We are blessed in the Algarve with the perfect climate that allows for an abundance of locally grown produce. Go to any of the local markets and your eyes and senses will be awoken by the sheer array of colour and smell of the fresh produce more often than not, grown, picked and sold directly by the local farmers. The Algarve is one of the few places where the locals still shop at markets for most of their daily consumption so don't be surprised to find the markets bustling and noisy. You'll find the choice of fruit and vegetables all of which of course are in season, beyond any selection you will find in a supermarket. Summer fruits and salad items are grown and harvested all year round.
The wonderful selection of other local produce such as meat, fish, cheese, cured meats, bread, herbs, honey (available in every shade depending what the bees have feasted on) jams and preserves means you truly could fill your basket for almost all of your needs.
In late Summer you will find fig trees heavily laden down with an abundance of delicate, soft and ripe fruit - nothing compares to eating figs, fresh from the tree, oozing their sweet and almost jam like flesh.
You cannot fail to see the abundance of olive trees in the Algarve. Most are ready to harvest in late September when the juice turns cloudy, at the “green ripe” stage. They ripen to an uneven reddish-brown through November, finally darkening to the “naturally black ripe” stage by early December. Olives in this stage have their highest oil content and are easily bruised.
The orchards full of Citrus fruit fill large areas of the Barrocal but many homeowners will enjoy such fruit from their own gardens. There is nothing better on a cold Winter's morning than to go out and pick oranges from your own trees to make the freshest juice or pick a lemon just in time for a Gin & Tonic.
Here we will guide you through just a selection of what's available from "Nature's basket" here in the Algarve. We have dedicated a whole Page to the "Bounty from the Sea" - just click on the link below:
Almonds - Amendoeiras
You will not be able to miss the countless Almond trees in bloom that fill up the fields and countless gardens with their delicate white and pink blossom in January and February each year in the Algarve.
There is a legend in the Algarve that tells the story that the almond trees first appeared in the region, particularly in the Silves area, around the time of the Arab occupation, many hundreds of years ago. After one of his many battles, the Arab King Ibn-Almundim fell in love with one of his prisoners, a tall, blond and blue eyed Princess called Gilda. As time went by, and after he had given her her freedom, he ended up winning her heart and marrying her. But one day, the Princess, feeling homesick, fell into a deep depression. The King, desperate, ended up finding a solution and he ordered almond trees to be planted all over the region. The following Spring the King took the Princess to one of their terraces so that they could both look over the almond trees that, at the time, where then covered with small white flowers. Seeing that scenery that resembled her homelands’ snow, the Princess cured her depression and started to improve day after day.
There are 86 different species of almonds that grow in the Algarve.
The almond nut contains calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium and vitamin B6; a healthy food for our daily diet. Eating the nuts raw or toasted is said to reduce heart problems and cholesterol.
Not quite as healthy but delicious are the Portuguese almond desserts. Marzipan fruits and figures are plentiful, as are almond cakes, pies and biscuits, all of which must be tried but not in excess!
Examples of two liqueurs made in the Algarve from almonds are Amendoa – a light liqueur made from bitter almonds and Amarguinha – almond liqueur often combined with lemon.
Apricots grow particularly well in the Algarve. Most varieties are self-fruiting, which means you don’t need two trees to get fruit. However, by growing two apricot trees close to each other should mean you get a higher yield and the crop of the apricot tree can be so good that it can be overwhelming, with up to one and a half kilos of fruit per day! The crop is normally ready May to the middle of June so you will see an abundance of this delicious fruit in the markets at this time of the year and if lucky enough to be growing our own there can be a lot of bottling, preserving and conserving to ensure the crop does not go to waste but then the reward of enjoying your crop through the winter months.
Whilst the production of avocados in the Algarve has sparked strong opinions we cannot ignore that this crop grown locally is becoming more and more available in the local markets and supermarkets.
Exceptional climate conditions in the Region and due to to the fruit being recognised as very beneficial to human health, avocado farms are becoming more and more common in the Algarve.
With a fruit that is so popular served in many ways, you will at least find locally grown, delicious ripe fruit that you can enjoy in the Algarve without the fear of it never ripening in your fruit bowl, being so often the case in Northern Europe.
The seeds of the carob tree are found in pods that hang like pea pods. Surprisingly the tree is actually part of the pea family. Regardless of the size of the pod, each seed (carob) is so uniform in size and mass that it was used to measure weights, namely gold. Hence the name carat (derived from carob) for the weight of actual gold found in each nugget. This term is still used today by jewellers and gold dealers the world over.
Carob seeds removed from the pod are used to make locust bean gum, sometimes known as Ceratonia. This product is extremely good in confectionary as it can be used as a stabilizer, emulsifier or thickener and can also prevent sugar crystallising.
The dark brown or black pods are edible too and are ground into flour that is rich in sucrose as well as containing Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, Phosphorus, Potassium Manganese, Barium, Copper, Nickel and the vitamins A, B, B2, B3, and D.
The flour is often used in health foods and for giving a chocolate flavour. It’s low in calories, fat free, rich in pectin and protein and has no oxalic acid, which interferes with the absorption of calcium. All in all a healthier option to cocoa powder.
Carob is also used to make molasses and alcohol and, in addition, can also be used as a substitute for coffee and eggs!
The plumpest, juiciest and sweetest cherries are found right here in the Algarve. The fruit is ready early to mid summer and it does pay to shop carefully however and to test what’s on offer. The markets provide a variety of different cherries and may show quite a difference in their prices per kilo.
