The Terraces of Kea

Once essential, these man-made structures enhance the beauty of the Aegean landscape.

I wrote and presented this essay at the 2017 Oxford Symposium which had as theme ‘Food and Landscape.’ The proceedings are published by ‘Prospect Books’.  

 

“Ceos is the queerest place imaginable,” wrote British traveler James Theodore Bent[i], who visited the island in the nineteenth century.  “The flat roof of the house beneath us fitted close up ours, and this seemed to be almost the universal custom, so that most of the houses are entered by the roof of the house in front.  Everybody walks on the roofs as being preferable to the dirty, dark alleys, arched over the most part, which are given to pigs.”

This was what Bent experienced in crowded Chora, Kea’s main town.  Today, Chora is officially called Ioulis, a resurrection of its ancient name. Bent described with admiration the many stone wall structures of Ceos or Keos, as the island was called in antiquity.  In later times the island was known as Zia,  and today as Kéa or Tziá.  Bent also described Ceos’s paved roads, their sides defined by low fortifications all along them, the numerous smaller and larger stavlià (stables) that dot the landscape, and the ancient watchtowers used for protection and communications with the neighboring mainland of Attica.[ii]

Chora is not densely populated today, as it is inconvenient to live in a place inaccessible by car.  Pigs are no longer wandering in its alleys and the village is beautiful and clean, with white-washed paths.  But the peculiarities of having to live on a precipitous hill are still felt when visiting the once booming town. What is your below is someone else’s above.

This upstairs-downstairs culture is a perennial theme on mountainous Kea and it is not solely observed in its main town.  The whole island has been terraced to form flat cultivable strips of land over and beneath one another.  Endless stone-wall-supported terraces define the island’s slopes making a strong impression on today’s visitors.  Very common throughout the Cyclades and other parts of southern Greece, their original purpose was to tame the land and provide precious soil for cultivation.

 

The place

“A poor land in general, but with few stretches that can’t be cultivated.” With this sentence, Hara Georgiou and Nicolas Faraklas describe Kea’s arable land, in a paper regarding research of the island’s population in antiquity.[iii]  Their description could not be more accurate. Kea’s soil is not great, but you can make do with it if you are stuck on this stony piece of land and try really hard.  But let’s take things from the top.

Set in the south Aegean Sea, Kea belongs to the group of islands called ‘the Cyclades’[iv].  An infertile extension of mainland Greece, this group forms a circle and is roughly divided into two sub-groups.  There is the outer group, which includes islands in the north east, from Andros to Delos and Mykonos and an inner group, starting from Kea and extending all the way south-southeast to Anafi, a neighbor of Santorini, and the Dodecanese.  The inner group is thought to be an extension of the mountain ranges of Attica, the region around Athens.[v]  Located about 17 nautical miles off Lavrio(n) and the western coast of Attica, and 42 miles from Piraeus, Kea’s landscape is believed to resemble that of ancient Athens and its environs. It is greener and more fertile than many other islands.

So close it is to the mainland that, when the weather is clear, the ancient temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounio(n) just a few kilometers south of the modern port of Lavrio, is a visible dot from Kea.  About 128.9 square km (49.8 sq miles) —less than half the size of Martha’s Vineyard (226.6 km), or a quarter of the Isle of Man (572 km)— the island is the sixth largest in the Cyclades and the 24th largest island in Greece.  Today it registers about 2,500 permanent inhabitants, a number that probably doubles or even triples during the high, summer season.

It has been estimated that ancient Ceos had between 6,500 and 10,500 permanent inhabitants to feed.[vi]  Before the days when ferries and refrigerated trucks brought all kinds of provisions from the mainland, here, as in many parts of southern Greece, there were not enough fields for the islanders to plow and produce sufficient food. Making use of local stone, usually quarried on the spot, stone walls were built to support terraces, which proved a successful solution that compensated for the island’s lack of valleys. They retained soil creating strips of land where crops could grow, and extended the island’s pastoral capacity.  Terraces turn erosion into an advantage.  Torrential rains often hit the Cyclades in wintertime, gradually carrying good soil from the mountain tops to lower elevations. Kept in place by the terracing stone walls, this fertile mud fills the endless manmade rows of terraces that decisively mark even the most desolate, rocky seaside slopes.

