Wednesday, 29 January 2014

More on Greek Cooking

 More on Greek Cooking

We don’t often have Mezes when we eat at home, whereas we usually opt for Mezes when we go out to a taverna for lunch. At home we will have one main course – which is often based around vegetables grown in the garden – and one or two salads.

Mezedes means ‘a tableful’ and comes from a Middle Eastern tradition of sharing small portions of savoury foods while relaxing in the evening. However we have noticed that on the island they are often used as a lunch starter, or each will person order one mezes and this is shared, and is the whole meal. Mezes and salads are not limited to raw green vegetables. Many of these dishes are served with olive oil and lemon juice.

A Few Mezedes
Horta (endive or spinach, and can include wild greens like dandelion)
Tzatsiki ( yougurt, cucumber and garlic)
Melitzanosalata also known as Imam Baldi (eggplant and garlic)
Dolmades – stuffed vine leaves
Small fried fish - sardines and whitebait
Fried Squid
Saganaki – fried cheese (halloumi)
Gigantes Plaki – baked butter beans
Fava – yellow split pea puree
Kiftedes – fritters, either zucchini or eggplant, or minced beef
Lamb kebabs

Vegetables and Fruits
Fresh vegetables (usually from the home garden) hold centre stage in the Greek kitchen. These are then transformed in cooked dishes by the addition of olive oil and spices into wonderful dishes, or eaten raw with the addition of olive oil and lemon in tasty salads.

Eggplants, Melitzanes

Eggplants Melitzanes are very popular cooked in many different ways. Takis is not very fond of them and always tries to get me to only plant a couple of plants. However he does enjoy Moussaka, and a the dip named Imam Baldi (in translation ‘the priest fainted’. Presumably with delight!)

I have described the basic Moussaka (slices of eggplant, potatoes, and mince and tomato, covered with a béchamel sauce. And a meal using similar ingredients in which the eggplants are just cut in half, with a mince and cheese topping (called  Papoutsakia (little shoes).  These are both main dishes.

 Imam Baldi in which the eggplants are roasted and cooked with garlic as a dip is usually served as mezedes.

I also often slice eggplants thinly to make fritters. I first sprinkle salt on the slices to allow them to sweat, rise and dry, then lightly cover them with flour and fry them in a little olive oil. (You need this preparation as without it the eggplants just suck up the oil and end up an oily mash.)


From July on we have so many tomatoes I’m looking for ways to use and to preserve the bowls and bucket loads that come from the garden. I have already written about our tomato sauce and about a salad made with watermelon (for a very hot day!). Another tomato salad is made with slices of a mild cheese (halloumi from Cyprus is a good one to use) and basil leaves.

When the tomatoes are fully ripe, and large, that is the time to make stuffed tomatoes Yemistes, though we rarely just include tomatoes in this dish. It will include stuffed zucchini and stuffed green peppers. This combination not only tasted good but also looks good. The stuffing can be vegetarian with rice and herbs but can also have minced meat added to the rice.


Like tomatoes, when the crop arrives you have so many you can’t give them away, because everyone else has them in bucketfuls. These can be made into fritters like the eggplant, just sliced and dipped lightly into flour and fried with only a little olive oil until crisp. Or when larger cut in half and filled with mince in the Yemistes dish.

The flowers can be treated as a cover for a filling, though I usually use a lighter filling than mince. I just open the petals and spoon in a cottage cheese and egg mix, with the addition of some chopped chives. Then the whole small package is dipped in a batter and fried.

A salad is made with medium sized zucchini, left whole and boiled until soft. Then these are cooled down and, depending on the size, either cut in half or left whole, and covered with olive oil and lemon juice.


It would require a whole book to outline the involvement of this tree with humankind. But quickly I’d like to touch on times when an apple tree has impinged on my development. They do not do as well on the island but now and then I need to make an apple pie, usually with bought apples.

Being English I do have a relationship with this fruit. It started in England with my step-granddad had an apple shed where he carefully stored apples on shelves, to last all winter. Every now and then these were sorted and a few rotten ones were removed. But there were still a few, slightly shriveled but still sweet apples brought into the house around Christmas time.

