Monday, 26 June 2006


Was I glad these last few days I was not in Holland. Everything there seems to be orange and everybody is crazy about football. Here in Greece everything is blue-white. And Lesvos also has some green, because of its abundant nature. Blue-white sea, when some waves curl around, blue-white sky when some clouds are floating above the green trees. In Greece they do not have to paint their country in national colours for the football. Just like the Greek flag the main colours in Greece are always blue and white. And then they are not so crazy because they are not in the World Cup, even though they are the European Champions.

Molyvos is just a little crazy. More than one café has a big screen on their terrace so that groups of people can follow the ball. Whenever Germany, England or Holland scores a goal, just like in Amsterdam you hear shouts coming from every corner. Not when Ghana, Korea or Portugal scores. There are no tourists from those countries here.

I rediscovered the radio. I am not good at following a football game. It is too boring for me. I always do other things when a game is on. Otherwise I will be bored and make stupid remarks about the football. But I like to follow the game, especially on the radio. Those reporters are crazy and do not know how quick they talk and should make sure that you understand what they see. I think it is fun hearing their excited talk.

Yesterday night I was persuaded to come to the village because many friends were gathering together in Resalto, the café of Josif just above the harbour to watch the game between Holland and Portugal. Besides Josif, some Greek customers and our German friends were all dressed in orange t-shirts. The orange army suddenly went quiet when Portugal scored the first goal.

And there you sit with a big party just under the stars. Colourful lights from the village were blinking cheerfully, while the people watched the screen, too afraid to miss anything. In the beginning there was hope, which slowly disappeared into the beautiful night.

I was lucky to have found somebody who like me did not like football that much. We whispered together and enjoyed the twittering lights of the harbour. For the first time in her life Doro had seen a shooting star. I do see them now and then, but I always forget to make a wish.

I could have told her: "When you look at the screen", where they were busy waving yellow and red cards, "you will also see stars falling. 22 and the referee. Because if that is sport at a high level, I will gladly see football disappear as a sport". But I did not say so, the faces around me were too grim.

More and more the crowd was yelling when a Portugese player took a dive on the field. There were even people starting to giggle, thinking the whole game had turned into a slapstick movie. Slowly an excited mood started to appear because everybody wanted so much for Holland to win. And because at the end Holland did try to make something out of it.

Today I read the Iliad of Homer. Put into new words by the Italian writer Alessandro Baricco. On the battlefield of Troy there were also two opposing parties assembled. All those Greek heroes were butchering each other. While reading and imagening that battle in front of me I had to think about the football game from yesterday night. Had the players been in an arena or before the gates of Troy, they would have killed each other with love.

In the early times there was no television, so stories were told. The battle of Troy was never recorded on celluloid. What images would that have given if there had been cameras. Who knows how many red and yellow cards had to be distributed. Maybe then there would not have been Greek heroes. Now we only have the oral stories. Told by people who made their own interpretation of the story. That is how the stories of the Greek Heroes were made. About Achilles, about Ajax or about Odysseus. They were not all nice ones, that is what the storytellers made of them. The football games do not have to be told. Everybody saw them. So all those dirty tricks cannot be changed anymore into the deeds of heroes.

Yesterday many a Dutch was ashamed because of the dirty game. There are players who become a hero, like Cruijff or Maradonna. Yesterday night there was no one who might possibly become a hero. They should have lived in the early times. Then we could have turned their dirty game into a splendid game. Now everybody saw what they were doing and they were caught red-handed.

The next time I will listen to the radio. Even when the reporters try to relate as best as they can the game they are seeing, I can make my own images during their report or close my ears when they give too many coloured cards away. Then I should not feel ashamed when a team plays such a foul game in the name of Orange.

In the village now there is a vacuum. Nobody wants to cheer for the eternal champions of Germany, England, Brazil or Italy. Some Greeks wanted to cheer for Australia because they have lived there or still have family there. But the Australians like the Dutch are out of the game. I am wondering who will be cheered next on all those terraces of Molyvos under the stars...

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 12 June 2006

Tales of a kitchen maid

Last week I told you my story about preserving pistachios in molasses. A pretty difficult job that went wrong from the start. This week everything was a little bit easier. Last week we went gathering capers. There are plenty of them at the moment. Besides the flower buds and the beautiful flowers, the caper fruit are also hanging from the plants. If you want to know more about where and how to gather them, you should read last years News for 30 May and 21 June.

