Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Cheap and frugal (Φθηνό και οικονομικό)

The concept of frugal food recently gripped the food-related sections of the mass media. In the UK, scientists (not cooks or nutritionists!) recently resurrected the toast sandwich, which is supposedly a very cheap nutritious meal, providing you with enough calories to fortify yourself without it being too fattening (as long as you don't eat more than one of these), made with just three slices of bread - a slice of toasted bread, buttered and seasoned, tucked into two slices of untoasted bread. Apparently, it costs 7.5p and yields 300 calories - very cheap* and very filling - but wholly unappealing.

The whole concept has been borne out of the global economic climate. It's nothing new: bread (not necessarily with marg) is often what sustains the poor all over Europe, but should be viewed with caution, as George Orwell's experiences tell us, in Paris...:
You discover what it is like to be hungry. With bread and margarine in your belly, you go out and look into the shop windows. Everywhere there is food insulting you in huge, wasteful piles; whole dead pigs, baskets of hot loaves, great yellow blocks of butter, strings of sausages, mountains of potatoes, vast Gruyere cheeses like grindstones... You discover that a man who has gone even a week on bread and margarine is not a man any longer, only a belly with a few accessory organs... Have you noticed how bread tastes when you have been hungry for a long time? Cold, wet, doughy—like putty almost. (George Orwell, 1933, Down and Out in Paris and London)

breakfast in paris breakfast in london
The budget traveller's hotel breakfast doesn't change much from London to Paris - except in the freshness and shape of the bread served. No need to tell you which photograph represents which city.

... and London:
... men... slightly underfed, but kept going by the tea-and-two-slices which the Londoner swallows every two hours... his cheeks had lanked and had that greyish, dirty in the grain look that comes of a bread and margarine diet... two years of bread and margarine had lowered his standards hopelessly. He had lived on this filthy imitation of food till his own mind and body were compounded of inferior stuff. It was malnutrition and not any native vice that had destroyed his manhood... Food, to him, had come to mean simply bread and margarine—the eternal tea-and-two-slices, which will cheat hunger for an hour or two... a ration which is probably not even meant to be sufficient... The result is that nearly every tramp is rotted by malnutrition; for proof of which one need only look at the men lining up outside any casual ward. (George Orwell, 1933, Down and Out in Paris and London)
bread slice
Freshly baked bread and olive oil make a hearty Greek snack any time of the day. My kids like this kind of snack in the evening. They toast thick country-style bread and pour olive oil over it, sprinkled with a little oregano and a little lemon juice. The bread is dense, crunchy on the outside, soft inside. This kind of bread meal probably won't be considered cheap in Northern European countries, where freshly baked bread is regarded as a 'gourmet', 'artisanal' product and olive oil is an expensive import. Pre-sliced bread is unsuitable for this kind of snack.

That Toast SandwichBread and oil are considered staples in Greece, but not in the same form as presented in the bread-and-marg meal: in Greece, spongey square mass-produced slices of bread are only considered edible in the form of a toasted sandwich filled with ham and cheese (at the very least). If this were ever to be presented to someone in Greece with the ham and cheese replaced by bread (and I wouldn't want to be the one to do it), the recipient would probably (and rightly) think of their host as completely lacking in social graces. Even the poorest Greeks right at this moment would laugh at the thought of such food being dubbed a meal. Moreover, Greeks do not resort to other commonly regarded cheap meals in the UK, such as tinned baked beans (~12p per 200g serving) or Chinese bowl noodles (~11p per packet). Again, these cost (much) more to buy in Greece, because, like the sliced-bread lunch, such convenience food has never been regarded as a real meal. (I bet many/most Greeks wouldn't know what to do with the tin/packet int he first place.) In the Greek price comparison sites, they aren't even listed, which shows that they aren't considered a common shopping item in Greece.

Above: Frugal meals in our house are very common because they make use of whatever is growing in the garden, which is what a lot of our meals are based on, supplemented by cheap store-bought carbohydrates like pasta and rice. Rice parcels can be made throughout the year with different seasonal leaves and herbs. Right: summer - zucchini flowers, vine leaves and tomatoes. Left: winter - squash flowers, wild-growing sorrel and chinese leaves from our garden (the seeds were a present from a friend). Nothing is truly 'free', but it can be considered as very economical.
Below: Lemon-cured olives collected from local trees, garden-fresh radishes and roasted peppers in olive oil, slow-roasted pork (the cheapest meat on the Greek market - Greeks generally eat less meat now) with freshly harvested potatoes from a friend's garden - a typical Sunday meat meal in our house. It is both frugal and sumptuous.

Frugal food means different things to different people, according to where they live and what their situation is. Urban dwellers' meal choices could theoretically be the ones containing the most variety because of the choices made available to the masses, but to have such variety on their table, they need to pay for it: they are in that difficult position of, generally speaking, needing to buy all their food needs, so their idea of frugal food is no doubt ruled by the contents of their wallets. Discount supermarkets are preferred to the corner store, with people using the street market (in Greece this is known as 'laiki' - λαϊκή) more often. In rural areas, frugal meal choices often combine great variety with high quality, depending on what's growing in the garden, the trees and the fields. There is an element of truth when they say "Το φαγητό είναι το λιγότερo"** in conjunction with the crisis. Their only restriction is that they must produce it themselves - for rural people, this comes naturally.

Despite Asian fare being considered the cheapest kind of restaurant meal in other European countries, in Greece, this kind of meal costs much more than a cheap taverna meal. But with the abundance of fresh ingredients available to the rural Cretan, even international cuisine can become standard fare at a miminum cost. Left: onion bhaji, garden-fresh sauteed chinese leaves (the seeds were a treasured present from a friend) with Greek cured meat (lountza - a kind of Greek bacon: a little goes a long way), and eggplant fried rice. Right: boiled rice, stir-fry chicken with black beans, and sauteed chinese leaves. Frugal daily meals consist of some kind of bean dish twice a week - but it's only cooked once: the second time we eat it, it will be a leftover from the same cooking session. Frugal meals mean being economical from many aspects: money, energy and time all count. 
pulses ospria beans

Greeks now earn less money and are required to pay more special taxes, often with little warning given, under the threat of having the power disconnected if they don't cough up. What we often took for granted has now come under heavy scrutiny. In the past, fruit fell off the trees and onto the ground - this rarely happens now (it's harvested before it falls). The four most oft-discussed topics we hear being talked about concern what heating fuel we use (this one tops the list), which system heats our water supply (ie do we have solar panels, and is our water heater connected to the central heating system), what's growing in our garden these days and whether the latest tax bill has come yet. 

 Heating fuel has now become very expensive, so most people in Hania are now investing in fireplaces or indoor wood-burning ovens/heaters. This is our pile of firewood - the heater will be purchased soon.