There were apple trees growing in the allotment next to my boarding school. In late autumn I was sent on cold mornings to gather up fallen apples to grate for our morning muesli, and along with the apples went a few scraps of skin from my cold fingers! I still sometimes vary our breakfasts by making a raw grated apple museli.

Since living in Australia I’ve been aware of a ‘pom’ as slang term for us Anglo’s, and I’ve wondered if this is from a rhyming slang, immigrant, becoming pomegranate, and cut down to ‘pom’? Solomon, in the Song of Songs, described the cheeks of a girl as being like a pomegranate. Maybe that was another reason the red-cheeked arrivals from the land of apples were called ‘poms’.

Homer does not only mention the pomegranate in the Bible but also. Pliny, a Latin poet, called the tree a malum punicum (a Carthaginian apple) but it has long been naturalized in Greece and the Mediterranean.
In Greece it is often called rodia, and thus it is a very important symbol on the island of Rhodes.

We have a pomegranate tree that has now started baring fruit. But we do not have to wait for our own tree’s fruit, as neighbours will bring us loads. I make a drink by cutting the fruit in half, using a lemon juicer then a sieve. We keep the juice in the fridge, and perhaps add some sparkling water when serving.


Again this is a crop that arrives with a vengeance. They arrive late in the season, ripening in September and this fruit will not keep long. We eat a lot fresh figs, but I also make a jam with the less ripe fruit, with the addition of thinly sliced lemon rind.  But figs are also dries on the island in early September, while the sun is still hot. I put a table in the sun with the fruit sliced open, seeds up. I’ll cover the table with a net to keep off the flies and wasps. In a few days, when the fruit has begun to dry a little, I turn them over - repeating the turn every so often. When nearly dry they are dipped in salt water (perhaps sea water) and then put in a medium low oven for the final drying off.


Stuffed grape leaves Dolmades are made early in the season when the leave are young and tender.  I use a similar mix to that used in Yemistes - rice and minced meat mix with spice added to taste. It takes a long time to roll up each leave but the result is worth the time. The little rolls are placed in a saucepan and covered with water and I add a little salt and lemon juice. A plat is place over the lot to hold them down. They are brought to a simmer, and cooked until the rice and meat are cooked.

These can be served hot or cold, and especially good with a lemon sauce made with any left over juice from the pan.

I have sometimes made grape juice, and have preserved this juice for use another year. Plus, with the help of a neighbour who brings me grapes (all prepared to be dried) I also dry grapes on my table out in the sun, later using these sultanas, currents or raisins in cakes. Such a satisfying feeling to know you is using your own produce!


The main olive tree in our garden is very large and as old as the house, probably just over one hundred years old – though this is still young for an olive tree as they can live as long as 1,000 years. It is tall enough to shade the whole terrace. We do not severely lop it, as most olive baring trees are pruned. We love it for its shade so only cut out the dead branches. 

However there was one year that I did try to preserve the drupes. Because we do not spray the tree it rarely has a good crop and insects mark each drupe. This particular year for some reason the tree was full of fruit, all unmarked. So, although I had to leave the island before they were black and ripe, I picked a number of green olives.

 As my neighbour had showed me I stored them in plastic drinking bottles, which were then filled with salty water. Returning six months later I emptied out the salty water, rinsed the olives and then placed them into new jars with spicy vinegar. They were still bitter but OK chopped to spice up potato salads or added to a cacciatore.  I have since learnt that I should have bashed them to split the skins before putting them in the bottles, as that lets out a little more of the bitterness – next time!

A horticultural note:
In some places these trees are seen as much of a weed as Eucalyptus trees are in California. When I was living in South Australia olive trees on the slopes of the hills were much reviled, especially by fans of native plants. But there were appreciated by new Italian and Greek immigrants who would go in family groups to the slopes and knock them out of the trees each autumn. Now, some year later, olive oil is more appreciated in Australia, and on many farms olive plantations are being grown.  

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Garden Traditions

 Garden Traditions

A small Lemnian courtyard

Why we Garden the way we do?