From a distance, Kea’s terraces resemble Southeast Asian rice patties, minus the permanently inundating waters and lush green. Precipitation was never as abundant here as in those tropical lands.  It is a seasonal event only, but it is plentiful enough to fill the subterranean water reserves, hence the epithet hydrousa (water bearing) given to the island in antiquity.  Kea is better off than many other islands of the Cyclades.  With its soil safely guarded in place by extensive agricultural terracing and plentiful water supplies its poor but not uncultivable soil becomes almost fertile.

 

The history, briefly

“Terracing constitutes some of humanity’s strongest and most enduring efforts to manage geomorphic processes in agriculture and to conserve land resources. The array of terracing strategies among past and present agricultural societies reflects the high degree of indigenous knowledge of soil and landscape processes,” writes Johnathan Sandor.[vii]

Mostly in disrepair today, Kea’s terraces are centuries old.  They extend to its most remote and rocky eastern slopes, often reaching from the seafront all the way to the top of the mountains, to places that seem accessible only to goats. Who would ever even contemplate growing crops there?  One can get a better idea of what they would have looked like in their better days observing those still in decent shape adjacent to some of the island’s small valleys.  Still in use in these more fertile spots, the terraces have been repaired again, again, and again through their many years of existence.  Who first built these terraces, why, and when, are questions archeologists and others have long been trying to answer.

Kea’s long history, extending over some six millennia, may provide us with some clues. The earliest archeological evidence dates to the Neolithic era. During historical times, we know, four cities thrived on the island.  “Foremost was Ioulis, inland, high on the northern hills, famous as the home of Simonides, Bacchylides, and Prodicus.  It is the chief modern town,” writes John Caskey, of the University of Cincinnati,[viii] who for many years excavated Kea’s Agia Eirini site, active mainly during the Bronze Age, which may have had close ties first with the Minoans and then the Mycenaeans.

Later evidence points to the island’s importance in the classical era, with its contribution of four ships to the allied fleet of Athens during the Persian Wars.  The island probably continued to do well during the Hellenistic period.  Not much is known but being part of the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt, its proximity to Athens and the mainland couldn’t but contribute to its importance.  The Ptolemies seem to have established a colony on Keos, to serve the needs of travelers along the main marine routes, and of course the needs of the Egyptian fleet.[ix]

In other words, Kea was not unimportant.  It had to sustain a good number of people, both permanent inhabitants and visitors of all sorts.  At times, it may also have had to contribute to the sustenance of various fleets so it needed to produce sufficient crops.

Romans, Venetians, and Ottomans dominated Kea for centuries after that.  In more recent times, the island has seen an influx of Arvanites, people of Albanian descent who started moving south to Greece around the eleventh century CE.  For the island to attract these newcomers, it must have had something to offer, and that something was probably cultivable land.  Are we to think that much of the infrastructure necessary to survive on Kea was already mostly in place, with the terraces already being there and only in need of some repairs?  Possibly.

Terraces were an indispensable part of the island terrain, wonderfully adapted to the inhabitants’ agricultural needs, enabling them to enjoy crops, part of which could even be exported for some much-needed cash.  Western European travelers writing around the 18th century, never fail to comment on the island’s impressive agricultural terracing.  J.A. van Egmond, who sailed around the islands and the Middle East in 1759, writes that Kea was ‘industriously cultivated.”  Indeed, as archaeologist T. M. Whitelaw concludes, within 13 square kilometers in the island’s northern part, “84% of the land preserves evidence of having been terraced at some point in the past.”[x]

 

Dating the Terraces

Johnathan Sandor, of Iowa State University, who has researched the impact of agriculture and other land use on soil formation, believes that “ancient and traditional agricultural terraces encompass a broad range of forms and functions, occurring in diverse environments on five continents and Oceania […]; likely centers of origin are southwestern and southeastern Asia, and the Americas.”[xi]  Sandor thinks “it is more difficult to date ancient agricultural land than crop remains which can occur in several archaeological contexts,” and believes that the earliest evidence for terracing in most regions is similar, around 2000-3000 years ago.

