I love Quince!

I have a bowl or a basket with fragrant quince at our kitchen
table almost all winter. 

 

I get them from our trees whenever I think they are almost ready but I often cut them when they are still hard, because if I let them the worms and wasps will get them before us… When I use them up I get new ones and let them ripen and acquire a bright yellow color before I cut them up bake, poach or cook with meat or make our favorite quince preserves.

 

I sometimes make a rolled, strudel-like pie but what I most like are the various savory dishes I have invented (more…)

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Our ‘Florina’ Peppers

Now that the tomatoes and most other summer vegetable plants have died in our garden, our peppers are still thriving!

Peppers-pan-SPeppers-plant1-S

Although peppers are New World vegetables and became part of the Mediterranean food basket quite late –sometime in mid-18th century— we very happily adopted them as our own and it is hard to imagine how we did without them.

We even created our own kinds of hot and sweet peppers, different in each country: this northern Greek ‘Florina’ pepper and the Spanish Ñora are sweet and delicious, while the various Middle Easter mildly hot Aleppo or Maraş pepper flakes are the perfect flavoring for all the dishes of the area.

Peppers-GRILLED-Sa (more…)

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Wild Fennel: Greece’s Mythic Ingredient

An earlier version of this piece appeared in  The Atlantic website.

 

Wild fennel: Greeks call it maratho; Italians refer to it as finocchio selvatico; and it grows all over the Greek islands and the mainland. Marathon, the area south of Athens where in 490 BC Greeks won the famous, decisive battle against the invading Persian army, probably acquired its name because of its abundant fennel fields. A young soldier, Pheidippides, ran the 42 kilometers from Marathon to Athens to announce the triumphant victory, thus inspiring the eponymous run.

 

The 19th-century British poet Robert Browning tapped the myth and, of course, its fennel fields, in his ode to the young runner: “Fight I shall, with our foremost, wherever this fennel may grow,” Pheidippides proclaimed. Little did he know the run from Marathon to Athens would be his last, as “Like wine thro’ clay, / Joy in his blood bursting his heart, he died, the bliss!”

Wild fennel is mostly used as an herb to add aroma to all sorts of vegetable, meat, and fish dishes, and it is essential in marathopites–the small, phylo-wrapped turnovers made in Crete. (more…)

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A fig’s ‘decisive moment’

Despite the fact that we have old, semi-wild fig trees in our garden, it does not guarantee that we will savor wonderfully ripe fruit come August. We need to be on the alert, prudently waiting for the ‘decisive moment’ when the fig bows ever so slightly, where its stem bends from the bough of the bole.

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Only then, and not before, is the tree ready to give its blossom over to the harvest. If you mistime the picking , even by half a day, the blazing August sun starts to dry-out the fruit’s succulent interior. In our stony and arid island, it is almost a miracle that these contorted, frail looking trees, with trunks infested by colonies of ant, manage to give such small, sweet, delectable fruits. Harvesting figs before the stem-curve moment results in unripe produce, good for the grill or salads, but certainly bearing no resemblance to the honey-sweet, wonderfully juicy taste we adore, the figs we long for the rest of the year.

(more…)

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Mastic Became the Talk of the World!

“We discover references to mastic in such diverse places as the logbooks of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World, and in the account and recipe books of the Sultans of Topkapi and the Seraglio.  We read in the history books that the allure of mastic drew emperors, monarchs, and princes into battles for control of the mastic lands and villages of Chios,” wrote the late Dun Gifford in his introduction to the 1999 Oldways Symposium about the “Healthy Mediterranean Diets and Traditions of Chios and Lesbos islands.”

Last week, some twenty years later, mastic became the talk of the world!

 

“Over my 54 years, I’ve pinned my hopes on my parents, my teachers, my romantic partners, God.

I’m pinning them now on a shrub.

It’s called mastic, it grows in particular abundance on the Greek island of Chios and its resin — the goo exuded when its bark is gashed — has been reputed for millenniums to have powerful curative properties,” wrote Frank Bruni in the New York Times. (more…)

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