Because of the layout of a Greek town and village vegetables tend to be planted outside in the allotment, while herbs and flowers are kept on the house balcony. I have often tried to imitate the aesthetics of the Greek balcony or courtyard but I either arrange the pots too symmetrically, or place them too far apart. In my trying I have come to appreciate the Greek housewife’s skill at placing simple herbs and flowers in pots along her balcony.

There are many reasons we garden. We often garden because we want to beautify. Some turn to gardening to repair a broken spirit. In times of need, such as during wartime in Britain gardens had to be practical. The people need potatoes, tomatoes and to produce enough to get them through the winter. What they cannot eat they barter.

Generally in Europe, years ago, the garden of a peasant was practical, a garden plot where he grew his cabbages, onions, beans and garlic. On the whole the people of Lemnos take this practical approach to gardening. Are these practical gardeners more connected to the earth, because their circumstances require them to tend vegetable plots and raise laying hens, and climb the hills to gather wild herbs?

In Australia only a few grow their own vegetables but there are many very enthusiastic gardeners. These may not have occupied their plot of land in the manner of native inhabitants and while they approach gardening from the point of view of beautifying their plot they tend to connect to their plot very enthusiastically.

Learning Gardening Lore

I have wondered about the origin of planting traditions (just as I also wonder why Lemians love the colour orange, and wear bright orange at every opportunity), why our neighbours act they way they do. Some cultural origins are lost in the mists of time but as I notice the importance of the yearly calendar in Lemnos, the times of planting, ways of watering, I have gradually learnt how to garden in Greece.

Many elements of everyday culture have interesting beginnings.


There are about twenty Olea species but the Olea europaea is the common olive and the one that is the source of olive oil. Nowadays olives groves are found all over the Mediterranean but where did they come from originally. This is a question that Carol Drinkwater tried to solve in her book The Olive Route.  Did some gardener from Anatolia or Crete arrive on the island of Lemnos with a plant and information on how to grow and harvest the fruit? There are now many cultivars in Greece with different sizes and quality of fruit. One variety found all over the world is the large black Calamarta.

In myth credit for the Olive is given to Athena who was said to have placed the first tree on the Acropolis, however the olive tree’s very ancient origins can be noted from the fact of its presence in Minoan wall paintings in the palace of Knossos. There also is evidence to suggest that the ancient Phoenicians cultivated this tree.

Carol Drinkwater, The Olive Route: A Personal Journey to the Heart of the Mediterranean (Orion Publishing Co., 2007)

Oranges and Lemons 

It was the Crusaders who made the citrus fruit popular in Europe after their return home. The citrus lemon comes originally from Persia and Arabian peninsular though it is possible that they were planted in Pompeii. Probably in pots!

Childrens Game.
First published in 1744 it was a traditional game to be played at all the children’s parties I attended. We’d all file though an arch made by two children singing…

Game of Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and lemons,
 Say the bells of St. Clement's.

 You owe me five farthings,
 Say the bells of St. Martin's.

 When will you pay me? 
Say the bells of Old Bailey. 

When I grow rich,
 Say the bells of Shoreditch.

 When will that be?
 Say the bells of Stepney.

 I do not know,
 Says the great bell of Bow. 

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
 And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

The challenge comes during the final lines with the addition...
Here comes a candle to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.(Chip chop, chip chop, the last man's dead.

On the last word, the children forming the arch drop their arms to catch the pair of children currently passing through, who are then "out" and must form another arch next to the existing one. In this way, the series of arches becomes a steadily lengthening tunnel through which each set of two players have to run faster and faster to escape in time.

My Eureka and Myer Lemon and Navel Orange varieties are doing well in pots in our Australia garden as they are greedy trees and in pots I can keep feeding them and watch the amount of water they are getting.

Two lemnon trees in half-wine barrels

Grapes and Wine

Aristotle mentions Lemnian wine, which was probably the same as the modern-day Lemnió varietal, a red wine with a bouquet of oregano and thyme. If so, this makes Lemnió the oldest known varietal still in cultivation.’ Wikipedia

Dionysius the God of Wine

The wine produced in Lemnos is well known throughout Greece and is even sold overseas. It was also well known to the ancients. Homer refers to Lemnian wine twice in the Iliad. The first time is when King Agamemnon chastises his men: ‘What has happened to your boasting that we were the best,/ As you used to say once while in Lemnos – big empty words – told/ with abundance of beef from horn bearing oxen on the table in front of you/ and while drinking sweet wine in overflowing glasses...