On the other hand, J. E. Spencer and G. A. Hale claim that terracing began 5-9 millennia ago in the Near East.[xii]  Stones cannot be accurately dated, and although archaeologists are very careful in their statements, there seem to be ways of telling with certainty that many of the terraces that continued to be cultivated over the years were indeed been constructed in antiquity.  Lynne Kvapil, of the University of Cincinnati, has studied the terraces in Korphos, Peloponnese.  She writes that “the results indicate that early terraces were contemporary with the development of the Mycenaean harbor site of Kalamianos […] during the Late Bronze Age [1200 – c. 500 BC].”[xiii]  As UC Irvine archeologist Hara Georgiou mentioned in an email exchange, the terraces on Kea “were constructed and maintained over a very long period of time, as they are to some extent even now; and the same is true for farm buildings and structures.  Many of the abandoned nineteenth century ones have earlier foundations and much earlier datable potsherds in and around them.”

Such foundations can be especially evident around Kea’s four ancient cities.  Pieces of cultivable land must have been in great demand in antiquity, when up to 10,500 people lived on the island,[xiv] bringing intense pressure on agricultural resources.[xv]  Constructing those terraces would require an enormous workforce, and could not be accomplished without free workers or slaves, and considerable wealth.[xvi]

Let’s take the example of Karthaea, the best preserved of Kea’s four ancient cities, in the south-easternmost part of the island.  The impressive ruins on Karthaea include an archaic temple of Apollo, a classical temple of Athena, a Hellenistic theater, and Roman baths.  The terraces around the now deserted site suggest that a significantly large population lived here in antiquity.  Archeological evidence dating to the late fifth or early fourth c. BCE shows that public land was being leased to individuals in Karthaea, as also in Poieessa, the neighboring southwestern ancient city, known today as Poisses, and also further up the hill, near the village of Katomeria.[xvii] Notably, these places have small valleys with fertile flatland still cultivated to this day. Most of Kea’s seasonal vegetables, tangerines and other citrus fruits of excellent quality come from the Poisses gardens.

Besides material evidence about the terraces, collected and dated from archaeological surveys, S. Price and L. Nixon[xviii] research ancient texts, focusing on the word αἱμασιά,[xix] one of the terms that seem to refer to agricultural walls.  The earliest references to such walls comes from the Odyssey (18.357-359, eighth c. BCE): “Stranger, I wonder whether you would like to work my land, if I took you on, on some marginal fields, at a proper rate of course, assembling haimassiai and planting tall trees.”  The landowner mentioned in Homer’s verses evidently is extending his cultivable land to far away, “marginal” areas.  Elsewhere in the Odyssey (24.222-225) we find servants assembling such stone walls to protect cultivated land.

Such references concur with archaeological research. And there are also parallel examples from north Africa and the Middle East, Kea’s not that far away neighbors.

FAO scientists, in their quest for sustainable agricultural developments, have studied “level terraces for dry land farming, [which] have been extensively used in the past, for example in Ethiopia, The Yemen Arab Republic, and in the Maghreb countries of North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia).  Most were built in the past and nowadays are increasingly not maintained or abandoned as the maintenance becomes uneconomical or impossible because of labor shortages.” [xx]  The study cites as example the Haraz mountains of The Yemen that “until recently has been one of the most densely populated high-mountain regions in the world, with virtually all slopes being terraced or used as rainwater collection areas.  Mainly since the end of 1970, large areas of this man-made ecosystem have been abandoned. […]  Several similar examples are recorded on the north coast of Africa where the migration has been across the Mediterranean to Europe.”

The Crops

In antiquity, but also to some extent today, terraces were used for the cultivation of trees, grains, vegetables and grapes.  Different crops seem to have been planted in various parts, often depending on the micro-climate and soil.  Based on a study of the terraces in Sphakia, Crete, but also elsewhere in Greece, Price and Nixon conclude that terraces dating to the Roman, Late-Roman period are generally constructed on gentler slopes, their main purpose being the cultivation of grains or legumes. Terraces from the Venetian and Ottoman periods are on steeper slopes, their purpose likely being the cultivation of vines.[xxi]

Unlike the terraced rice paddies of southeast Asia, the terraces on Kea and in other parts of the Mediterranean were surely never all cultivated simultaneously.  The soil in our part of the world is quite poor, and rains are usually sufficient, but never too abundant or predictably regular every year: “Dry hot summers with mild winters [usually] providing plentiful rainfall.  The irregularity of annual rainfall did mean that crop failure was a regular problem,” writes Mark Cartwright.[xxii]

We can assume that alternating terraces was the case in ancient, as in more recent times. Cartwright notes that throughout Greece “there is evidence of crop rotation, and fields were left fallow to allow soil nutrients to regenerate and moisture to build up […].  Crops as [fava] beans and lentils were also grown and re-ploughed back into the field to fertilize it, or weeds could be left to grow as food for grazing animals.”  In antiquity, much like today, people plowed and sowed in the late fall or early winter, after the first rains of November and December.  “It is interesting to note that there were no distracting [ancient] religious festivals or records of Assembly meetings in Athens during this crucial and busy period.”