We also hear stories about food insecurity, as they apply to other people: Άλλοι πεινάνε - καλά είμαστε εδώ***. This pretty much sums up city life for me: it was never really sustainable. Frugality is nothing new to most rural dwellers. They've been living in crisis mode most of their lives, well before the global economic crisis even hit the news. They've never thought of any part of their income as 'disposable' - to them, that part was always called 'savings'.

A meal out is definitely out for now (pun not intended) - when we eat 'out', it's usually a cheap and tasty souvlaki every now and then: YA! near the Hania town hall sells them at 2 euro per pork gyro and 2.20 euro for chicken, beef or kebab.

Πενία τέχνας κατεργάζεται: "the need for survival (ie hunger) creates ways of survival", the Greek form of the proverb 'make, do and mend'.

*The same meal in Hania costs about 18 euro-cents (twice the price of its British variant): LIDL sliced bread costs E1.19/20 slices and E1.59/28 slices (the same bread could possibly be bought more cheaply from another supermarket).
**"Food is the least of our worries." 
***"Others are hungry - we're fine here." 

*** *** *** 

bread based skorthalia dipbakaliarosStale bread is never thrown out in our house (and probably not in other Greeks' houses now, either). Apart from warming it up (it softens this way) and spreading it with oil or butter, it is used in the mixture for biftekia (meat patties) and skordalia, a garlicky dip. The crusts are removed from stale slices of traditional bakery bread (it can be made with stale mass-produced bread too), which are soaked just a little so as to soften them and make them easy to blend with garlic, salt, vinegar and oil. I used a mixed-grain bread to make mine (pictured, above right), and left the crusts for dipping. This cheap and frugal bread dish is simple to make, and forms a staple part of a lenten meal, especially on Palm Sunday. The dip can also be made with boiled potato (pictured, above left) when there's no stale bread at hand. 

It may sound like the Greeks are eating bread with bread in this way - but again, skorthalia is never served on its own: in fact, it's traditionally accompanied by boiled beetroot and fried fish. It's all a matter of identity, not just a case of a more refined cuisine: you eat what you are.

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Friday 25 November 2011

Atherina (Aθερίνα)

Atherina is a Greek fish taverna favorite. It's a form of whitebait, very young fish. The most common Greek species of tiny fish takes its Greek (and scientific) name from the meaning "scorn" because it was looked down on for its size - but not its taste:
"Atherina, for the gourmets, is the ether of the sea and fish... it lives and bathes in the 'foam of the sea' like Aphrodite, and it has an ethereal appearance, beautiful, slender, with a translucent skin, and can be eaten raw! It doesn't have intestines, and doesn't smell 'fishy'. Those who have tasted it at its freshest say it tastes like shrimp, which can also be eaten raw." (Photos and translated text taken from Wikipedia)
The most common species of atherina (a kind of smelt) eaten in Greece is Atherina boyeri. It's nearly always fried, and tastes like fish chips. It is available most of the year at the fish markets in Hania (not during its spawning season), but it isn't always locally caught, and most of the atherina brought into the market is caught in breeding tanks through acquaculture, ie not fished "in the wild". These days, you can even buy (non-Mediterranean) atherina at the supermarket in the frozen products counter (at a much cheaper price than fresh atherina).

I recently saw some fresh atherina being brought in to the market, so I knew it was very fresh and local. At 8 euro a kilo, it isn't cheap, but I was not concerned with that dilemma at the time: the recipe I wanted to try out required fresh atherina. As I watched the atherina being poured into the crate in the fishmonger's display stand, whitebait fritters came to mind, a very Kiwi dish that I never had the chance to try while I was living there. My parents owned a fish and chip shop in Wellington, and I got my fill of Bluff oysters and paua fritters, but never had a chance to taste New Zealand whitebait, a kind of freshwater atherina. New Zealand whitebait was also subject to stricter fishing rules and regulations than oysters and paua; because of its limited use, it also needed to be eaten very fresh, hence it did not transport very well or quickly enough to urban centres.

 Atherina fried the Greek way

Greek atherina is cooked like potato chips. It needs a very light wash and the fish are so small that they do not need to be gutted or descaled. They are allowed to drain, then they are lightly floured and fried individually in very hot oil. Most cooks pick them up in threes from the tail and toss them into the hot oil together, so that they often come out stuck together.

 Whitebait fritters

Whitebait fritters are made by adding a little seasoned flour and egg (some people prefer only the egg white) to a cup of whitebait and cooking it fritter-style in a frying pan with a coating of butter (olive oil in my case). It's a very filling meal, best eaten with a plate of horta. And while we're at it, why not make some skordalia as a side dish?

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Monday 21 November 2011

Food, migration and identity (Διατροφικές αναμνήσιες και μετανάστευση)

This post continues from a previous post related to food, migration and identity.

Of migration, it is often said that the first generation leaves, the second returns, while the third is left to look for its roots. In a similar sense, the first generation brings their food with them, the second generation seeks their food, while the third generation tries to keep their food memories alive. I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine who was leaving Greece to return to her homeland gave me a little vial filled with rum essence. "I won't  be needing this any more, because I'm going back home", she said. She explained that it's used in Romania to give cakes their characteristic flavour, like we often use vanilla essence or orange zest in Greece. When she originally left her homeland, she carried her food with her. First-generation migrants adapt their food customs to suit the ingredients, technology, preparation time (among other factors) available in their new environment. The second generation often maintains these food customs to a certain degree. The third generation is often left with memories of such food, possibly nurtured by trips to their ancestors’ homeland. Nowadays such needs are catered for by the internet, which has become a powerful marketing tool in the food industry.