Picking capers is a difficult task. They are so small, so gathering them takes a bit of time and the plants are pretty thorny. But they are easy to preserve. Besides sterilizing the pots, no cooking or making molasses is involved. You put the capers in a big bowl of water for two days. Refresh the water every day. Then put them in the pots and fill up the pots with a mixture of 1 cup of water to 2 cups of vinegar, a splash of white wine, 1 spoon of salt for each cup, in each pot some grains of pepper and a clove. That's it.

The weather seems upside down at the moment. In West Europe it's nice and warm, while here in Greece it is cold for the time of the year. Today it even looks like a grey day in Holland. No wonder we thought about making some cough syrup.

You make this not with capers but with mulberries, which are not so well known in Holland. The fruit looks like long blueberries but coloured white, red and black. Most mulberries are found in South Eastern Europe, China, warm regions of Russia and the Middle East. Red mulberries are loved for their flavour but hated for their stains. When you go picking red mulberries be sure to wear old clothes because the juice gets everywhere and cannot be removed.

I knew these stories but until last year I never saw a mulberry. I knew that Vangelis' restaurant in Skala Sykaminia is under a large mulberry tree. I wondered what the fruit would look like, but it is without fruit because it is a male tree. I thought what is the use of a tree without fruit. But now I know better. Only a fool would have a restaurant under a fruiting mulberry tree. Otherwise for one month your clients will have mulberries in their coffee, ouzo, calamaria or with their tzatziki. The name Sykaminia comes from one of the Greek words for mulberry: Skamnia. The other popular word is Mouria.

Last year when I came home from an expedition looking for mulberries and I took a shower outside to cool off I suddenly stood eye to eye with a mulberry. The branch growing out of a tree next to the shower appeared to be a mulberry tree, a white one. I didn't have to go so far to find them! I strongly recommend a mulberry tree next to your outside shower, because picking the fruit from the tree and having the sweet somewhat foul taste from the mulberries in your mouth while enjoying your shower is a unique experience.

The white mulberry tree in China is known as the silk tree. The leaves of this tree are the unique food of silkworms. I never saw any sign of even one silkworm in the tree. The leaves are still all there and so far I have no projects to start any business with silkworms. But maybe I could start spinning here... That might be something for when I really get bored, but I don't think I will in the next few years on this interesting island.

The herb books say that mulberries are good for a sore throat. You have to cook the juice until it becomes a kind of honey. Afterwards you can mix it with some water or you can make a compress with it to put on your throat. In one of the countries on the silk route, Azerbaijan, it is said that the mulberry is good for diseases of the liver, gal bladder and the heart.

In China they have other medicinal uses for the mulberry. There they are good for anaemia, tiredness, dizziness and early greying of the hairs. So it is no wonder that in China, Korea and Japan a healthy drink of mulberry became very popular.

Especially in Arabic countries sweet mulberry syrup mixed with water is a welcome drink to cool off. Furthermore you can make tasty ice cream with it and combined with apricots or figs mulberries are used to flavour cakes. So, it is a fruit with many possibilities.

The Greeks do not use the mulberry a lot in their kitchen. The fruit hangs from the tree like strawberries and when their time has come they mess up the streets. While I'm writing this I'm already thinking what to make next with them, besides the throat syrup for the winter.

However the fruit is ripe at the same time as the cherries. We make lots of jams with the cherries. Then the plums and apricots are nearly ready to be harvested. Even with the unusually cool weather for Greece the fruit just goes on ripening. This means that it is going to be a busy time in the kitchen. Greek nature makes sure that you never have to spin silk, you never get bored!

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 5 June 2006

Tears of a kitchen maid

Greeks love sweets. Probably from childhood they learn to love sweets. Many a Greek child is too fat and if you were to see the amount of candy they leave the shop with, you'd be horrified.

The most popular sweet for adults is baklava. The consumption of baklava here is probably as high as over the water in Turkey. Tourists complain that baklava is too sweet. And this honey-nuts-pie is pretty sweet. But that sweetness should be a healthy sweetness, because of the honey.

Another traditional sweet is the 'Spoon Sweet', glika koutaliou. When you visit a Greek for the first time, you will get these sweets presented on a little plate besides your coffee and a glass of water. They are made of fruits or vegetables preserved in sugar. Figs, pistachio, walnuts and apricots as well as tomatoes, lemons or pieces of pumpkin find their way to the pot of sugar.

