Mediterranean cuisine is as famous for its healthiness as for its flavor, and it has been exported world-wide. A characteristic regional agriculture gives Mediterranean cooking its distinctiveness, a taste aesthetic that is a large part of cooking and dining here as well.
Though you wouldn’t guess it based upon the weather this week, our local climate is also Mediterranean, and we can grow a surprising number of the classic flavors of the region in our own orchards and gardens – though our relatively short and cool summer does impose some limits and challenges.
Rediscover some favorite flavors fresh from the garden, or expand your culinary horizons by growing some of the less frequently tried orchard and herb crops our Mediterranean climate allows us to grow.
Mediterranean tastes to grow at home:
Vegetable crops – a significant portion of the vegetable crops you already grow are from the region, but perhaps the defining vegetables of Mediterranean cuisine – tomatoes and peppers – are originally from the Americas. They were introduced to Spain as early as the 1500’s, and established so well that they became regional staples. Leaf and cole crops such as broccoli and spinach and root crops like carrots and onions are also Mediterranean crops commonly grown in our own local gardens.
Herb crops – We can grow almost the entire panoply of Mediterranean herbs, including garlic, bay, oregano, basil, rosemary, paprika, and thyme. Saffron can be grown here as well, though it is a little more challenging. Unfortunately, cumin does not ripen in our climate.
Fruit and nut crops – Grapes, pommes (apples, pears, and quinces) and stone fruits (cherries, peaches, apricots, and plums) are major crops both there and here. We can also grow figs and melons, though only a few varieties ripen with regularity because of our shorter, cooler summer. Pomegranates are usually only ornamental here, though some newer varieties that ripen earlier are now available. Dates are out of the question here, and citrus must be grown as indoor/outdoor container plants if you are brave enough to try them. We also grow most of the same nut crops – hazelnuts, walnuts, and chestnuts. Almonds present a challenge here due to their disease sensitivity and very early bloom time, though some are grown in home orchards locally. We cannot ripen pistachios here, though the trees are hardy enough. The most distinctively Mediterranean orchard crop – the olive – can be grown with some success, and is actually becoming a small-scale commercial crop in western Oregon.