Kea’s southern slopes, those that face north, are the ones that are more fertile.  The cool northern winds bring precious moisture which is captured in the island’s many ravines.  In most cases, these fertile patches of land were kept for the more demanding annual crops, such as grains and legumes, which are still planted in rotation.  And, of course, sheep and goats grazed on the patches of land that were left fallow, as they still do.  The milk of the goats and sheep were used to make cheese and yogurt. Occasionally a young lamb or kid would be slaughtered for Easter or other important family feasts and religious celebrations.

For many centuries, Kea was self-sufficient; Bent, our favorite traveler, observes that the island produced “far more than is needed for home consumption.”[xxiii]  This, he thought, was a mixed blessing: it made things too easy for Keans, who did not have to strive for more, and missed the chance of making their island an important commercial center.  “With complacency they watch from their town the steamers plying east and west without a regret that they do not stop at Keos; they cultivate their oaks and their fields, and retain far more of the old-world life that the busy Syriotes, for only a weekly steamer touches here and a few caïques {…} making its winters, in particular, not a season for the faint at heart.”

BARLEY AND LEGUMES

Barley was the island’s staple grain, as it has been in most parts of southern Greece and many areas around the Mediterranean.

Gruel from barley and barley cakes were the basic foods of common people in antiquity, while paximadia,[xxiv] twice-baked barley rusks, were still a staple on Kea and other Cycladic islands until the mid-twentieth century.  White bread didn’t reach Kea until the mid-1960s and even wealthy islanders consumed dark bread, baked with a combination of local barley and wheat from the mainland.  Not only did the island produce enough barley for its inhabitants’ needs, but there was an occasional surplus to export. Kea is dotted with numerous stone threshing floors, where the harvested crop was crushed and winnowed to separate grain from fodder, the latter to be used as animal feed.  Many of these threshing floors were in regular use until recently.

In alternate years, instead of barley, legumes such as grass pea, and fava (broad) beans were planted. My neighbor, Zenovia Stefa, told me that in the small gardens and terraces around Otzias, where we live, her late father used to plant grass peas (Lathyrus sativus), a legume for which the generic name ‘fava’ is used throughout Greece. This primitive, drought-resistant pea “originated from the Balkan Peninsula in the early Neolithic age.  It may have been the first domesticated crop in Europe around 6000 BCE.”[xxv] Zenovia told me that she and her siblings helped harvest and separate the peas from the pods, after the stalks had been threshed on the stone-paved floor, much like barley.  The discarded stalks and peelings were a much-appreciated feed for sheep and goats during the dry, summer months, when fresh grass is not available.  Hand stone mills were used to grind off the peas’ hard skins, splitting them, so that after a brief cooking they would be easily mushed into the yellow purée also called ‘fava’, a poor islanders’ staple since antiquity.  Anya Anastasia Sarpaki writes that a unique archaeo-botanical material of “crops in the latest stage just before consumption,” was identified among the archaeological finds at Akrotiri, the Bronze Age settlement on the volcanic island of Santorini (Thera). It “includes split legumes, bulgur-type cracked barley, and flour.”[xxvi]  Fava, especially the type from Santorini, is today considered a delicacy, served in taverns all over Greece, although the purée is now usually made from imported yellow split-peas (dal).

WINE

Kea was once famous for its red wine.  Bent mentions that the island had extensive vineyards, many on terraced corridors in its northern slopes.  Considerable amounts of wine were being produced throughout the island’s history.  There was enough wine for local consumption, and until the early twentieth century some was also exported.  Bent writes that Michael Psellos –the eleventh century monk, scholar, and politician– describes Kea’s wine as “sweet to the scent, and black in color,” and “much sought after in Constantinople.  […]  The wine of Keos is still of great repute,” Bent observes, and “even the shepherd in his ‘stable’ had an excellent draught to give us out of his gourd.”[xxvii]

Photographs taken at the end of the nineteenth c. and beginning of the twentieth c. bear witness to serious wine-producing activity, especially in the northern part, where we live.  The old abandoned, overgrown winepress I see from my office window, half-way up the terraced hill, is proof that vines must have been cultivated on the grounds around our house. There are many old wine presses all over the island, indicating extensive vineyards.