The best I ever ate were preserved lemons. The fresh sour taste of the lemon marrying with the sugar made an impression on my tongue I will not forget. But you only find a few preserved lemons. The most popular 'Spoon Sweets' are made from green tomatoes, figs, pumpkin and pistachio. The last one is my favourite.

When I discovered a pistachio tree close to our house I was very happy. First I would make Spoon Sweet with the fruit and later I would make them into the wonderful nuts to accompany a cooling drink. However it was too soon to be happy.

First of all the tree was wild and did not have that much fruit. Last year in May I picked three quarters of the fruit when they were still green. For making 'glika koutaliou' the fruit or vegetables have to be unripe. They should already be strong, have their natural shape and taste. Last year the result was a little pot with my favourite candy and it tasted very good. In September I picked all the other fruit. They are ready when the outside skins burst open and the nut comes peeping out. I dried the peeled fruit in the sun, hoping they would turn into the pistachio nuts you buy ready prepared at the shop. Then they have an opened hard shell with the green nut peeping out.

While it was easy to peel off the outside skin, the hard shells around the nuts stayed closed. I roasted them, put them back into the sun, roasted them again and back into the sun, but without any edible result. I am still trying to find the right way to turn them into those lovely nuts you eat while having a drink.

This year I discovered a complete orchard of pistachio trees. I like them so much that I picked a whole plastic bag full of them to turn into my favourite candy. However I forgot how I did it last year. So I got the recipe from a Greek friend. But I wondered why I did not recognize any of the things she had written down. I had to prick them and cook them in water until the skin turned loose. Skin? I never saw a skin on the outside of a green pistachio.

It was on one of those days when a heatwave struck the island. I was busy with three big cooking pans. In one pan were the pistachios on which I could not find any outer skin. In another one was the sugar happily partying with the water and in the third were the pots where I wanted to put my beloved Spoon Sweets. I burned my fingers looking for a skin on a still boiling pistachio. I burned my nose looking into the boiling pan with sugar in order to see if it would turn into molasses. But I stayed happy. Water was streaming down my body. After what seemed like an eternity and when I nearly wanted to stop, I discovered a tiny white skin coming loose from the pistachio fruit.

I was already standing in a pool of water and because I was so occupied with the cooking it never crossed my mind that the water would come from anywhere other than water spilt while cooling down my burned fingers and nose. So I happily put the pistachio fruit with their little skins into a strainer and I turned off the heat under the pan with sugar because it looked like the molasses was ready. Then I looked around and discovered that there was water all over the kitchen! I did not understand until I looked into the pan with the pots. They were nearly burnt. All water had disappeared. I took out the boiling hot pots and put new water into the pan. Drip, drip, drip, there was a hole in the pan!

So in this roaring heat I had to mop the kitchen. And this was just the beginning. Because how was I to get rid of those little skins on all of the pistachio fruit? That was the kind of work which made the perspiration run down my body as quickly as the water streamed out through the hole in the pan. I'd had it. I would have to very gently rub each pistachio fruit in order to get the skin off! When I had managed to fill the smallest pot, my patience was totally gone. I opened the pan of sugar and discovered there was no molasses anymore but only sugar. I probably cooked the sugar and water that much that it turned into one big lump of sugar. So I gave up. I threw the lids on the pans and fled to friends to cry my disappointment.

The next day when our thermometer in the shade reached 37°C I angrilly peeled off those nasty little skins, which took me hours of perspiring in the heat. Then I took all the sugar I could find in the house and cooked it into a molasses. Then I sterilized three pots in another pan and filled them with the pistachios. When I tasted them they were still pretty hard, so I probably picked them too late. I let the pots cool off and then I put them as far away as I could. I do not want to see them for a good while. Maybe they will to surprise me after a few months by softening the fruit, because I cried so many tears over them.

I am sure that last year when I made my perfect first pot of Sweet Spoon Pistachio I used another recipe. Because if I remembered that I had to peel off those skins I would have never started preserving such a big bag full of pistachio fruit. Now that the temperatures have become normal and my tears have dried up I will look for that other recipe. In September I will attack the pistachios again and with new knowledge I will turn them into those tasty nuts to accompany a drink. Life is hard in the Greek kitchen. Especially when there is a heatwave going on...

Copyright © Smitaki 2006