Last Friday we gave some tips to prepare delicious dishes from the Vega Baja, south of the province of Alicante, on the Costa Blanca. Today, we will see the most representative fruits of this area that we call “the orchard of Europe”.
The lemon tree is native to northern Burma and southern China. In the western world, it was cultivated first in the Italian peninsula and in Sicily. It was implanted in Palestine in the thirteenth century, later in Spain, in the semiarid areas of Murcia and Alicante. Lemons are produced throughout our region, Albatera being one of the main citrus producers in the region.
The two most important varieties, grown in the Valencian Community, of Spanish origin and by order of importance, are Verna and Fino. The cultivation of the lemon depends on the variety. The quantity of water and fertilization vary according to the time of harvest. The lemon verna, mostly grown in Albatera, is harvested in a staggered manner and offers several harvests during the year, since the fruits remain in the tree for long periods of time without losing quality.
The orange is an edible citrus fruit, obtained from the sweet orange tree, native to India, Vietnam or the southeast of China, probably coming from Portugal a long time ago to our region. Oranges are produced throughout our region, being another of the main citrus producers.
The variety of our region is the Valencian orange, Valencia late, or Valencia tardía, the fruit is medium to large in size and has a high content of orange juice, almost seedless so it is one of the sweet varieties used in Spain for juice extraction.
The pomegranate comes from the Middle East, the interior of Asia Minor, the Transcaucasia, Iran and the highlands of Turkmenistan. It was cultivated by Greeks and Phoenicians who introduced it to Carthage. There are numerous varieties of pomegranate. The most important is the so-called Mollar which is of great quality and it is the one that will benefit from the future designation of origin for the production of Elche, Albatera, San Isidro and Crevillente. Other well-known varieties are Albar, San Felipe or Valenciana, Piñonenca, Cajín, Piñon tierno and Pulpí, existing others of purely local scope.
The most important production areas are in the province of Alicante, specifically Albatera, San Isidro, Crevillente and Elche, which are responsible for 96% of national production with more than twenty thousand hectares cultivated, highlighting Albatera as the first producer of pomegranate in the world.
The cultivation of the pomegranate is undemanding both in the quality of the soils and the waters, tolerating very well the high salinity indexes. This resistance to adverse conditions has meant that, during the five years of drought suffered at the beginning of the nineties, it was the least affected tree and, moreover, the one that has recovered most quickly. Farmers, due to insecurity in the water, have tripled the pomegranate plantations. Therefore, which at first was limited to family gardens for self-consumption, has become an important source of income for farmers. The pomegranates are harvested in autumn (September-November) and have a very sensitive skin.
The fig tree (Ficus carica L.) is a typical rain-fed tree in the Mediterranean countries. More than 750 species are known, from all the warm regions, the most well known being the ordinary fig tree (Ficus carica L.) native to the East.
Fig trees commonly grown are classified into two groups, according to one or two kinds of fruit per year: figs that bear fruits in May-June and in July, and common figs, properly speaking, that only give one harvest in August-September.
The brevas have a high commercial value due to their size, superior to that of the figs, their attractive appearance and the dates in which they ripen. The figs are the same colour as the brevas but smaller in size. They are of sweeter flavour but with less aroma. In fresh trade, it has a lower value than brevas.
The dates are the fruits of date palms (Phoenix dactylifera), a palm tree that can reach 30 meters in height. Date palms grow in a natural state in North Africa. They can be seen in great abundance in Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Iraq and Palestine, although it also appears cultivated in many regions of the world of warm climate. Its expansion area extends from the Canary Islands to India.
In order to produce dates, female palm trees need to have male feet in close proximity. When they are grown, pollination is usually done artificially (male inflorescence is cut and hung in the centre of the feminine ones). Dates can only mature in areas of hot and dry climate, like our region.
In Spain, there are northern palm groves. The palm groves of Albatera, Orihuela and Elche, which is the most important in the province of Alicante, are plantations from the Muslim domination that sowed the surroundings of the city with date palms. In this way, this plant could take advantage of an area with low rainfall. These palm groves are a place of great tourist importance at the same time that provides a good harvest of dates and the raw material to make the white palms with which the procession of Palm Sunday is decorated.
The south of Costa Blanca not only offers an excellent climate and a rich gastronomy, it also produces healthy and fresh fruits that contribute to a great quality of life. Last Tuesday, we published a post about Tips to prepare delicious typical dishes of the Vega Baja, Costa Blanca. Discover it here.