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Aug 14, 2011 01:31 PM

Eating fresh fruit in Italy

I live in Italy and earlier this evening, my landlord halloed outside my window, and when I opened the door, he presented me with a plate of figs he had picked, and they became our dessert for dinner. I could spend three or four paragraphs raving about them, but instead I'll say:

I hang around Chowhound boards enough to see that most questions from people planning a trip focus on seeking the best restaurants, pizza, gelato, and some occasional ones about baked goods, oiive oil, wine and chocolate.

I urge you not to overlook the joys of eating fresh fruit -- instead of prepared desserts, including gelato -- when you are in Italy. And I urge my fellow Chowhounders who are Italy lovers to include in their advice about where to find good eats information about where to find good fresh fruit. In Italy, fresh fruit is often exceptional, bursting with flavor, better than any prepared dessert.

I realize it is a special treat to get fruit picked right off the tree or vine and handed to you, But even the lowliest alimentari (food shop) often has fruits in season that are real "wows" to eat, and almost everywhere you go in Italy, you will find food markets. Don't be shy about telling the vendor you are a tourist and you want to taste the very best.

Where I live, in Liguria, if you aren't staying somewhere where you can pick the fruit of the trees or bushes (not as uncommon as you might think), the covered market in Genova -- the Mercato Orientale on the via XX Settembre -- has many vendors that sell FANTASTIC fruit. I like to walk around the mercato more than once, eyeballing everything before making my purchases. Vendors are more than happy to give you a taste.

I don't know about places like Venice, Rome or Florence, but during the summer here in Liguria, even ordinary family-run stores have marvelous local forest berries, wild blueberries, melons, apricots, watermelons, and especially peaches. We also get wonderful green plums and teeny sweet violet plums. Come fall, fig season really reaches its peak, but we also have fantastic pears (especially giant "abate" pear) and persimmons, both of which last all winter. (Apples are best much closer to the Alps.)

We also get incredibly sweet tangerines and clementines in November and early winter. We all wait for spring and the return of strawberries.

A great many Italian fresh fruits have a density and complexity that has been lost in other countries. I have a terrific sweet tooth, but I have yet to discover the Italian "dessert" or dolci that matches the impact of ripe, fresh Italian fruit.

While you are touring Italy, consider pausing to buy fresh fruit as your afternoon snack, or as a treat to take on your train rides. I don't think you can taste fruit as good as this in many places outside Italy.

Maybe fellow Chowhounders who live in other parts of Italy can add to this post and guide you to some quality vendors or highlight regional specialties that will give you an insight into the fundamentals of Italy as a very, very tasty country.

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  1. I can't agree more. Even in Venice proper where everything is shipped in: excellent pears (our favorite with cheese for dessert) and just simple oranges, clementine and blood oranges from Sicily during March; then the strawberries arrives and some wild ones. Too bad that I am never there in the summer to enjoy the apricots and peaches. September, there is still some good figs and sweetest and most aromatic muscat grapes.

    3 Replies
    1. re: PBSF

      I would make the trip to Italy for those grapes alone. As I recall it from a September visit, they were from the Veneto, and appeared in a number of colors/sizes in the Rialto market. The moscato grapes from Sicily and Calabria were good too, but those we had in Venice in the fall were particularly nice. Also the excellent local apples in the Naples area - Annurca, well worth search for if you are there in the fall. The attached article describes the unusual and time consuming harvest/ripening method.

      Wild strawberries, muscat grapes and amazing tomatoes are among my favorite Italian food memories.

      1. re: jen kalb

        Those muscats in Calabria and Sicily--zibibbo--are often just off a local vine and amazingly delicious So, too are mandarini/clementines, which are almost everywhere for the picking in Calabria. Don't forget kaki( persimmons ), or fichi d'india, prickly/cactcus pears, which are almost wild for the picking, too, but with caution. Melone giallo, those figs of all colors, annurca apples in Campania, blood oranges off a street stand in Naples And there's something additionally satisfying about eating fruit all'italiana, at table, or on a park bench, washed, cut/peeled, and savored.

        1. re: bob96

          I still dream about the fabulous little pears I had in Calabria last August! Wish I could have been their in citrus season.

    2. Still remember a gigantic perfect peach in Florence a long time ago. To this date l never have eaten a peach so wonderful.

      1. Wow, what a great post! Made me so hungry I went downstairs and ate a really good peach. I live in Northern Virginia and the stone fruits are in, the tomatoes are in and soon the corn will be in. Life is good here this time of the year. Picked some figs off the tree at the MOL's house today, Haven't tried them yet, but can't wait.

        Thanks again. Enjoy!

        1. Bravissima...I agree with you 100%!!! We live in Florence (and my husband goes to Liguria 3 times a week because he is a tour/hiking guide in 5T).

          Here in Florence, many established Florentines (like my landlady) have gardens in the country (Fiesole) and bring back wonderful fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. I am lucky that she is generous and always brings back something for us.

          For tourists, I can suggest the Mercato Centrale (go to Conti- he is famous for his amazing produce) or Mercato S. Ambrogio. Both of these markets have outdoor fruit & vegetable vendors. Even the local supermarkets get good produce!

          Remember, in Italy (and the rest of the Mediterranean) people eat what is FRESH and IN SEASON, so try to stick by that rule and you will eat the best quality produce. Also (and I have to mention this) there is 1 gelateria in the city that makes artisan gelato with whatever is in season- blueberry, plum, peach, fig and even pumpkin and chestnut in the autumn- no artificial ingredients, just 100% pure fruit, a bit of sugar and ice, Gelateria PERCHE NO?

          Sorry, I had to mention it since tourists & locals LOVE gelato and this place makes the best sorbetti you will ever eat :)

          1. Speaking of peaches, just posted a blurb on these beauties at I eat 'em like popcorn. As a friend once said, juice streaming down her chin, "...the peaches of my youth..."

            Find these and a range of other fruits (much of it from Sicily) at the Rialto daily except Sunday, but there are markets scattered throughout the city, like one strung along San Leonardo near the Guglie bridge.