Briam (vegetable stew), Sunday’s favourite meal.
We dried pickerel and bogue fish on the wire and made “liokaftes” and the best meze for tsipouro that we called vortolino.
Mirmigeli, the handmade risoni of each household. Delicious in the oven with karavoloi (snails).
At my granny’s table
Text: Maro Voulgari
Food as a civilization stone of our great small island
Time did not give me the chance to get to know grandmother Annesa well. Anyway, she was not my real grandmother. I joined her Parian household as a daughter in law, but years after she was gone I cut lemons from her lemon tree, I washed the sky-blue glasses of her dowry and had lunch in her kitchen with her name in my mouth for two reasons: because there was always something to remind us of granny and because nothing-absolutely nothing- was exactly as granny used to make it.
Granny Annesa was beloved by everybody but she died together with her era. The most important thing we inherited from her golden hands was that we couldn’t even think of putting readymade food on her blue painted kitchen table. You can’t know Paros unless you taste its own food. Just like granny Annesa.
So, what’s the secret of the island’s culinary uniqueness? Well, nothing more but an exciting “nakedness”, an exceptional simplicity in food. At granny’s table -either we had fried mushrooms, or karavoloi (giant snails) with garlic dip, squabs with mirmigeli (local pasta), or Parian potato salad with capers and sardines- the tastes were absolute and clear. The recipe never changed. Every attempt to vary or enrich the dish was redundant or disastrous.
So, what did we have at granny’s table?
In the autumn mushrooms made their entry. We eagerly picked agathites, glistrites and koumparites and we fried them with lemon and sometimes with eggs. Every home had its own mushroom expert. Even when we happened to have some meat delicacy, the mushrooms on the grill were always a formidable temptation. We also collected karavoli. We always counted them. We knew how many there were in the pot. We boiled them with coarse salt and ate them with garlic dip. Sometimes we cooked them with tomato or in a stew. Every Saturday, granny kneaded the week’s breads. They were round, robust and well kneaded by her strong hands. Before the ember died out, she put in some eggs. Eggs baked in ember, a wondrous experience.
In the winter we had rich bean soups or thick tasty fava (chickpeas), ground in a hand grinder with chopped onions, caper, olive oil and lemon juice. We also had pigeon and chicken soup and instead of orzo we used handmade mirmigeli, a real work of art. When it was almost done, we added two stamens of the local crocus which can still be found at Anerantzia.
We also ate lentils-in the sack we kept them, we put some bay leaves to keep bugs away- as well as our own rapidly boiling chickpeas. Before putting the lid on the pot, we added a coffee cup of sun-dried wine-the one used in the Holy Communion. Parian askoudes or small Koronian olives accompanied this dish. We also made brawn when we had pork, we called it tsiladia.
In the spring we picked kalfa (asparagi), bulbs, poppies and hirovoski greens. We cooked the kalfa greens or the bulbs in boiled water and had them with garlic sauce or with an omelet. We also made pickled bulbs, using our own vinegar. We made pies with wild greens-poppies, chards, hartworts, nettles, show thistles, wild rocket and sorrels’ chervils. We also made pies with raisins-we called them kolopia or xortofouskotes. With potatoes from our farm we made potato stew with fennel, flavoring it with our own tomato paste preserved since summer in glass jars.
Summer… Summer was heavens, cooking took care of itself. It was as if the sun itself cooked the food! We dried bogue fish and picarel to make an exquisite tsipouro (grape distilled liquor) snack-we called it vortolino. We sun dried figs and tomatoes, and we immersed the island’s strong tiny garlic in oil, granny called it “the Turk”. We made fried eggplants and a delicious smell flooded Kamari, as far down as the plane tree. We freely improvised with round courgettes and vegetables from the farm to make briam (vegetable stew).
Fish and Game
We made soup with the small fish but the real seafood feast began on Ash Monday when groups of women -granny’s friends- put on galoshes and brought home sea urchins and limpets. The men did not want to mar their image by fishing with galoshes in shallow waters. This was a task for women. We opened the sea urchins on the spot, at table- the urchin salad is a later life style invention.
We cooked the limpets and the shells with tomato sauce and rice- a dream dish.
Game was a kind of trophy and the good cook should be worthy of it. In our home this happened in two ways.
The first was called Partridge fricassee, the other took the form of a rather city like recipe: Roast woodcock with liver sauce. We also had quails, squabs and turtledoves either on the grill or skewed and naturally rabbit stew.
Granny’s rich culinary agenda included three or four survival recipes from the past. Arantos was a basic food of three ingredients (flour, salt and water). It is pasta dried in the sun which when put in boiling water and mixed with milk gives a nourishing batter you could give to your children. It was a necessity against the Nazi Occupation and poverty. It was likewise with hondros- the island trahanas (frumenty) made with sour milk and grain. They also had ladenio, a cake of baked dough with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Ladenio has survived as a treat during the Lent.
In the house we always had fresh sour cream cheese, hard Parian mizithra, salted cheese and toulomotyri. As long as granny lived she made cheese. Later we bought them from our neighbours and then from the store of the local Cooperative. Those who like genuine products and traditional recipes highly appreciate the cheese products of small producers. They produce sour cream cheese, delicious feta, kopanisti, graviera and kefalotyri; all of them pure, precious and of excellent and stable quality.
Granny”s sweets were very simple and of course they were delicious. Pancakes with honey or molasses, spoon sweets made of grapes, figs, sour cherry, lihnarakia with sweet mizithra, fig tarts. She also made olive oil cookies, must cookies, and souma (grape distilled liquor) cookies- tastes we can fortunately find in our days as well. All these can be bought at the island’s bakeries. We also had barley rusks and her delicious rafiola with fresh mizithra. At Christmas she also made cookies sprinkled with sugar. On Sundays and on special days we enjoyed her marzipans, her xerotigana, her cookies with anise, sweet mizithra pies, sesame seed candies, grape must puddings or rice puddings in which she added a slice of orange peel to adorn it and give fragrance.
Mantilaria, Monemvasia, Vaftra and Aedani
We always had our own wine at table. Mantilaria blended with Monemvasia gives a fruity, rose, aromatic, pleasant light wine, pairing with both meat and fish. The vine harvest in Mavrapetria ended with the eating of doughnuts and then the wine from the barrel made a proud appearance in the crystal decanter. There are more varieties on the island-Aidani, Vaftra, Karampraimi, Asyrtiko, Savvatiano, Malagouzia, Roditis, Malukato and Potamisi. The wine we liked most was the one we produced ourselves from sundried grapes. It is a dark red wine of many degrees. In the evenings, the family’s females used to drink it iced in a small glass together with chocolates.
TWO INTERESTING BOOKS
Fortunately, there are people who love the island’s traditional cuisine and pay homage to it with their work. Anyone who wants to indulge in the authentic Parian cuisine should seek two books written after thorough research and with great care.
The first –The Tastes of Paros– by Ypapanti Roussou and Lefteris Menegos is a handy collection of local recipes as told by the island’s housewives.
The other book is Traditional Tastes of Lefkes of Paros, by Yianna Sergi.
It contains recipes of the Lefkian cuisine and is based on a study carried out at the kindergarten of Lefkes under the auspices of the Athens Progressive Association of Lefkians.