Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Flamingo Flambé

I think that the name Natura 2000 still sounds like a brand name for sport items. However Natura 2000 is the name of the European ecological network that helps members of Europe to name and manage protected ecological areas as well as protecting endangered animals.

The over populated Netherlands where it is hard to find green areas has as many as 162 areas on the Natura 2000 list. Greece, a country that is much bigger and greener has 239 areas on the list, with 151 areas pointed out as Special Protected Areas (Spa).

Lesvos has three areas on the Natura 2000 list: The Gulf of Kaloni and surroundings, including the salt pans of Kaloni and those of Skala Polychnitos, The Gulf of Yera and the area around the Olympos Mountain and the Petrified Forest and Sigri. It is strange that only the Gulf of Kaloni is a Special Protected Area and not the incredible heritage of the region of Sigri with its petrified trees.

Greeks and the environment still do not pair well. That is why nearly every day you can read how Greece again sinned against the European rules for protecting the environment. It is cynical that the European commissioner of environment is a Greek named Stavros Dimas. Time after time he has to warn his compatriots and give them big fines because of neglecting the rules for a clean environment or for not protecting enough endangered animals.

Last week 15 flamingos were shot in the Gulf of Amvrakikos (close to Arta in the western part of Greece), a wetland that should be protected. Who wants to shoot 15 flamingos? Just for the fun or because they needed those fancy pink feathers for a carnival outfit, that by now is long over…

Or did they want to make an old fancy Roman dinner? According to articles on the internet the Roman emperors sometimes did get served flamingos. This story comes from the eldest cooking book that got preserved. It is some 1600 years old: ‘Apicius’ or ‘De re coquinara (around cooking). This cooking book not only describes how to cook flamingos or ostriches, it as well gives you advice of how to cheer up old smelling meat by cooking it with so many spices and other ingredients that your guests will never taste that you served them bad meat. For example he used pepper, lovage, thyme, mint, hazelnuts, dates, honey, vinegar, fish sauce, wine and mustard.

‘De re coquinaria’ was compiled in the 4th century with old Roman recipes and some scientists believe that it contains as well recipes from Marcus Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmand who lived in the first century AC, during the reign of the emperor Tiberius.

Apicius loved to give big dinners with extravagant food. According to Pliny (Natural History) Apicius fed figs to some pigs in order to serve their liver as a delicacy accompanied by a glass of wine sweetened with honey. I think this recipe is known here on the island of Lesvos because I know some pigs that in autumn were parked under a huge fig tree and they stuffed themselves the whole day only with the figs that fell from the tree. According to this same Pliny it was as well Apicius that said that flamingo tongues were a delicacy. Strange boys, those Romans!

Yesterday when I passed the flamingos in the salt pans of Skala Polychnitos, they stood dreaming away in the sun. I could not imagine a flamingo steak on my plate. Nor would I eat a parrot pie (in the book it is said that if you cannot get any flamingos you can use the recipe as well as for parrots). And I could not imagine at all that somebody wanted to shoot those beautiful birds.

A little later we passed the freemen of Polychnitos: a pair of storks that for years now live high above the village on a chimney. Later on we saw a black stork flying over Vatera. Leviticus says in the bible (11:19) that you cannot eat storks. And everybody agrees, only not those old Romans that were so crazy for fancy food. Apicius as well was a little crazy. One day he counted what he had earned with his culinary services. He spent millions on luxurious food and now he had nothing left. So he chose to poison himself because he did not want to live without having his fancy but expensive delicacies…

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