The next time is when the poem mentions Queen Hypsipyle of Lemnos and Jason: ‘And they had wine from Lemnos carried by/ numerous ships and sent by Evino,/ King Jason’s son born to him by Queen Hypsipyle.

Today a Lemian white wine is made from Moscato Alexandrias, a variety of grape brought back by Greeks from Alexandria. This is one example of how the Alexandrian Diaspora benefited the island. (However, another plant imported from Egypt, cotton, was a disaster.) The white wine produced on the island is interestingly named after the ‘holy earth’, 'Lemian Yea' an ancient Greek-Roman medicinal earth. There’s also a red wine called Kalambaki. The more famous Greek liquor, ouzo, is also made on the island.

Farmers make it out of the skins of the grapes after the wine is taken and like most ouzo it is flavoured with aniseed.

Me opening a bottle of Ouzo 

Creating Food Traditions

In ancient times the folk in Greece had the myth of Demeter and Persephone, its images and festivals, to assist as a gardening guide. Today I’ve discovered that locals still rely on certain ancient festivals (though now named after Christian saints) to guide their planting and harvesting.

In Australian the colonialists from Europe had to make up new myths, and found new images, to live practically and to sanctify their new landscape. They learnt to celebrate Christmas with summer barbeques and Easter with autumn leaves. In autumn they came to hold solemn Anzac Day memorials, and in spring, at the Melbourne Cup races, celebrate with lively springtime revels.

Some Old Greek Traditions 


Just outside the walls of Athens gardens surrounded the house of Epicurus. This garden was so closely identified with his teachings that his school became known as The Garden. Here he advocated withdrawal from public life to live a simpler, quieter, existence even to the point of austerity. His teachings were often misrepresented that even today ‘Epicurean’ is used to describe a person devoted to an exquisite and often decadent lifestyle.

An Epicurian Garden

Greek Hospitality
Once we were invited to have coffee with a neighbour as a thank you for helping her out when she needed a truck to enter our land in order to build a new septic pit at the bottom of her garden.
First she offered us coffee and water, with preserved fruit on a plate. But this was not all as this was to be a very substantial coffee break. Next she brought out cheese pastries, chocolate biscuits, and her own apricot wine made by soaking the kernels in brandy with sugar. It was beautiful.
(She later showed us a jar she was preparing with brandy and pomegranate seeds.)

A church festival gathering

Dancing after the festivities

A Christian tradition

I was brought up in a Christian home where we always said grace. This was OK if the one appointed did not go on too long! Even when we went out to eat in a café we were still expected to still say grace - though allowed to do this silently.

I developed one or two quick graces to say when it was my turn. One was,

For every cup and plateful Dear Lord I’m truly grateful.'

Here is another short grace.

Some hae meat that canna eat
And some could eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
For which the Lord be thankit!’

Today, when we are with folk who do pray Takis and I are happy to add a grace but mostly, by ourselves, we’ll just cross ourselves in thankfulness.

(We use the Greek not the Catholic crossing, which goes from left to right. The Greek cross goes from chin to rib, from right to left. I rather like this one as your hand finishes over the heart.)

Preparing a meal with a visitor

The meal enjoyed by all

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Fruit Trees

Fruit Trees

Trees are another way to give structure to a garden, as I wanted our garden in Lemnos to be a fruitful garden the first trees that went in were fruit trees. Many of you reading this blog will have luxuriant vegetable gardens and fruiting trees and will make your own preserves, but to have an apricot tree, for instance, is a very proud accomplishment for me. I’d never imagined having this, or a fig tree, and both of ours are now flourishing in our island garden.

I’ve now got various citrus trees planted along the back wall and at least one fruit tree in each of the vegetable beds. (Surprisingly I’ve found that in mid summer vegetables do well in the shade of these trees.) I also have a cumquat in a large pot on the terrace, a pomegranate in the ‘hot’ garden hanging over the front wall and a quince in the shady walk (these two last toughies are in places that receive less water). Most of these trees have done well but a few have not survived the extremes of island weather.


