Croatia in summer means an enormous array of fresh produce ready for the picking. I’m totally crazy for summer fruit. In our family fruit reigns as dessert with big bowls of fruit salad, berries and cream, stewed plums or peaches with ice cream or big inviting fruit bowls front and center in the fridge. Also in Australia summer fruit means Christmas and with that holidaaaays. So imagine my excitement when we started riding past cherry, apricot and fig trees laden with heavy branches! It felt like Christmas had come early.
Our first clue that this country was pretty special was noticing a couple of people bending across the embankments on the side of the road. Keeping an eye out on our side to see what they were gathering we realised it was wild strawberries. The embankments were dotted here and there with tiny flashes of red. We were lucky we were on bikes because we could stop where cars couldn’t and have whole patches to ourselves. They reminded me of dried strawberries with a slight fizziness in flavour. It took a couple of minutes to gather a handful as they were so tiny but we could scope them out quite easily once we knew what we were looking for. After that there were definitely a few extra rest stops by the side of highways.
Next we wised up to what a cherry tree looks like. These trees were everywhere, one of our campsites had a line of them, another few were hanging nonchalantly across a supermarket car park. Most of the good trees bottom branches were completely stripped but it didn’t matter as tiny roadside stalls, consisting of a small table, umbrella and scales, would sell them by the kilo for €4/$5.75AUD. One old gentleman just had a wheelbarrow full. There was a few days of stopping by a stall and strapping a plastic bag filled with cherries on the back of our bikes.
Tiny roadside stalls meant there would be even bigger produce markets in towns. For example the most famous, step back in time, part of the Split is undoubtedly the Diocletian’s Palace, an ancient palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD, that today forms the bustling center of the city.
Shops, cafes and restaurants have been built throughout the ancient palace fortifications like vines encroaching a tree.
But just through the ruins though is the Green Market or Pazar, a massive fresh food market with hundreds of stalls with brightly striped umbrellas and tumbling piles of fresh produce.
The ubiquitous cherries as always, scooped into kilos and half kilos.
Stacks of blushing apricots ripe and sweet.
Stalls were a jumble of small produce from people’s gardens or giant greengrocer stalls focusing on what they do best. We walked through stuffing our faces with a punnet of raspberries from a berry seller.
All kinds of other produce was for sale including prosciutto, cheeses, fresh seafood, flowers, even antiques. Of course, as always, there were a few stalls of souvenirs and beach accessories.
We came away with our backpack full of cherries, apricots, peaches, bananas, tomatoes, onions and potatoes.
Everyone seems to be able to make homemade liquor, the most common flavours being cherry or walnut. We were offered a shot at the end of our meal at restaurants (it’s polite here to sip and savour instead of knocking it back). Small bottles were invitingly left in shared kitchens. We were even offered free pours from a whole bottle at a campsite to go with our fresh fruit.
I must say drinking cherry liquor while eating fresh cherries is pretty damn spectacular!