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

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