What is it with migrants and the way they seek food from their homeland? It isn't that their new environment lacks food - in fact, it probably contains even more variety than they were used to:
"...although the whole British colonial system had, in historical terms done a lot of things in different parts of the world barbaric and wrong – there is no doubt that this brought together people of so many different races, cultures and nationalities. I said well, how many in this audience tonight have had a Chinese meal, an Indian takeaway, a Greek or a Hungarian or Italian pizza or whatever, and everybody’s hand went up." (Leon Albert Murray, a Methodist minister, who came to England from Jamaica in the 1950s.)
the real greek

Greek! (London)

In the past, migrants were used to taking their food with them as they moved, in different ways: maybe an ingredient, or a cookbook, some cooking notes, passive knowledge of what they expect of food (ie their memories), or active knowledge of the culinary techniques of their culture (ie they cooked in their homeland). They may have carried ingredients in their suitcases, like my Romanian friend, or simply just kept their food memories in their head, like my mother. The migrant is constantly in search of a sign from home in the new country: his food is just as important as his people, his language, his music and his religion. Globalisation may have created a concept of global food, and in the migrant's case, it's made it easier to keep him/her close to their culinary culture: these days, the ingredients are easier to source, and the internet can make up for lack of technique in the novice cook. But at the same time, the migrant will be heard to say "It's not the same thing" when he eats something in the new country which he thought came from or looked like something he remembered from his homeland: the migrant is constantly in search of the authentic taste, something very hard to find away from the source.

traiteur grec
Grec! (Paris)

Following your nose can often lead you to where the migrant communities cluster: when you walk in the migrant ghettos of any large town or city, you can smell their food. In the past, when I took my children to after-school activities in the town, I particularly liked to walk in the early evening in the housing area of my town between the central market and the law courts for this reason, because it was a form of restaurant travel - I was transported to foreign places just by the aromas emanating from the kitchens of the homes in this inner-city area. The smells were not Greek. There was a smack of ginger, and a punch of coriander, mingled with a hint of saffron, and a number of other lesser known spices permeating the air. In the same way that the air of those houses was being infiltrated with new sounds of language and music, the walls of those homes were being lined with new aromas. The fluid nature of identity can best be observed in the immigrant behaviour, through their food.

economic migrants hania chania
Migrant housing in Hania

In the same way that it may be difficult to learn to speak another person's language, it may also be difficult to learn to cook/eat another person's cuisine. It's so much easier to simply understand it, in the same way that we try to understand what someone is saying to us in a foreign language, even though we don't speak the language well ourselves. When we try to speak a new language, we make mistakes, often sounding unnatural; above all, experimentation is the norm. That sounds just like what we do when we eat food that is foreign to us, food we don't know. The similarities between language and cuisine are greatly evidenced among migrant communities. But while we can be bilingual, can we really be bi-cuisinal?

What we eat, how we eat, and when we eat reflect the
complexity of wide cultural arrangements around food and foodways, the unique organization of
food systems, and existing social policies. (Mustafa Koc and Jennifer Welsh, 2002)

Other people's food feels almost like another language; it gets easier to cope with a new cuisine over time. Education plays a major - albeit sometimes subconscious - role, as it creates a positive attitude to other people's food: broadening our horizons means we become more accepting of other people's customs, including their cuisine; we learn to eat - and love - other people's food. Even though we may not be cooking other people's food in our own home (the difference between eating and cooking is similar to the difference between theory and practice), we learn from the multi-faceted experience of something different, with people whose food customs are not the same as ours.

As the migrant generations pass, all that may remain is the memory, often misguided by conflicting sources of information. When the moment comes that we find ourselves speaking that foreign language fluently, or eating that other cuisine as if we had been brought up on it, that's when we realise that maybe we have lost something from our past: the language of our home, just like the home-cooked meals of our mother, may be what we identify with culturally, but in the process of self-realisation, we may also have made them an integral part of our past. 

russian store hania chania
Russian food supplies store in Hania

Some cultures like to burp after a meal to show enjoyment, some cultures believe that their guests must never have their plate empty, others are offended when a guest empties their plate before the host: the rules of eating depend to a significant extent on the culture. Cretan table custom dictates that plates must never be taken away from the table when guests are eating, because this signifies that the guests are being asked to leave the host's house! Some cultures prefer using metallic utensils, while others prefer to wash their hands and eat with their fingers. While olive oil and vinegar may be set features of laying a table in Greece, they would like out of place in a Chinese restaurant where one would expect a bottle of soya sauce and a bowl of chili. Similarly, culinary preferences differ among cultures: just like those things that certain people prefer not to talk about, there are some items that certain cultures do not consider a food source. An Athenian once said to me that Cretans eat strange food, like broad beans, artichokes, snails, offal and sea urchins! Some people's food is other people's terror:
"All cultures go to considerable lengths to obtain preferred foods, and often ignore valuable food sources close at hand. The English do not eat horse and dog; Mohammedans refuse pork; Jews have a whole litany of forbidden foods (see Leviticus); Americans despise offal; Hindus taboo beef, and so on. People will not just eat anything, whatever the circumstances. In fact, omnivorousness is often treated as a joke. The Chinese are indeed thought by their more fastidious neighbors to eat anything. The Vietnamese used to say that the best way to get rid of the Americans would be to invite in the Chinese, who would surely find them good to eat." (Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective, by Robin Fox)
"Ο Κρητικός στη ξενιτειά πόσα λεφτά δε δίδει, να βρει μπουμπουριστούς χοχλιούς να φάει με το ξύδι;"
(How much would a Cretan pay - if he could only track - some fried snails dressed in vinegar - when in a foreign land?)

The further away migrants find themselves from their main point of food reference, the more food memories they begin to form. There are now more options available to them to help them keep their food memories alive: apart from asking their elders or seeking out the required information from the source, they can search the internet, browse through photos and read blogs. Whether it's a personal quest or simply a case of trying to preserve a family tradition, their memories preserve their identity. 

cake shop greenwich london
My own food memories take me back to New Zealand, to similar window displays in cake shops like this one.

The food of our memories is a keepsake; in the same way that we do not want to lose our memory, we do not want to lose our food. It may be a conscious or sub-conscious reminder of who we are. Our recollections of our food are forced out into the open the further away we find ourselves from the source: the more memories we have of food, the more we fight with our memory to keep those foods alive. Where would the modern food world be without the internet? My blog receives the average hits per day in the days preceding Easter: a Cretan Easter is associated with specific culinary creations: gardoumakia, kalitsounia, kreatotourta. Cretan migrant-families' food memories come alive at this time.

In Food, self and identity, Claude Fischler (1988) argues that identity formation is related to food: it combines two different dimensions, one of which runs from the biological to the cultural (i.e., the nutritional function to the symbolic function), while the other links the individual to the collective (i.e., the psychological to the social). Two aspects of the human relationship to food are stressed: the omnivorous nature of man and its multiple implications, and the process of incorporation and its associated representations. It is argued that omnivorousness implies a fundamental ambivalence, that 'you are what you eat' not only organically, but in terms of beliefs and representations. The more omnivorous people become, and the more accepting they are of cultural norms that are not associated with their own. Being an omnivore is akin to being free of prejudices, among the needs of self-actualisation, the highest ranking in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It could be argued that people are more likely to become more omnivorous when living in the western world, but that is another myth: westerners become more attached to technology, which is where they get their food from these days, implying that the formation of an identity - in other words, distinguishing oneself among others - is a primitive need; identity construction is an increasingly important area in consumption theories, consumers choosing products which match their current or aspired personalities.