These precious old presses –some in covered stone shacks, others just simple open-air cisterns carved in rock, or built with stones and plastered– are the sole remnants of the once thriving viticulture.  Santorini, and other Cycladic islands never gave up on their vineyards, and managed to revive their unique grape varietals, putting their local, exquisite wine production on the international map. Kea doesn’t even manage to produce enough decent wine for local consumption these days; and the same is true for the island’s once plentiful cheese production. Bent playfully remarks that, unlike other islanders, Keans, complacent with their beautiful and relatively fertile island, are “not an ambitious race;” and this does not seem to have changed much.

At some point, after the vines were gone, the abandoned narrow terraces were invaded by goats and sheep who graze climbing up and down, often adding to the stone walls’ deterioration.  Throughout the winter and spring, the animals consume every piece of edible green, uprooting most vegetation.  This is the reason why precious few plants survive, apart from some thorny bushes, asphodels, and the hearty wild sage, thyme and savory, Kea’s iconic fragrant shrubs.  Even if the old, abandoned vines had managed to survive neglect, diseases and the goats’ teeth, they would have been consumed by the November fires set by shepherds on the terraced hills.  The widespread belief that fire encourages greens to grow is partly supported by science.[xxviii]

ACORN CAPS

Another interesting, unusual crop that peaked in the mid-nineteenth century was acorn caps.[xxix]  On the slopes that were not planted with vines or legumes grew oak trees: “over all but the northern slopes,” Bent writes —in other words, not in places where vines grew.  The traveler adds that even “the poorest Keote possesses a few oak trees, and from August to October the oak harvest keeps them all employed.  The acorns are huge things, as big as eggs, astonishing to our eyes; but it is the cap only that they export, the acorns are, as with us, eaten by the pigs.”  The velani oak tree variety (Quercus aegilops),[xxx] was mainly grown on Kea not as animal feed but as a cash crop.

 

The large acorn caps, very rich in tannins, were quite a valuable export in the old days, an essential element of the leather tanning process.[xxxi]  As for the acorn nuts that were left behind, they were not wasted. Acorn-fed pigs produce wonderful meat, and pigs once roamed around, feasting on the leftover nuts.  In the early twentieth century, as modern chemicals started to be used, acorn caps were no longer valued.  But pork meat is still one of Kea’s delicacies.  Not many people cook now with pork fat, as in the old days, but they still feast on pork.  Every year, each household raises at least one pig to slaughter, usually in early winter.  Besides sausages and the local delicacy loza, smoked pork loin, all parts of the slaughtered animal where preserved in many ways, to complement and flavor the predominantly vegetarian dishes islanders consumed.

This “abundance of oak trees has caused an absence of olives in Keos,” Bent states.[xxxii] This fact has puzzled many European travelers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Although there are a few very old olive trees on Kea, most have been planted quite recently.  At some point, when acorn caps lost their industrial value, almond trees were planted all over the island, both for local consumption, but also as a cash crop.  Older Keans remember earning one golden British sovereign for each oka (1.3 kilos) of almond kernels!  Kean almond trees are never irrigated so their fruit is not plentiful, but it is intensely delicious.

 

The present

The inhabitants of Kea had always had an easier life than other islanders.  They exported their agricultural produce, wine and acorns, while in antiquity they were also blessed with milt, a naturally occurring red iron oxide[xxxiii] .  Milt was much valued for its use in painting and the marine industry.  In the last decades, around the turn of our century, they were once more exceptionally lucky: land on Kea, this time not the fertile parts but the rocky wind-ravaged hillsides, became particularly precious.  Just an hour by ferry from Athens, the island has become a trendy upscale resort and properties gained a lot of value, making many poor inhabitants, rich.  On top of that, construction has provided jobs to many, even now during the tough economic times.  It is not uncommon to see a bulldozer parked on some terrace, near a big oak tree next to an on-going construction site.

