Tuesday, 18 December 2012

December 14 – I want a Hay-Madam!

Photo from  the  internet: Solar cooking at CantinaWest

While you can see snow glistening on one of the mountain peaks in Turkey and temperatures on Lesvos have dived, the sun is still trying to keep the frost out of the earth. But last night I put on my warmest clothes and sat outside to see the stars falling. Well, in fact it was not stars falling last night, but space debris, coming from the meteor Geminides. When I had lost track of the number of flares crossing the sky, I went back to my warm bed, not waiting for the highlight of this meteor shower, because it really was much too cold to stay outside.

And while I was sitting under those twinkling lights I thought that this sky is a world that could never be lost, even though so many stars or debris are falling out of it. And I do hope the same for beautiful Greece. I mean the Hellenic people have already existed for thousands of years. Now they are living through a black spot in their history: a crisis touching so many Greeks in their hearts and in their wallets. In Holland they complain that the Dutch are reining in their spending, here in Greece the people do not even have money to spend.

To economize is the big thing these days for everybody. Shops in Mytilini are barely decorated for Christmas and it is hard to find any luxury items in the food stores (or were they already sold out?). Here the wood stove does its best to keep the house warm. This way, I too I economize on gas, electricity and on fuel, which cost this year has risen by 50 %. Lots of people have already bought a woodstove and I am sure illegal logging will increase this winter. People have rediscovered using olive pits to heat, like they did in earlier times. They are now delivered as an alternative and cheaper fuel for central heating. They also sell olive pits compressed in blocks for wood burners and olive pits can be turned into a bio fuel for cars. Let’s hope that a smart Greek is buying all the olive pits at all the olive presses here on the island and starts a business with it. As far as I know at the moment there is only one business on the island selling these olive pits for the central heating and he sold out his merchandise pretty quickly.

A woodstove is a nice way to economize. Apart from it giving warmth, you can use it to warm up food; preparing food when you have a woodstove with an oven, you can bake bread, pizzas and cakes at any time of the day.

But there are more ways to economize while cooking. In the poor, warm third world countries (and Greece is on its way to re-enter this category) there is experimentation with solar cooking. With mirrors or silver plated panes the warmth of the sun is directed to a central place where you can place a cooker. Just imagine a satellite dish, plated with tinfoil, directed to the sun. In the middle an iron frame keeps a boiling pot and in it you cook. The solar cooking box does the same, but seems to me more practical: a box with mirror sides and the cooking pot is placed at the inside.

In the winter it may be that solar cooking is not possible. Imagine you plan a dinner and there is no sun for the whole day. Then you have to use an open fire, or the hot ashes in a firepit. The drums of old washing machines are easily turned into a fire pit or outside stove: just put an oven grid over the opening and there you can put your cooking pans. But make sure that this pan is fire resisting!

One of the eldest pans used to cook on an open fire was called a Dutch oven. These are heavy iron cast pans that could last for generations, made in Holland. In the nineteenth century they were indispensable and popular amongst the pioneers going to America in search of a new life.

People living in the city can’t always make an open fire, nor use a wood stove. But even without fire or sun it is possible to economize while cooking. The hay box is a box or basket where you place a pan with food in the middle, fill it up with hay and or woollen blankets and the food gets done because the hay and/or blankets will keep the warmth. In Holland they developed a modern hay box, a large upside down tea-cozy, which is a joy to have in the kitchen and is called a hay-madam.

This week I didn’t manage to experiment with young thistles, nor with mushrooms but I have some other Christmas menus which are composed of dishes from my cookbook Almost Greek. I am not sure if you can prepare them all in the above mentioned cooking fashions, because I imagine that these alternative ways of cooking need some practice. But there are enough ideas to set yourself to work. The vegetarian menu I gave in last week’s column Rain, mushrooms and a Christmas menu. Here are a meat and fish menu for Christmas.

Almost Greek meat menu for Christmas

Chestnut bread rolls

In between:
Peach in champagne

Main course:
Rabit with mushroom sauce
Vegetables with pesto
Potato pancakes with herbs

Mud from Heaven with figs

Finishing dinner with:
Quince liqueur

Almost Greek fish menu for Christmas

Spinach omelettes with shellfish ragout

In between:

Main course:
Pasta with asparagus-shrimp sauce
Carrot salad with almonds
Broad Bean Dip Sauce
Olive bread

Red jelly pudding

Finishing with:
Fresh apricot bonbons
Orange liqueur
(the recipe of orange liqueur is not in the book)

  • The cookbook Almost Greek is available through the website Smitaki (in Dutch, English and German), in the shop 1912 (Lisa) in Molyvos (Lesvos, Greece), at the bookstore ΜΟΥΤΑΦΗΣ at Ermou 11 in Mytilini (in English), the book can be paged through at Cafe Joke at Omirou 13, Athens and the Dutch edition is for sale in different book-and cookshops in Holland 
(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

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