Food conveys a common culture in the mish-mash melting-pot world. Love passes through the stomach, we often hear, as it did for Sami, an American-born Iranian, who fell in love with the immigrant Iranian Ziba: 
"As he came to know her... he noticed how much they understood about each other without discussion. A cloak of shared background surrounded them invisibly. She asked him in mid-March if he planned to go home for the next weekend, and she didn't need to explain that she meant for New Year's. He passed her on the library steps where she was eating a snack with a friend, and her snack was not chips or cookies or Ring Dings but a pear, which she was slicing into wedges with a tiny silver knife like the ones his mother set out with the fruit tray after every meal." (Anne Tyler, 2006, Digging to America)
Just think what divorce might mean in a bicultural family. One of the saddest memories from my childhood that often comes to my mind is when one of my Eurasian friends' parents got divorced. Her Chinese father used to do all the cooking in her house, but after the divorce, she stayed with her Kiwi mother while her father moved to another town. With the loss of her father's cooking, she felt that she had lost one of her most treasured possessions. Her forced identity transformation would have had serious detrimental effects in her teenage years.

Although Greece is currently in a state of transition, Greek (and more specifically Cretan) cuisine hasn't reached the point where anything goes, as in Western cuisine where rules rarely apply and creativity is seen as more important than tradition, but it has been affected by commerce and trade (notably supermarkets with their loyalty cards and special offers), tourism, convenience food/stores, politics (people buy cheaper food now and less meat - reverting to former habits), nationalism (our identity is under threat after all the bad publicity from the global reporting of the economic crisis), and marketing (Greek food is globally very popular), among other factors. Cretan cuisine, considered to be one of the healthiest diets, with a focus on the Mediteranean and its emphasis on the use of olive oil, can benefit from greater exposure with more Greeks abroad, as more and more people around the world seek it out for its health benefits, making it a very marketable product in our time. It would also be interesting to find out what exactly is being cooked on a daily basis in Cretan homes, crossing all sectors: rural-urban, age, sex, employed or not. It's not uncommon to see taverna menu title stating "Yiayia's cuisine" - if Yiayia is said to be cooking these dishes, then what kind of culinary culture is Mama passing on to her brood?
ab vasilopoulos comes to haniaGlobal cuisine and new migration trends in Crete, such as the cases of economic migrants and ‘tourist residents’, have also provided new foodways, manifesting the importance of food as an important element expressing a person’s identity, with the present range of food-related business exchanges (notably the supermarket culture) taking place on the island: in Hania, it is now possible to find more 'ethnic' foods often deemed staples in a more globalised environment than it ever was before. Greeks now migrating abroad due to the economic crisis will probably be astonished to find, in a few years' time (when they come back to visit after 'doing well' abroad), that the food of their country has changed, and will themselves be demanding the 'aunthentic' taste of their food as they remember it! Cuisine isn't really static - it changes according to our needs, our knowledge, our beliefs, our state of mind, where we find ourselves; in other words, what we eat changes according to our needs, feelings, desires, outlook and knowledge - and following from that, our identity also undergoes change.

As people move around the world with a view to finding a place to call home, they keep an ear or an eye out for signs of their former home; their nose often works just as well as their sight and hearing. Food becomes not just a symbol of, but the reality of, love and security. Through tangible reminders of their food - ethnic restaurants and imported supermarket produce, to name but two - they know they will find their own people; it's a cultural safety net, a feeling of comfort to know that you find yourself among your own people. The food that Greek people identify with can tell us a lot about the Greek identity itself; a better analysis of this aspect of Greek identity will no doubt provide a greater insight into the Greek personality (if it can be generalised), and possibly provide workable solutions to the problems plaguing the country at present.

If you liked reading this article, you will probably enjoy Robin Fox's highly entertaining Food and Eating: an Anthropological Perspective.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Pumpkin bougatsa and pumpkin galaktoboureko (Κολοκυθομπουγάτσα και κολοκυθογαλακτομπούρεκο)

pumpkinPumpkin has never been hugely popular in Crete. It doesn't have the fame here that it does in Northern Greece, or the American continent, where cooking with pumpkin is a common feature of the respective cuisines found in each area. I'm often lucky to be given one, but this year, that hasn't happened. I think it's related to the reason why we didn't find any quince on our trees, while all the bitter oranges that I usually make into a spoon sweet have also disappeared. Times are hard, and pumpkin now tastes good...

I still like to cook with at least one pumpkin every autumn because it's part of the seasonal nature of my cooking regime. Pumpkin is also very versatile, meaning that you can make it into any kind of meal you like, both sweet and savoury, both pie and soup. The one I bought wasn't too expensive - 2 kilos for 2.50 euro. My friend Demetra recommended a recipe that her sister had given her. She called it a pumpkin bougatsa, and told me it was one of the most amazing pies she had ever had. Bougatsa is a kind of cheesy/milky pastry pie, served all over Northern Greece; in Crete, it has its own variant, notably, bougatsa Iordanis.

OK, I told her, I'm interested in giving it a try. She then insisted once again that it was the best pumpkin pie that she had ever made or tasted. Interestingly, when she passed on the recipe to me, there was no photo showing the cooked dish. Most people look at food photos on the internet or in a book and cook from the accompanying recipes, using the photos as a gauge to what they should expect.

Sometimes, though, you chance on a recipe that you know will be good from the way the recipe is written. It isn't often the case at all, but I was convinced that this pumpkin bougatsa would turn out to be a good one, despite its simple ingredients, from some of Demetra's instructions:  
"... keep aside ¾ cup of your cooked pumpkin. It will be a gorgeous orange color. Enjoy that... Keep on low heat to thicken. Stir here and there... don’t let it stick on the bottom of the pan.....stir... clean your kitchen.....stir occasionally....stir.....enjoy the gorgeous color and aroma....and once it becomes thick, take it off the burner..."
You can tell the writer actually made this recipe, and enjoyed the whole process, not just the food. I asked Demetra about the origin of the recipe: her sister came across it at a women's monastery near Montreal in Canada. Apparently, the nuns serve it to guests in the afternoon on a regular basis. The recipe has made its way from Canada to Boston to NYC to Athens, and now to Crete!

When Demetra visited her sister recently, they cooked a lot together. Just before Demetra was due to leave, her sister "absolutely insisted" that she could not go away without having tasted the pumpkin bougatsa recipe that she had gotten from the monastery: "She managed to fit this one in at the end. It was so last-minute that I nearly missed my train. But I didn't and all's well that ends well, AND I had HOT PUMPKIN BOUGATSA on my Amtrack ride from Boston to NYC. I opened the container on the train and the smell literally wafted through the entire train car. I understood why my sister had insisted." So now, you will understand why it's a good idea for you to make this pita soon...