For the past 16 years, my husband and I have been living in a small valley on the northeastern part of Kea, surrounded by terraced hills.  The meticulous way terraces follow the hills’ curves is truly amazing, reminiscent of the cornrow braids that adorn modern heads.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that these manmade structures enhance the beauty of the Aegean landscape.  Terraces never become a blight to the eye the way modern constructions do; the ugly, imposing frames of unfinished houses that destroy the serene landscape.

Terraces are still built on the island, and new supporting dry-stone walls are created, albeit for a different purpose.  Now their function is to tame the eroding soil around Kea’s modern cash crop: vacation villas.  The stone wall style has also changed, adapted to the skills of modern masons, who are used to squaring the stones and following straight lines, seldom respecting a hill’s curves.  Terraces now make beds for the fancy, thirsty, imported decorative plants that drain the island’s water bed.  They expand verandas, create swimming pool space, and more guest areas for the villas that hang over the steep, rocky cliffs above the sea, where once sheep and goats grazed.  Modern villa owners get incensed at the locals whose goats sneak into their unsustainable yards, invitingly green as they are to the hungry animals. They complain about the sheeps’ odor and annoying night bleating.  These new Greek and foreign vacationers don’t care about locally grown produce, as they seldom cook at home.  They eat out in the island’s taverns, and for their fancy parties they order from Athenian caterers.  The prepared foods arrive by ferry, in refrigerated vans…

 

* I am grateful to Hara Georgiou and Nikos Alexandrou for their invaluable help; also to my husband, Costas Moraitis, and my dear friend, Dr. Maxine Ain, for their comments and edits.

 

ENDNOTES

[i] Bent, J. Theodore (James Theodore). Cyclades, or Life among the insular Greeks. Longmans: London 1885, p. 155

[ii] ibid. 157

[iii] Georgiou, Hara, and Faraklas, Nikolas. Ancient Habitation in Kea; the Northern Part of the Eastern Side (Ariadne, Yearbook of Crete University, Rethymno 1993) –IN GREEK

[iv] See the map https://www.google.gr/maps/@37.2768072,24.9339938,8z 

[v] Sarpaki, A. A.  Palaeoethnobotany of the West House Akrotiri, Thera: A Case Study.  Dissertation  Sheffield 1987. p. 2

[vi] Georgiou p. 38-39, 48.

[vii] Sandor, Johnathan: ‘Ancient Agricultural terraces and soils’, in: Warkentin, B.P. (ed.), Footprints in the soil: people and ideas in soil history’, International Union of Soil Sciences, Soil Science Society of America (2006).

[viii] John L. Caskey: Notes on Keos and Tzia (Hesperia, Volume 50, Issue 4)

Page(s): 320-326

[ix] Cohen G. M. Hellenistic Settlements in Europe, the Islands, and Asia Minor. Berkeley: University of California Press 1995, p. 51, 133.

[x] J.F.Cherry, J.L.Davis, E.Mantzourani: Landscape Archeology as Long-Term History; Northern Keos in the Cycladic Islands (1991, Monumenta Archaeologica 16, University of California, Los Angeles) p. 405

[xi] Sandor, J. 2006. Ancient Agricultural Terraces and Soils. In: Footprints in the Soil: People and Ideas in Soil History, B. Warkentin (Ed). Elsevier.

[xii] Spencer, J.E., and G.A. Hale. 1961. The origin, nature, and distribution of agricultural terracing. Pacific Viewpoint 2: 1-40.

[xiii] Kvapil, Lynne (n.d.). ‘Untangling Mycenaean Terracing: Landscape Modification and Agricultural Production at Korphos-Kalamianos’. Archaeological Institute of America.  http://classics.uc.edu/index.php/news-5/132-2011apaaia

[xiv] Hara Georgiou, Nikolas Faraklas: Ancient Habitation in Kea; the Northern Part of the Eastern Side (Ariadne, Yearbook of Crete University, Rethymno 1993) –IN GREEK

[xv] See note 5

[xvi] Lina Mendoni: Structures Rurales Et Sociétés Antiques: Actes Du Colloque de Corfou

[xvii] J.F.Cherry, J.L.Davis, E.Mantzourani: Landscape Archeology as Long-Term History; Northern Keos in the Cycladic Islands (1991, Monumenta Archaeologica 16, University of California, Los Angeles) p. 320.  See also Nixon 671