Almonds are not really known as winter hardy trees yet in our garden there were five old almond trees when we arrived. These were definitely survivors of a number of cold winters. We still have four old, with knarled trunks, and signs of new limbs having grown after old limbs have been removed. In South Australia I have seen almond orchards in bloom, but here we always miss this early bloomer as we always arrive in late spring. In September, before we leave, we spread out sheeting and Anestis attacks the trees with a long stick then gathers buckets of nuts. We dry them out before taking off the outer covering.

Our guests, one in particular, know that a nut-cracking job awaits them on their holidays with us. But as a reward they take home a couple of bottles of fresh almonds.

We crack the hard shell and store them in bottles, to be used in cooking, or toast them to eat raw. Some of the toasted nuts we mince to make nut butter. 

Oranges and Lemons

Anestis and I planted citrus trees in a bed in front of a new high stonewall at the back of the property; two Valencia oranges, two lemons, and a tangerine. That year, in the cold mid-winter frosts, the lemons and tangerine died. I have since, twice, replanted lemon trees. But this year I am hopeful that when I return the lemon tree that survived the previous winter is large enough to have also survived this one. Before leaving I covered the roots of all the citrus trees with straw, held down with sacking and stones. I hope it worked. It would be so good to have our own lemons as both Takis and I use a lot in our cooking.

The Greeks are not used to jams or marmalades, they prefer their fruits bottled in syrup. These fruits are served to visitors on a plate as a desert, along with a glass of cold water. For this purpose oranges tend to be picked small and green.

I’ve already written about Takis Marmalade passion, and that is another reason we’d like to have our own oranges, sweet and bitter and lemons in Greece. Takis’ marmalade product seemed to be approved by several of our samplers, so maybe this is the start of another manufacturing project for Takis and perhaps for Greece? 

Figs and Pomegranate

Our fig tree is quite tall, over ten feet, and it was nearly as wide until some of the side branches snapped. I think it might be time for me to plant another. There seems to be a couple of different fig trees on the island, one that bears small sweet black figs and the one we have that has larger red seeded fruit.

We love eating the fresh fruit, but soon have too many to keep fresh. That is when I start making jam, or rather a type of marmalade, as I put in lemon rind. I also try to use the least ripe fruit and cut back on the usual equal quantities of sugar to fruit. 

Trivial fact: Actually ‘fruit’ is a misnomer as what we eat are the fleshy receptacle of the flowers and seeds.

When I dry the figs I follow the pattern told me by Vetta. I cut a cross at the stalk end then open a fruit out and flatten into a four petaled section. These I put on a try in the sun covered with netting to keep of most of the flies and ants. After two days I turn them and do this each day for about five days. If they are dry I drop them quickly into seawater that Anestis brings me from the beach. (Yes, seawater! It’s traditional, and gives the dried fig that dusty white salty look and taste.) After this dip I then dry them for an hour (but without cooking them) in the oven. Then after cooling I wrap them in plastic wrap and they keep for a year or until we have eaten them all. I’ve used them in fruitcake and Christmas cakes, and they are very good.

I saw a pomegranate hanging over the stone wall of a neighbor’s house and loved that combination of stone wall with a red fruiting tree hanging over – for often the fruit is still hanging in the tree after the leaves have fallen. It can stand 10-15 F and can manage a Lenin winter so I’ve planted one in my ‘hot’ garden to hang over my front stonewall. It is a small deciduous tree (with yellow leaves in autumn) growing to about 15 feet and the fruit will only ripen in a hot dry summers.

The thick rind surrounds a mass of reddish juicy seeds and I press the seeds to make juice. Another use is in salad recipes with the seeds sprinkled over the finished salad. 

Apples and Cherries 

Apple trees fill me with joy in spring with their delicate white-pink blooms, so gloriously virginal, yet so transitory. How lovely, but how impossible to gather and use in a bridal spray or for church decoration. But then how satisfyingly productive and various the tree is in autumn, filled with red, green or yellow fruit, each with a different purpose. One apple is good for sauce, another for pies and another for eating raw.

