Bread, the raw material
of our life
Κείμενο, Φωτογραφίες: George Kavallis
The bread of a place carries the memories of its history. It encapsulates the anxiety for survival of an entire people, the toil of the farmers, the love and the care to provide food for your own…. A kneading trough and the strong hands of a rural woman kneading bread is the shortest story of the poor pre-tourist Cyclades. The bread is love, survival, heritage, life. The first ingredient of our life.
In the past, Paros due to its lowland topography had been the granary of the Cyclades. At my visits to the other Cycladic islands, in contacts I had with people of a certain age I came to realise that this was their idea of Paros. They could remember the caiques coming from Paros filled up with wheat and barley and unloading their cargo at the ports of their islands.
The local wheat varieties were called mavraghanitis and skorkodiliaris. This second variety could have been recognized as a “product of Protected Designation of Origin” with whatever benefits this could have entailed for the local agricultural economy.
On Saturday every housewife kneaded the family’s bread using these two local wheat varieties, at the private ovens of her house or at the communal oven of the neighbourhood she was a “parishioner”.
In the countryside one can still see scores of such ovens and it would be worthwhile to have an official survey and listing of them. Drawing on an excellent book by Georgis Makrionitis “The Traditional Oven in the Cyclades and the Dodecanese” one can understand the enormous importance the making of bread had for the inhabitants of the islands until very recently.
For centuries there is the same routine –the land tilling, the sowing, the harvest, the threshing at the threshing floor with the use of animals, the milling (at the hand mills and later at the windmills), then kneading and baking the bread. This pattern determined the inhabitants’ everyday life, the timing of their various tasks, and the organization of the communities’ social and religious activities, within the context of a perpetual struggle for survival. At the same time, it made the people acquire a deep knowledge of nature, the winds, the plants, the animals, the change of seasons, the soil. The kneaded bread with an onion and a paliatsa (earthenware vessel) of black sun-dried grape wine, a handful of olives and some dried figs were the foodstuff that accompanied the farmers in their field from morning to sunset every day.
The traditional homemade bread which could last for a week or more, gradually lost ground when the imported flour varieties conquered the bakeries and then it totally disappeared as it was replaced by the so called “luxury” bread, in the early 70’s.
Of course there are still people who carry on with the tradition of bread kneading for their own gratification. I’ll never forget a neighbour, “auntie” Maria, who initiated me into this ritual. Loyal to tradition she kneaded and then baked the bread as well as a pot with her chickpeas every Saturday and she often invited me to take part in the baking. I learnt all the secrets of this art and much later I had my own oven.
Even nowadays the fields of Paros shine yellow in June during the harvest of barley used mainly for animal feed and lately for the production of the local beer “56 isles”. In the past, likewise, the excellent quality Parian barley was used for the production of the FIX beer in Athens in early 20th century.
It is a welcome development that things have changed and in the recent years many and good bakeries on the island largely use local wheat flour, bake in wood ovens and make local viands. The “skaltsounia,” small pies made with sweet “mizithra”, a “puff” pie filled with sweet pumpkin, raisins and almonds, the barley rusks, the “skari” grid shaped small bread rolls, the “lazarakia” at Easter- elaborate cookies shaped like human figures- are some samples of the contemporary Parian bakery based on local recipes.
However, bread will always be the pyramid basis for Greek diet. It is a food that unites you with your roots, connects you with your family and directly appeals to your feelings.
Four short stories
Photography catches a moment in time, it connects us with our past and leaves our imprint in the future. Giorgos Kavallis with his camera creates small portraits of four bakers from Paros and Antiparos.
Bakery of Ageria | Giorgos Chaniotis
Our bakery was an idea of my father’s. I was born in Athens and I’m self-taught. My father insisted that we leave our jobs in Athens and open a bakery here. As I see it now, iIt was a daring step -a real folly.
My father also urged me to use the local barley to make the ‘old’ barley bread rolls and rusk bagels again.
We used his mother’s recipe. We were the first to do this. He taught me how to discern the good grain, to winnow it to grind and sift it. Now, I have my own mill…
Wood oven | Nicos Zoumis
My grandfather was a miller at Lefkes and my wife’s grandfather, Stavrianas, happened also to be a miller at Marpissa. My knowledge is purely empirical, but I’ve attended seminars in Greece and Europe. I started before even finishing school, in the summers and after school. After my military service we opened a bakery, first at Marmara, at Drios, At Lefkes in 2001 I opened the Wood Oven, here at Ysterni. We love tradition. Simple things. My child is the kneaded bread with aniseed. It is made with sourdough in the wood oven and has been awarded a prize. I think it is a favourite.
Aspronissi | Petros Triantafillos
I have not always been a baker. In the past I was a fisherman. My bakery was at Antiparos where I learnt the art by myself. I started 25 years ago by sowing an old seed of Parian wheat in a 4-acre field. I ground it in a small mill I had and I covered the island’s needs in bread but only in the winter. It is emmer wheat, “mavrayanitis”, but you can’t grind and store large quantities. My bakery was the second one at Antiparos. At the same point, my mother used to sell sea shells. I liked the place and kept it. Now “Asproniss” i has gone over to the Parikia port as well. It gives you the first welcome as you disembark.
The bakery of Stratis | Stratis Kritikos
The family goes back to my great-great-grandfather who opened a bakery in the village in 1904 and it continued from generation to generation up to the time of my grandfather. When my grandfather retired, he rented it at first and then it was taken by my cousin. In 2014 I took it over together with my family and we settled here. The grandfather’s bakery was further down. I decided I’d do this job, at High School. It was our grandfather’s job and this influenced my decision. We liked visiting the bakery, we played there, As a child, my father was at the shop, all his siblings grew up there. I wanted to do something at the village, so I went together with my cousin to the public Bakery School in Athens. Lefkiano is our most well-known bread. I don’t make many kinds, the village is small and the clientele fixed.