[xviii] Simon Price & Lucia Nixon: Ancient Greek Agricultural Terraces: Evidence from Texts and Archaeological Survey

[xix] αμᾰσιά, ἡ, wall of dry stones, αἱμασιάς τε λέγειν to lay walls, Od.18.359; αἱ. λέξοντες 24.224, cf. Hdt.2.69, Theoc.7.22; αἱ. ἐγγεγλυμμένη τύποισιHdt.2.138: of the walls of a city or fortress, Id.1.180, 191, Th.4.43; αἱ. περιοικοδομῆσαι D.55.11; ἐφ’ αἱμασιῇσιν ἥμενος Theoc.1.47, cf. IG12(3).248 (Anaphe).

[xx]  FAO Natural Resources Management and Environment Department: Soil and water conservation in semi-arid areas    http://www.fao.org/docrep/t0321e/t0321e-10.htm

[xxi] Price Nixon 681

[xxii] http://www.ancient.eu/article/113/

[xxiii] Bent, 154.

[xxiv] http://www.aglaiakremezi.com/paximadia-barley-biscuits-past-and-present/

[xxv] http://www.feedipedia.org/node/285

[xxvi] Anaya Anastasia Sarpaki: The Palaeoethnobotany of the West House Akrotiri, Thera; A Case Study (Submitted in fulfillment of a Doctorate in Philosophy, Department of Archaeology and Prehistory University of Sheffield, 1987)

[xxvii] Bent 157.  Dried gourds were used to store and sometimes serve wine.

[xxviii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_ecology

[xxix] Bent 154.

[xxx] C. C. Lacaita: Quercus Aegilops. Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) Vol. 1920, No. 3 (1920), pp. 100-105

[xxxi] Vegetable substances: Materials of Manufactures (William Clowes, London, 1833)

[xxxii] Bent 154.

[xxxiii] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annual-of-the-british-school-at-athens/article/kean-miltos-the-wellknown-iron-oxides-of-antiquity1/6FEB377A4E260C7445A9592DC5898619

 

 

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With Succulent Fava Pods

It is fava time again, and this spring, after quite a long, wet, and cold winter, we seem to have lots of delicious, succulent pods.

Although we planted less beans last fall, the robust fava plants at the edge of our western garden are full of pods that I struggle to harvest before they grow large and stringy. We love eating them whole, much like green beans, as their velvety pods are tender and delicious. Over the years I have made the traditional braised fava with green onions and fennel, a more creative dish with preserved lemon and cilantro, and of course various kinds of fresh fava risotto, either with rice or orzo pasta. Inspired by a Spanish recipe by David Tanis I made a kind of fresh fava scrambled eggs, quite different from the traditional Greek island froutalia, the seasonal omelets with vegetables and potatoes.

Yesterday I cooked a new, apparently quite successful dish to showcase them: Inspired by the old, quick braised fava recipe with garlic, and both coriander seeds, and fresh coriander (cilantro) that I have in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts, I created yet one more variation of the one-pot-pasta, this time with fresh fava and the two kinds of coriander/cilantro. Both Costas and I enjoyed it enormously, and we think that it is one of the best such simple pastas I made.

One-pot Pasta with Fava, Coriander Seeds, and Cilantro

Serves 3-4

1/2 cup good olive oil

4-5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon coarsely ground coriander seeds

About 1 1/2 pound tender fava pods, ends trimmed, chopped into 1/4-inch slices

350 grams bavete, ditalini or a combination (this was what I had in my cupboard)

About 4 cups boiling water or vegetable broth, Or more, as needed

Salt and Aleppo or red pepper flakes, to taste

A large bunch cilantro, chopped —stems and all

Crumbled feta for serving

Warm the olive oil and saute the garlic and coriander in a medium pot, until the garlic starts to smell. Do not let it start to color.

Add the chopped fava and sauté 2 minutes, then add the pasta, turn a few times and pour in 3 cups of boiling water or broth. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring often in high heat for about 9 minutes, adding more boiling water or broth if it gets dry. Taste and if the pasta is almost al dente, stir in the cilantro, taste, correct the seasoning, and remove from the heat, making sure it has quite a bit of broth.

Cover and let sit for 3-4 minutes, before serving in bowls, sprinkled with feta, and drizzled with fruity olive oil, if you like.

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Greens, again…

Porihia or Vrouves —the fresh shoots of wild mustard— are the horta (wild greens) we most love here on Kea! 

