Having just returned from my, ahem, research trip to Crete, where i sampled many of the local delicacies, which included semi-feral food garnered from the neatly planted beds and borders of the posh resort where we stayed. Though the resort staff disagreed with my plan to harvest honey from a bees nest in a carob tree next to the bar, they did not catch me liberating the prickly pears, pomegranates, carob pods and mint, so I have these delights to bring you all.
So, Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica, or Indian Fig) is a spectacular dinosaur-like arid climate species that produces Vitamin c rich edible fruits from its big flat plate like protusions (are they leaves!?) DO NOT do what i did the first time many years ago and grab the fruit whole heartedly with a bare hand. If you do this gazillions of tiny blade like hairs will insert themselves into your skin and they are REALLY hard to get out. If you use the tips of your fingers and watch what you are doing you will miss the hairs!!
Prickly Pear Sorbet with Greek Yogurt
4 prickly pear fruits
4 sprigs of wild peppermint
small tub of Greek yogurt
- Cut fruits in half and Scoop out the insides with a spoon, put all of this in a bowl and break up with a fork.
- Squeeze in the lemon juice.
- Put in the freezer for a few hours or until solid.
- Crush it up with a fork again then quickly put the Greek yogurt into two dessert or wine glasses and scoop the prickly pear mixture on top.
- Add a sprig of mint.
- Serve immediately or place in the freezer.
Carob (Ceratonia siliqua) grows everywhere in Crete, and is a magnet for bees that also appreciate its mild sweetness, every tree sounds like a bee hive! Mostly known as a chocolate substitute, it was used during the war as a rich source of calcium (the syrup contains 3 times more than milk!) and fibre as well as minerals. Nowadays its mostly used to make locust bean gum for use in foods, but ive brought enough back to make some kind of chocolateless drink so will get back with that later….
Olives. (Olea europea).this wouldn’t be complete without one of Crete’s biggest exports – fine olive oil. eaten without preparation, olives are disgustingly bitter (believe me, ive tried them in Homebase garden centre before). But as olive oil thye provide a high energy healthy-ish fat that you can splurge raw to make salad tasty…
Pomegranates are good for the heart and a gateway to the Underworld, just ask Persephone.
Aloes can be used as first aid for cuts, bits, stings and rashes. Just break a dragon-like leaf off and rub the jelly on the wound.
I also found palm seeds but they are not edible apparently! The bark sheets can be used to make a roof and matting etc.
The Thorny Burnet plant grows close to the ground, constructed of vicious spines (and an excellent choice for my 20 month old son to sit on). It was traditionally used to stuff in the roofs of houses to stop mice and rats. Having touched this plant i will vouch for its efficiacy and its a good one to know if you ever have to make a survival shelter in the Cretan outback.
I found a type of Juniperus sps on Crissi Island, the oil can be used to treat inflammation and wind and to clear the lungs. Also to make gin (yuck)…
Last but not least, one to avoid and not let your kids eat…Oleander (Nerium oleander) has pretty pink and white flowers and spiky leaves and will cause you a trip to a foreign A&E if you ingest it. It was made famous by the book ‘White Oleander’.
Well thats all from the Aegean isles, now for mushroom season in rainy Britain….
Stay tuned folks!