As I was making the bougatsa myself (with home-made filo pastry of course!), I realised that the same pastry and filling, layered in a slightly different manner, could easily make two different kinds of Greek pita: bougatsa, and galaktoboureko. Each pita is served in its own unique way. And you don't have to choose which one to make before it goes into the oven - you can do that while it's cooking!!! I halved the recipe because the original made a very large pie. Even then, I was still able to make both kinds of pita in the same cooking session.

 I had to juggle between the stove and making my own filo pastry. To prevent it from drying out, I dustead each sheet with cornstarch, then folded it in half, and then in half again. I put the sheets aside until the filling was ready.

To make Demetra's sister's basic Greek-based pumpkin pita, you need:
2-3 cups cooked mashed pumpkin
2 cups milk (or 1 cup cream mixed with 1 cup water, which is what I used)
1/2-3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
5 tablespoons of flour
some vanilla flavouring (I use vanilla essence in liquid form; there are many different ways that vanilla flavouring is sold, including vials and sachets of vanilla-flavoured sugar)
1 tablespoon of butter (I always use olive oil these days)
a packet of filo pastry (these days, I make my own filo - no, it's NOT that difficult!)

The recipe above is enough to make both pies. I layered the larger pie (which I turned into a galaktoboureko), by lining the ceramic dish with three sheets of pastry, then a thin layer of filling, then another two sheets of pastry and some more filling, and finally another three sheets of pastry on the top. For the smaller pie (which became bougatsa), I laid two sheets of pastry on the bottom of the tin, the remaining filling, and another two sheets of filo on the top, oiling all the filo.

Put aside 1/2 cup of pumpkin and heat the remaining with the milk and sugar. (As Demetra says, it will be a gorgeous orange colour - enjoy it.) In a bowl, mix the eggs, flour and vanilla, then add the remaining pumpkin, and mix well. Pour the egg mixture into the milk mixture and mix quickly. Don't worry if the mixture curdles (make sure the milk mixture isn't too warm and the egg mixture isn't too cold).

Now listen to Demetra: "Keep on low heat to thicken. Stir...stir here and there... don’t let it stick on the bottom of the pan.....stir... clean your kitchen.....stir occasionally....stir.....enjoy gorgeous color and aroma....and once it becomes thick, take it off the burner and add the butter. (You will not have to stir non-stop if the heat is correct; just stir from time to time, keeping an eye on the heat so the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.)" At this point, taste a little of the mixture (watch out - it may burn): you could easily eat it before it becomes a pie...

Grease a pyrex dish or baking tin and lay half the filo pastry sheets on the bottom, greasing in between each layer. Then pour in the filling, which may look runny, but don't worry about that because it will eventually cook like a custard. Then layer the remaining filo sheets on top - don't forget to grease each one! Fold the overhanging pastry, greasing them too. Score the pita with a knife, making cuts for each serving (it will make it easier to cut the filo pastry afterwards when the pie comes out of the oven). Bake at 180C for about 1/2 hour, until the filo turns golden. When taking the pie out of the oven, let it rest for a quarter of an hour before cutting, to allow the custard to solidify.

Pumpkin bougatsa

If you turn your pita into a pumpkin bougatsa, you only need some sugar and/or cinamon for sprinkling over it (or none at all, depending on how sweet you like your pita to be). Bougatsa is served warm, and can be re-heated the next day. It makes an especially delicious breakfast meal.

 Pumpkin galaktoboureko

If you plan to make a pumpkin galaktoboureko instead, you need to make a syrup, by boiling a cup (or more) of sugar and 2 cups of water, together with half a lemon (and/or a cinmamon stick for flavour). Make the syrup while the pita is cooking. As soon as the pita comes out of the oven, pour the slightly cooled syrup over the hot pita (or the other way around - if the pie has cooled down, the syrup must be hot).

I'm posting this recipe in time for American Thanksgiving for a pumpkin pie idea. If you're celebrating Thanksgiving in Greece, this is the pita that will make this year's feast a memorable one. If you're celebrating Thanksgiving in America, this pita marries Greek cuisine with the American feast. Even though I don't celebrate Thanksgiving here in Greece, I have plenty to be thankful for, not least of which includes the availability of high quality cheap food. If you make your own filo, both the above pies will cost you less than 5 euro to make in total.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Friday 11 November 2011

Saragli (Σαραγλί)

(This story was read to an audience consisting of Stacy Dunn's family, at Thanksgiving, 2011; Stacy told me that her family all gathered around the computer and read through all my correspondence with her, together with this story, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house!) 

"You use a thick rolling pin to roll out your filo pastry?" My friend sounded surprised. I explained to her that I had gotten used to using this kind of rolling pin and found it trying on my palms to use a thin one.

"That's because you're not using it properly," Hrisida scolded me. "I use a thick rolling pin for the pizza pastry where I only stretch the dough.  But for making a pita, you do need the thin one. You're supposed to roll the fyllo and press lightly from the centre outwardly to the ends.  It's actually less physical effort than stretching constantly but you need the right tool and a bigger surface area to work.  By stretching you can only reach a certain thickness. Even you know that, don't you?" Her voice then softened. "My grandma's rolling pin is very thin and very long. But you can't get one like this now. These days they're much shorter, because we make smaller pies.Our sini are smaller than what my grandmother had." The σινί (sini) is a large baking tray 60cm in diameter with low sides. "We do have a couple that she used to own lying in the storage space in our village home. But people still use them even now - you can see them in bougatsa shops." 

"Is your grandmother still alive?" I asked her.

"No, no," she said, shaking her head. "She died a very long time ago." Even though she was smiling, Hrisida's face took on a dull tone, as if it had lost its colour. "My mother's mother was from Eastern Thrace. That's part of Turkey now. She made a lot of pitas. I was a bad eater as a child but I loved her pitas.  They were chunky and very filling." He face suddenly lit up. "She also used to make a sweet pitta where she just rolled out the fyllo and then placed it in a circle in the baking tray. My grandma used to call it saragli but it had no filling or topping. All I remember was filo pastry sweetened with syrup. She baked it, maybe with butter and then just added syrup to it.  It sounds so simple but for us children it was heaven. And it's strange, but I've never tasted it since then. Not from my mum, nor from my aunties who were very close to my grandma.

Saragli can be filled and rolled up in many different ways, allowing for greater creativity on the part of the cook and a splendid looking array of sweet delicacies for the eater. The ones depicted are home-made with store-bought filo pastry, which is sturdier and drier than home-made pastry, and can therefore be moulded more easily to keep its shape.