Their flavor is strong and somewhat bitter, much like the Italian cime di rapa or brocoletti. I am very proud of the bunch I gathered during our morning excursion up, in the mountainous Kato Meria. Feels like spring but we are told that more cold, wind, and maybe snow is coming…

With the bunch of porihia –wild mustard shoots– I gathered, instead of just boiling them as salad I made a fast, one-pot-pasta substituting greens and garlic for the tomatoes etc. of the original recipe. I could include anchovies, but I decided not to, this time. We didn’t miss them. 

I sauteed four garlic cloves in olive oil, added the greens, and some white wine, then about two cups boiling water, and half a packet of pasta. I cooked them stirring often, for about 9 min. Served the green’s pasta drizzled with fresh lemon juice, and more fruity olive oil, Aleppo pepper, and a handful of chopped fennel. We loved it!

See more recipes with greens, and the original One-Pot Pasta 

Braised Greens with potatoes

Lamb or Pork braised with Greens

Hortopsomo: Crust-less pie with Greens and Herbs

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Melomakarona – Honey-Infused, Olive Oil, Orange and Spice Cookies

The traditional, fragrant, old-fashioned Christmas cookies are my favorites! They are vegan because people ate them during the days of Lent that precede Christmas. I have updated my mothers recipe, adding ground nuts in the dough.

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I think you will find these cookies irresistible. If you manage to save them for later, they will get even better the next days.They keep for up to 1 month so you may want to double the recipe, especially if you bake melomakarona with friends, as we usually do.

 

Makes about 45 cookies

 

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Baked Giant Beans with Garlic and Dill (Gigantes Skordati)

In this, somewhat unusual dish, the beans have a lovely sweet, creamy and garlicky taste, scented with oregano and plenty of dill.

Photo by MANOUSOS DASKALOGIANNIS 

I got the recipe from the North of Greece and I particularly love to bake it in the winter, but also all year round, as I am fed up with the common baked gigantes in tomato sauce that all taverns serve.

From my first book The Foods of Greece

 

Serves 6 

 

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Veal Stew with Quinces (Moschari Kydonato)

This is my favorite winter stew. Quinces are equally delicious in savory and sweet dishes, and Greek islanders cook all kinds of meats with quince.

On Chios, they pair quinces with free-range chicken; on Crete, with lamb; and on Lesbos, with veal. As with most stews I make on Kea, our local veal shank is my first choice; but I also make pork with quince. I give the meat extra flavor by tying the cores of the fruit in cheesecloth and adding them to the cooking broth.

The combination of meat with quinces is not new. In the Roman cookery of Apicius we find similar stews, and quinces have been quite common in old traditional Greek cooking. (more…)

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More Fig Jam Experiments

After reading about the aromatic and complex fig jam we created three years ago, scroll down for a description of the plain, chunky new version Costas and I made last week. Fig Jam 2 bowl & basket S

Figs purple & green SI used to not particularly like fig jam; seemed too sweet and one-dimensional. But we always have too many figs so, a few years ago, for the first time, I decided to create my own different version of this jam, adding equal amounts of figs and lemons –my favorite fruit– making a Fig and Lemon Jam. I thought it came out quite nice, but Costas wasn’t impressed. He loves sweets much more than I do, and he longed for the thick fig jam his mother used to make in Volos, Central Greece.   Fig Jam 2 bowl SFigs: Preserving Summer’s Bounty the piece I did for the Atlantic in 2009 will tell you more about this luscious fruit! (more…)

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A Pie-like Stuffed Bread with Broccoli

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Bread Broccoli close S

As it often happens with my garden’s vegetables, I forgot to cut the broccoli when it was still hard and firm. Now it had opened and was soon going to fill with tiny yellow flowers, but I knew that this didn’t mean it wasn’t still delicious. I separated the stems from the very tender tops, and cooked them in boiling water for about ten minutes; I added the tops and cooked for another four minutes, then drained everything through a fine colander.

There was quite a bit of green mash at the bottom of the colander, from the over-ripe florets. I diced the stems, added the green mash and decided to use it as stuffing for breads. I was inspired by Scacciata con i Broccoli, a Sicilian stuffed focaccia from Catania originally made with the purple, very flavorful broccoli that was once the only kind we had in Greece. (more…)

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