You cannot fail to see that all winter long there are trees full of citrus fruits, filling the countryside of the Algarve with their vibrant colours. The heavenly scented blossoms turning into oranges, lemons, grapefruits and tangerines. They’re all here in huge quantities. Suddenly, all over the Algarve, there’s an abundance of locally grown citrus fruit in the markets and anyone with trees growing in your own garden will know there's no need to go and buy any fruit. Simply wonder out into the garden and pick what you need straight from the tree.
Another fruit synonymous with the Algarve is the fig.
Fig trees are very adaptable, able to grow in fresh soil or rocky outcrops. They are drought resistant, using their deep roots to find underground water sources.
Found mostly in the Middle East and Mediterranean areas, they thrive in hot, dry and sunny climates. A fig tree can grow up to ten metres in height and their large and wide leaves give wonderful shade for humans and animals alike.
They were introduced to the Algarve by the Moors and these wonderful fruits are either green with a sharp flavour or purple and very sweet. They don’t last long once they’ve been picked but there is nothing better than eating the ripe flesh of a fig picked straight from the tree. Drying to preserve them in the Algarve is popular. Either way, they are nutritious and delicious.
Honey from the Algarve is a wonderful, natural product not least because of the choice. Bees in the region get to feast on orange blossom, lavender, rosemary and Alfaroba (carob) varieties. Honey not only tastes delicious but adds sweetness and flavour to so many dishes.
Visit a local market and you will see the
the beautifully decorated pots of Algarvean honey with all its different varieties and flavours.
These trees are not cultivated but grow wild although go up into the hills and you will see that landowners do plant them. The fruit is picked by locals who then distil it into Medronho. Very few have a licence for this practice but the “moonshine” is tolerated by the authorities, who accept this as a traditional speciality. Medronho is very strong and it’s not advisable to have more than one.
One of the pleasures of the Portuguese and indeed Algarve Summer is eating melon and you will find an abundance in the markets of many varieties including some of the largest watermelons. But melons are like lottery tickets. You can win the grand prize, a perfectly ripe melon bursting with sweetness, or strike out and get a tasteless specimen. Our advice is to ask a melon seller to pick a ripe melon for you. If the melon is lousy, just say “que melão!” ("what a melon!") and move on. If the melon is great, celebrate with a great bottle of wine!
The Nespera in some parts of the world is considered a rare and therefore expensive fruit. The same cannot be said for here but in the Algarve where the trees are prolific is often considered to be a weed by the locals. The nespera fruit is the size and colour of an apricot and develops brown patches as it ripens so not the prettiest of fruits. However, you can make delicious pies and cakes with them!
As you drive through the Algarve you will not be able to fail to see all of the the wild olive trees that are everywhere in the Algarve, many are more than a thousand years old. The region though has huge olive groves that are cultivated and tended.
The olive is a fascinating fruit whether you love or hate it and the oil it produces is very healthy.
By the end of August the trees will be laden with fruit but the farmers wait as long as they can for the first rains, which then plump up the fruit. This is when “olive picking” starts. Lower branches are usually handpicked. Next come the plastic sheets that are laid under each tree. Long poles are brought into use and the olives are shaken from the higher branches onto the sheets below.
Once the picking is finished there are two choices; take them to the olive press to make oil or take them to the canning factory.
Generally five kilos of olives makes a litre of oil, but this depends on the rainfall and the quality of the oil being virgin or extra virgin
In the mountains of Monchique lies the oldest, classical olive press still in use. It never advertises and there are no signposts, not even on the doors of the press, only the locals know of it and outsiders have to ask the way. Two giant upright stones slowly grind the cleaned olives to a paste from which the oil is pressed out and the filtering process begins.
The more the oil is filtered the more virgin it is. Whichever method is used, there’s nothing more satisfying than harvesting, pressing and producing your own olive oil, or buying it fresh from the press. There are various co-operatives in the Algarve where you can take your olives to have them pressed and in return you receive back bottles of olive oil calculated to the weight of your crop.
Some of the world’s best artisan olive oils are produced in the Algarve. To see this traditional process in action, visit the family-run Monterosa Olive Oil farm in Moncarapacho. Olives are picked by hand from their 20-hectare orchard and pressed in a granite stone mill. Monterosa organises tours 3 times a week, followed by tastings of their award-winning oils from the fresh and sweet Maçanilha to the spicy and pungent Cobrançosa
The peaches in the Algarve are so juicy that you need to eat them over a bowl to catch their juice. Although the season is short they are plentiful and inexpensive.
Believe it or not but this tropical fruit is grown in the Algarve by specialist growers so when you do spot one in a local market don't be surprised that it won't have to have travelled very far
Plums were first discovered by the Portuguese in India. The dark purple plum will fruit first and plum jam, plum chutney and plum cake are all very popular at this time of the year. The tarter yellow plum is also very well-liked and is harvested slightly later.
Pomegranates originated in Iran many centuries ago but they’re now grown throughout the Mediterranean. A very hardy tree that will grow almost anywhere and you will often see them simply growing by the side of the road.
The skins of this fruit are really tough but, once you get inside, the fruit is delicious and these fiddly fruits are known for their health benefits
Portuguese strawberries are smaller, sweeter and juicier than the Spanish variety. You have to shop around to get the right ones at the right price, but the tasting process is delicious!
The selection of vegetables and salad crops is by far too extensive to list but go to any of the local markets and your eyes and senses will be awoken by the sheer array of colour and smell of the fresh produce more often than not, grown, picked and sold directly by the local farmers. The Algarve is one of the few places where the locals still shop at markets for most of their daily consumption so don't be surprised to find the markets bustling and noisy. You'll find the choice of fruit and vegetables all of which of course are in season, beyond any selection you will find in a supermarket. Summer fruits and salad items are grown and harvested all year round.