When I think of my time spent in various places in
the Mediterranean, fruit is one of the first things that
comes to mind. It is such an integral part of the culture
that it’s difficult not to get swept away by its sensual
appeal. Fresh, local, seasonal, and often organic, the
fruits of the region are culinary jewels begging to
be savored. I have my favorites in each country, and,
believe it or not, often make travel plans depending on
the fruit harvests!
I can’t imagine my life in Italy without thinking of fresh
figs. My landlady in Rome used to bring me plates
of them from her tree—a definite perk to living in
her building! The southern Italian region of Calabria,
my ancestral homeland, is famous for its figs. After
the harvest, thousands of fresh figs are decked out
on wooden planks to dry in the sun. Later, they are
transformed into sweet and savory cookies, preserves,
bread, cakes, and more.
In Egypt, where I’ve spent a great deal of time, as well
as in the rest of North Africa, early spring is orange sea-
son. Take a drive near an orange orchard, and you can
smell the thick, musky citrus scent from about a mile
(1.6 km) before you can even see the trees. The smell
is so intoxicating that when I return home, I often find
myself sniffing and sipping orange blossom water, just
to be transported back to that magical place.
In the North African and Middle Eastern regions of the
Mediterranean, October is date season. Fresh dates
taste nothing like the dried supermarket varieties that
we get in the United States, no matter how great
the quality is. There are scores of fresh date varieties
to choose from, and they usually are ruby or amber
colored, about the size of a large jalapeño pepper, and
have a slightly fibrous texture like celery. Their flavor is
similar to an apple, yet more complex. Many countries
have date festivals where the whole community gathers
to harvest the dates, and they are transformed into
date breads, cookies, molasses, puddings, and more.
My affection for fruit is not unique. Everyone who hails
from the region feels the same way. Since antiquity,
communities relied on fresh fruit not only as a culinary
ingredient, but often as a trading commodity. Entire
villages and towns would (and often still do) celebrate
the harvests of grapes, oranges, figs, dates, cherries,
apples, pears, peaches, pomegranates, persimmons,
and other fruits. In addition to their entertainment
value, these festivals also played an important role in
the marketing of fruit and fruit products. By demon-
strating dozens of ways in which fruits and other
culinary ingredients could be used, high levels of fruit
consumption became second nature.
Most of these fruits are native to the region, while
others, such as melons and peaches, were introduced
via the Silk Road trading with Central Asia. While the
Silk Road commerce is often associated with spices and
textiles alone, many foods and cooking methods were
exchanged as well. The great civilizations of China,
India, Egypt, Persia, Rome, and Arabia were fortified by
the powerful commercial ties that the route provided
from approximately 500 BCE to 1500 CE.

Nutritional Benefits
The high amount of fiber and other nutrients in fruit
make it the perfect food for people on the go. Accord-
ing to Catherine Itsiopoulos, A.P.D., A.N., head of the
Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at La
Trobe University in Melbourne, who has conducted
numerous research studies on the Mediterranean diet,
“fresh fruit should be eaten daily,” and “dried fruit and
nuts should be consumed as snacks and desserts.”
Studies conducted around the globe for decades have
shown that consuming a diet high in fruits and vegeta-
bles lowers risks for chronic illnesses, including cancer
and cardiovascular disease. Until recently, however, it
was difficult to determine exactly how those already
suffering from heart disease could improve their health
with the diet. But a landmark 2013 study conducted by
Dr. Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the
University of Barcelona, proves that heart disease can
be reduced by 30 percent by following a Mediterra-
nean diet consisting of balanced meals with fruits,
vegetables, and olive oil.
The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention
and Health Promotion has also proven that a diet high
in fruits and vegetables may help people to manage
their weight, in addition to lowering risk for chronic
diseases and improving overall health. According to re-
searchers, the water and fiber in fruits increase volume
and therefore reduce energy density of the food. This
is important because foods with high energy density
have a high number of calories per weight of food,
and cause weight gain. Fruits make you feel fuller
faster with fewer calories. The study also illustrated the
importance of dietary fiber in weight regulation. Whole
fruit not only contains more fiber because of the peel,
but it is considered lower in energy density (calories per
weight) and more fulfilling than fruit juices, making it
the top choice, when available.
The recipes that follow are for fruit-based snacks,
breakfasts, and desserts. Let your imagination be your
guide and challenge yourself to incorporate mouth-
watering fruit into each of your meals.