As Hrisida told me about her grandmother's story, I was conjuring up the images she was describing: an old woman, dressed in black, with a never-fading smile on her face, her back bent over, her pace quick but short. She would shuffle around her kitchen, preparing food for everyone, and never complain. If anyone told her to take it easy, she'd tell them she wasn't tired. I wondered what her life was like in Eastern Thrace before she came to Greece.

Hrisida's grandmother reminded me of Stacy Costas Dunn, a third generation Greek in the US who had recently contacted me about trying to track down her dead grandparents' hometown so that she could trace her roots and hopefully bring her American-born mother back to them on a holiday. Stacy had given me the names of the villages that were listed on the documents her grandfather was given when they arrived in Ellis Island: 'Kastaboli' (now Ormanli, meaning 'forest' in Turkish), 'Myriofytou' (now Murefte), 'Ghanochora' (now Gazikoy, possible also Hoskoy) - these were the birthplaces or last known homelands of Stacy's grandfather's family. Stacy remembers her family talking about Thrace (Θράκη). That's all she knew about her grandfather's homeland.

Since Stacy couldn't read Greek herself, I looked up the village names she had given me: Kaστάμπολη, Μυριοφύτου, Γανόχωρα to see what information I could find. There were half a dozen references to them, all of which directed me to the formerly Greek Eastern Thrace region, the little bit of land that is the only part of Turkey which is considered to be part of the European continent - hence where East meets West; only Western Thrace is now part of Greece. The change in land ownership led me to think that perhaps Stacy's family were refugees - did they by any chance leave Greece in or after 1922, when the Greek-Turkish population exchange took place? No, she informed me, her grandparents had migrated in 1912; her grandparents therefore could not have been involved in the population exchange. In that case, what caused them to leave Eastern Thrace?

After checking the names of the villages again, I discovered that there was a major earthquake in the area that completely destroyed the villages of her grandparents; this earthquake occurred in the year her grandparents migrated to the US. It was all starting to come together. Persecution of Christians in Turkish-occupied areas was already common in Stacy's grandparents' time, according to the link, but even if her grandparents had stayed on after the earthquake, or had the desire to come back to visit or live in their part of Thrace one day, the area would have changed hands soon after they left anyway. Not only that, but these ancestral villages in Eastern Thrace would now obviously have Turkish names, and their original Greek names would need to be traced back to them, making the search for her roots sound rather like a jigsaw puzzle. The villages concerned are all located in coastal areas on the way from Greece to Constantinople before reaching the former Greek region of Redestos (now called Tekirdag in Turkish); Myriofyto for example is now called Murefte, and Aydinlar used to be Kastritsa, or possibly Kistritsa. Although there is sometimes a discernible link to the original word, it is not immediately noticeable.

Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks'.

When Stacy's grandparents came to the US, as immigrants passing through Ellis Island, they would have suffered the stigma of the foreign-sounding name. Names were also often misspelled at the customs offices, as officials were left in the helpless position of transcribing what they think they heard from the newly-arrived non-English-speaking immigrant's mouth, often writing them incorrectly in official documents, which would have remained unchanged (ie uncorrected). Stacy had two possible names for her grandfather: 'Elias Sevricos' and 'Lee Costas', which, to the uninitiated would look wildly different from one another. Her grandfather was probably baptised 'Elias', which was probably changed to 'Lee' in America, while his surname 'Sevricos' was simply dropped - not only did it sound foreign, but it was also difficult to pronounce (again, to the uninitiated). Instead, he used his middle name, which, according to Greek tradition, is always your father's name: according to his US naturalization papers, his parents were Constantinos Sevricoz and Zafireia ('Sapphire', noted as 'Zafery' on the documents) Paraskeva (written as 'Paroskua'; in Modern Greek, 'eu' is pronounced as 'ev' or 'ef' depending on context, and the 'e' was probably seen as superfluous by the customs official).

I recounted Stacy's plight to Hrisida. She agreed that the family's names had undergone an Americanised transformation, which was hindering Stacy from finding her roots. 'Zafiris' is a common Thracian name for men ('Zafireia' is the female variant of the same name). 'Myriofyto' is a village in the region of Kilkis in modern-day Greece, where many former Eastern Thracians settled after leaving their homelands. Interestingly, when we looked up the name 'Sivrikos' in the phone book, nothing came up, unlike for 'Paraskevas' which is relatively more common. If Paraskevas could be associated with the villages names of Kastaboli/Myriofytou, some connection pointing Stacy in the right direction could be made. Hrisida suggested some organisations in Northern Greece which look after the interests of people with roots in Eastern Thrace, like the Thrakiki Estia of Serres. Since we live in a more transparent and connected world, people can now also find the former Greek villages in Eastern Thrace and compare them with the Turkish villages in Google Earth.

The other issue of the personal names also had to be addressed. A web search of 'Sivrikoz' (that sounds like 'Sevricos') returns a lot of hits where 'Sivrikoz' is used as a Turkish surname. But Stacy's grandparents' given names were clearly all Christian and Greek. How could that be possible? Could a Greek have taken on a Turkish surname in those troubled times and places? Most likely, in the same way that people westernise their names to make them more 'likeable' to the general society. The Sivrikoz name returned only two hits in the Greek telephone directory - but not as 'Sivrikos', only as 'Sivrikozis', a Greekifed form of 'Sivrikoz' by adding the very common ending  '-is'. Again, someone who came to Greece in 1918-1922 with the name 'Sivrikoz' would probably want to sound more Greek than Turkish. Greeks in Turkey at the time may have been coerced into changing their language and surnames but they were allowed to keep their faith, hence the Christian names, in a similar way to what happened in Macedonia with the Bulgarians after WW2: people lived in closed communities - they would often live in separate villages from mainstream society and would only marry between themselves.

Stacy's story gave Hrisida a chance to reflect on her own grandmother's origins. "Eastern Thracians don't call themselves Asia Minor refugees (the common Greek translation of 'mikrasiates') because they aren't actually from the shores of Asia Minor, which is south of the Bosporus river. My mum's parents were from a village north of Redestos. A lot of the surnames of Eastern Thracians end in -akis, just like yours."

That did not surprise me in the least. The -άκι (-aki) suffix to Cretan names is a Turkish influence (my own surname, and that of nearly all my relatives ends in -aki, and the ones that don't were originally from Asia Minor refugee stock), used to make a name sound inferior, or simply 'small'. It's a remnant of the former Ottoman rule. In its present Greek usage, it gives a diminutive meaning to a word when added to it, eg 'Maria' becomes 'Maraki' (little Mary), 'paidi' (child) becomes 'paidaki' (little child). Hrisida noted that a local Northern Greek diminutive form (as used in Serres, for example) ends in '-ούδ' (-oud), and is attached to any Greek noun or adjective, eg κουρτσούδ', Μαργούδ', π(ai)δούδ'. This -oύδ' ending is also widely used in Greek Thrace today - yet Hrisida's grandmother's 'co-villagers' preferred to use -άκι, from the Turkish influence of their former homeland.

