market, where the grower had oils arranged from mild to more peppery tastes. Croatian olive oils have gained some real acclaim among foodies in recent years and it was quickly apparent why. Several of my shipmates bought olive oils to pack and take home with them.
These grapes were among the few that weren't yet picked during our mid-September voyage among Croatia's islands.
Grapes were being picked by hand — usually by women — everywhere we went. Most Croatian vineyards are small — 10 to 15 acres— and only Grgch Winery buys from several growers to make wines. Grgch Hill Estate Wines in Napa Valley are extraordinary wines developed by Mike Grgch who moved there from Croatia years ago.
A decade or ago he returned to help Croatian winemakers develop their wine industry and has created some remarkably good wines by making wine blends from Croatian grapes. Research he did has pretty well proven that the Zinfandel grapes so successfully grown in California today originally came from Croatia.
This pomegranate certainly looks ready to pick.
Pomegranates hung heavy on their trees, growing redder and riper in the warm Croatian sunshine. Although the part of Croatia we visited is on about the same parallel as Rome it seemed hotter and drier than that Italian city. It was a very pleasant dry heat and not at all uncomfortable. At night it cooled down beautifully and the Romanca only needed to run its air conditioning a few times at night. We all had porthole style windows in our rooms and I’d packed a battery-operated clip-on fan that brought the cool outside air into my room, which was below decks. It was important, however, to remember to close the port hole window once we got underway or risk bringing the Adriatic waves onto my bed.