"There were Cretan policemen in Northern Greece at the time they migrated," Hrisida continued, "and it was said that any name they recorded was written down with the '-akis' suffix, although this is disputable. My grandma used to tell us that they migrated twice to Greece; after the first time, they returned back to their Eastern Thrace village. She was born in 1912 and she was 8 when they migrated to Greece in 1920. They didn't wait for the 'Great Catastrophe' (as the Smyrna 1922 incident is often referred to in Greek history); the signs were already there. First they moved to a very poor barren area in Kilkis, and then to the south of Serres where at least the land was arable.

"I remember seeing old men in the 70s using oxen instead of horses for drawing the carts. That's how I keep my grandma in my mind. Her people are short and stout, fair-haired and blue eyed. They sometimes have strange women's names, like Syrmatenia (wiry), Louloudia (flower), Archontia (noble) and Panorea (beautiful), names we don't hear much at all nowadays. She had it very rough in life. She had eight children, and lost four of them, but she never expressed bitterness and she was always a very kind woman. She never stopped working around the house and she always helped her daughter-in-law, even at the age of 80, which was when she died. The epitome of patience and tolerance, I never heard a bad word from her mouth. My Eastern Thracian relatives lived their lives with dignity and respect for themselves, and people in general. They were mild good-natured people, always polite, smiling and very hospitable; you could always drop by with a group of friends, without giving them any notice, and they would go to great lengths to accommodate your needs. They worked hard and enjoyed their lives. Some of these traits are still noticeable in their children. Although they were an impoverished people, they brought civilisation to the area where they settled. For example, they had curtains in their houses, and a more sophisticated cuisine. Despite being peasants, they had been better educated in their homeland and they sought to educate their children."

Hrisida grew up amongst 'immigrants' from Turkey, like the Pontiacs and Eastern Thracians, Turkish-speaking but Orthodox Karamanlides from Kappadokia, and she used to hear countless stories as a child from other yiayias about how they came to Greece, and the poverty, the struggle, the grief they felt for their lost homeland. "There wasn't much TV in those days to distract us," Hrisida noted. "Even though you have 'mikrasiates' in Crete, you come out as a more uniform society. In Macedonia, every family has an immigrant root.  In my grandparents' time, around WW2, there were no mixed marriages between locals and new arrivals, but in the 60s, this slowly changed and I now have aunties who are Eastern Thracians, locals from Serres, a Saracatsan and a Pontiac. The immigrants were Orthodox Christians who always identified themselves as Greek. But these marriages were frowned upon until the 60s."

Greek refugees en route to Pahīatua campI knew exactly what Hrisida was talking about. My Cretan mother often spoke about Greek refugees in a condescending tone, something I could never understand and would often reprimand her for doing. This distinction between 'real Greeks' and 'other Greeks' was also apparent in the Greek community of Wellington, as I recall one of the oldest members of the community recounting (while I was interviewing him for my Master's thesis work) what happened in the 50s with the newly arrived Greek-Romanian refugees on the SS Goya. At first they were welcomed as fellow Greeks. But slowly, the differences between the rural Greek-Greeks and the urban Romanian-Greeks came to the fore: one group was obviously more educated, hence more sophisticated, than the other. The community split into two factions: some supported the older more-established Wellington Greek community, while the others joined the newly established Apollo club, the name given to the association created for the welfare and interests of the new arrivals*.

This very much summarises the treatment of the Greek Asia Minor refugees when they first arrived in Greece (and vice-versa, meaning the Turks who were forced to leave Greece and return to Turkey, many of whom did not speak Turkish, had been in Greece for many generations and had never thought of Turkey as their home): it is not surprising that many of those immigrants/refugees left Greece and made their way to the West. When they first arrived in Greece, which had become impoverished after the Smyrna catastrophe, they were given inferior land and treated in an inferior manner. Of those who stayed in Northern Greece, they founded new villages wherever they could. Their former homelands were often in the foothills (where firewood was plentiful) near a major spring (with a water source), and not in the middle of a plain where they had no refuge from attacks. These villages may have lacked the character of the typical Greek villages but the personalities of the residents were colourful and vibrant, reminiscent of their struggle for survival in an inhospitable environment. In their newly found villages, they carried on their agricultural work in a more or less similar landscape. Their main problem may have been that they had not been given enough land: up to one hectare for each family, when they may have been raising 4-8 children. Tobacco was often the main crop in Northern Greece because of the good turnover from a small plot of land.  Many migrated to Germany and Australia in the 60s.

Οι Έλληνες ήταν, είναι και θα έιναι πάντα για τα πανηγύρια**...

At this point, Hrisida broke out into a smile. "And with all that Greekness in us, look at how well our men are doing at dancing the tsifteteli! They dance the best tsifteteli, not with the belly but with the torso. I've been watching them dancing since I was a child. Children practise it with their parents at weddings and paniyiria (feasts). My favourite one is the Konyali from Kappadokia, but the same tune was very popular throughout Asia Minor, Eastern Thrace and the Black Sea region, and there are different versions of it, which is why I love it so much. It's performed to the same tune as that popular Cypriot song Η βράκα ('The pants')."

After a moment's pause, Hrisida added: "I suppose we can say that Greeks have always been for the paniyiria**, can't we?" We both burst out laughing. "As a whole, I'd say that people in Macedonia and Thrace are more relaxed than the rest of Greece; we're not as restrained. Despite the apparent homogeneity in Greek society we are different in the way we grew up. In Macedonia and Thrace there is no space for arguing what is Greek and what is not. There are so many people with immigrant roots that our culture is a mix and we can't stop enjoying it whether it's called karsilamas or tsifteteli, whether it's burek or pita, whether it's Turkish or Greek."

seamless marathopita
My marathopites look very similar to the borek Nihal from Turkey (now living in America) makes (left), while stamnagathi and maroulides are similar to dandelion and often cooked with meat in Crete, just like Butel from Turkey (living in the UK) cooks them. The photos from this post come from an older story about Kolotsita.
stamnagathi maroulides ascolibri

I certainly got a good history lesson that day from Hrisida. "You live too far away in Crete to be able to keep up to date with Greek history," she said to me, "not to mention the fact that you never went to school in Greece. You were learning only about ancient Greek history, the kind of history Western civilisation associates with Greece." I figured that many of the thigns we discussed together were best kept to ourselves; the last thing we'd want the West to know about us was how heterogeneous we really were, and how inhospitable Greeks could be towards their compatriots, especially at this time when Greece's reputation is already in tatters. But the Greek word for hospitality has an inherent "foreignness" to it: φιλοξενία - filoxenia: 'love of strangers'. Our discussion also showed that Greeks have suffered greater hardships in the past and we still carry inherited memories from those days as we hear stories from the people who had lived them first hand.

Not being able to offer Stacy any direct hospitality, we sent her an email with our combined knowledge, and then headed into our respective kitchens - we were talking via the virtual world and it was time to get back to the real one.

*** *** ***

I later asked Hrisida about her grandmother's recipe for the saragli dessert that she used to eat when she was a little girl. "Oh, I don't know it," she replied. "I'll ask my mother if she can remember exactly how yiayia made it. I haven't even eaten it since I was a young girl."

It is easy to lose trace of what we once used to eat since the supermarket culture overtook our lives. At the same time, some of us are more attached to our past, letting it rule our present, while others among us never look back. But while the first generation leaves and the second returns, the third is often left looking for its roots. In a similar sense, the first generation brings their food with them and the second generation eats that food, while the third generation remembers it. Their minds are filled with memories of what they once had; at this point, balance becomes crucial.

The Greek mothers and grandmothers of the past often cooked according to cultural norms, using simple techniques and only a few ingredients. As Hrisida said (above): "All I remember was filo pastry sweetened with syrup. [Gramdma] baked it, maybe with butter, and then just added syrup to it. It sounds so simple, but for us children it was heaven."

Hrisida says she is a slack cook, but these are the kinds of pita she makes - that's all home-made filo...

"Despite being a slack cook," Hrisida admitted to me later, "I feel strongly about women making their own fyllo because it's a big part of our tradition. If you make pita with ready made filo from the supermarket it tastes like paper. When you resort to that terrible ready-made 'sfoliata' (buttery puff pastry, whose origins are not Greek) for a bit of texture and taste, you lose all the point of a home-made pita.  With the rate that young Greek women are resorting to sfoliata, home-made fyllo will be a thing of the past in years to come. Every time I used to see Vefa Alexiadou or her daughter on TV, I'd cringe. That's how women are cooking nowdays, cream, canned mushrooms and melting yellow cheeses, struggling to stretch a ball of dough into fyllo with their thick rolling pin and making it all look so difficult, I'd be thinking 'for God sake's woman, get a yiayia to show you how it's done'. That woman was regarded as an experienced cook! Why on earth are we watching cookshows like that, and even the more modern ones that have followed, when none of that food is even part of our traditional cuisine?"

Vefa, a chemist by profession, was Greece's answer to Delia Smith; in her last TV appearances she used to warn how bad margarine is and recommended butter where necessary.  The joke was that she never managed to get a whole fyllo off the counter top and onto the baking tray in one piece.

I happened to have a few balls of pastry left over from my most recent filo-making session. Fresh dough keeps happily in the fridge for a few days. I hadn't prepared any filling, so it sounded like the perfect opportunity to recreate Hrisida's grandma's memorable and heavenly 'saragli'. I asked Hrisida for some more directions: could I recreate an Eastern Thrace delicacy, which was last eaten (possibly) 40 years ago, in my home kitchen in Crete - and all via distance learning? Here are the directions that Hrisida gave me:

"You roll out the fyllo, oil it and then crease it in the baking tray concertina-style, much like we do in patsavouropita. So you don't roll the fyllo to put it in the baking tray, but crease it instead.  Then you bake it and when you take it out, you pour syrup over it, like for galaktoboureko or baklava.  Of course it is much simpler than patsavouropita. But I have never made my grandmas' pita myself."

It doesn't matter how scrappily you roll out filo pastry - it's going to break up once you start eating it anyway. I creased the pastry on the table before placing it in the baking tin because home-made filo is softer than store-bought filo, making it stickier to work with. The saragli design traditionally involves rounds of pastry all neatly fitted into a (preferably round) baking tin (to allow for even browning and avoid burnt or over-cooked corners). You may wonder why there's a hole in the middle of the baked pie - I ran out of filo! When the filo had turned golden, as soon as it came out of the oven, I poured a freshly made (but cooled) boiled sugar-water syrup over it (perfumed with a wedge of lemon and some fir-tree honey from Karpenisi that Hrisida had given me as a gift). I also sprinkled some chopped walnuts over it just to make it look more 'interesting'; this saragli reminded me of xerotigana, a very popular Cretan fried pastry made on festive occassions, which is also doused in syrup and topped with grated walnuts.

I showed Hrisida the photos of my pita: "Oh, it looks great!! So similar to what we used to eat as children. The simple tastes are so heart-warming sometimes. Thank you for reminding me of my grandma. I thought about telling you to sprinkle chopped nuts over the top, but no need, as I see." I am very much a novice at filo/pie making, and I am learning by mistakes - but at least I'm trying not to repeat my mistakes, unlike the Greek politicians, who have created a global quagmire!

We were also both in for a surprise that night: when we checked our email, sure enough, there was one for each of us from Stacy:
"It is so nice to hear from you. I think of you often as you were one of the first people I reached out to when I started this quest. At the time, I thought to myself, "Greeks are such congenial people! So kind and helpful!" You helped and inspired me so much last year to keep searching, even though it often felt like I was chasing my tail.  Your friend is right about the brick wall when it comes to the Sevricos name. I've been looking into various spellings: Safricas, Savaricas, and even Tsivrikos. I've taken to looking into my great grandmother's name, Paraskevas, as I feel there's more chance in making a connection. From, I found out there was a Paraskevas family in Saranta Ekklisies (now called Kirklareli in Turkey), near Edirne (formerly Adrianoupoli). A Helen Paraskevas was a teacher there, about 1920. A photographer was called K. Zafiriadis. A Paraskevas went to school in 1916 in Saranta Ekklisies. He later migrated to Grenoble in France where he married a French woman there.
It does sound hopeful, but my biggest problem is the language barrier.  I can't thank you enough for keeping me in mind and passing my information on to someone that might be able to help. I will keep searching and hoping for some answers.  My Greek heritage means so much to me. Thank you again for your time and consideration!"
It also meant a lot to me and Hrisida that we could offer our own form of filoxenia - hospitality - to a fellow Greek like Stacy so many thousands of miles away from Greece, by providing as much help as possible in her search for her roots. As I ate a piece of the saragli later in the evening, I wondered if Stacy's grandmother had also cooked a tasty treat just like this one, just like Hrisida's grandma did, creating memories of her that lived on well after she had left the mortal world.

If you think you know how to help Stacy find her roots, send me an email.

*This distinction no longer exists, as often happens in immigrant groups that successfully establish themselves in Western cultures.
** για τα πανηγύρια = for the paniyiria, ie crazy, feast-loving people

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.