I love apple trees and tend to plant them in all my gardens. I very much wanted two apple trees at the entrance to the vegetable garden, but in one of the mix ups that occur in gardening, one died and was replace by yet another pear tree (we now have three) that was give me as a gift, and my replacement apple tree is where I really wanted to plant a cherry tree, to be able to cross pollinate with one across the path. Oh well, I hoped the bees would find their way around the garden to the appropriate trees, as it is not a very large plot.

Lemnos is not really a suitable place for apple trees but this was my first really productive garden so wanted to try to grow them. They have grown, but need their feet kept cool with mulch and to be watered well.  So far they have only produced small fruit.

A neighbour who has an allotment in a nearby well-watered valley seems to have more success, and brings us a few before we leave in September. These I’ll often use with our quinces, making an apple-quince fruit compote.

Apples and cherries don’t do too well on the island but I have kept trying. Cherries need to cross-pollinate, and as one of the first couple died I have one surviving cherry whose flowers stay infertile.

I’ve since decided to try a couple of sour cherries, which are much tougher and make lovely jam. 

Peaches and Pears

Peaches are one of the largest exports in Greece. We once drove past acres and acres in the valley between Thessaloniki and Kavala.  This is where Anestis first found work in the country, joining the army of foreign workers in those fields. My peach tree has nearly given up the ghost a few times, with straggly branches, fruit fly, heat, and finally over loaded limbs so I had to thin them out.

But we did get some peach fruit eventually – clingstone peaches that are best cooked into a compote.  

Pears seem to do better than most fruit on the island and although I’m not a great fan of pears I love their delicate flavour when eaten fresh, at just that perfect time when they are neither hard nor floury.  They are best picked green, just before they ripen and then eaten as the colour lightens, to a yellower green; it’s a very limited time of perfection – but for a day or two they can be heavenly.  However in Lemnos I seem to have ended up with three trees, which is probably a good thing as it helps to have one or two to pollinate each other – though three pear trees is one more than I wanted, and all produce well.

As pears do not store well, nor last as long as apples, I often have to find something to do with them. Cooked they are fairly insipid and not easily converted to jam, with only perhaps the pear and almond tart to recommend them in this form.

Apricots and Plums
Apricot trees seem to do well on the island. We might never be there to see the blossom but fruit ripens soon after we arrive. Some years the tree is heavily ladened with fruit, though not every year.

In a glut year I make up batches of compote and freeze for later use or pack fresh raw fruit with sugar to freeze. One year we were going to miss the harvest and a neighbour offered to pick them and make up batches of apricot jam for us. Takis, who also prides himself on his apricot jam, was very critical of the fact that Costa had added cinnamon to the mix however I found that added into an almond and apricot pie it was just right.

Plums should be easy to grow they seem to be elsewhere. I did have one tree that was growing well, and after three years had a lovely crop. However a week or two after this crop the tree started dying. I could not believe my eyes. Maybe it was the heat again, or maybe it gave too large a crop, or maybe someone had cast the evil eye on it.

I had a bucket full of lovely purple blue plums, and converted them to jam, made compote, and a German plum cake. I know that plum jam is a bit ordinary, but it can be used as a topping or in cakes. Plus, we ate a great number of fresh plums with enjoyment. 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Mediterranean Vegetables

 Mediterranean Vegetables

Fresh vegetables usually hold centre stage in the Greek kitchen, often harvested in the home vegetable patch and then transformed by olive oil and herbs to make wonderfully tasty dishes.
Because of my upbringing in England I was familiar with certain vegetables, but certain others were unknown to me, until I read Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean cook books, and then then later married a Greek and found myself with a Mediterranean garden.

European vegetables I knew well
Beans, Carrot, Celery, Lettuce, Onion, Silver Beet

Mediterranean vegetables I came to know
Egg Plant,Garlic, Globe Artichoke, Olive, Tomato, ZucchiniI

Vegetable Garden Beds

I created four vegetable beds, and ideally one should be left fallow each hear, and the planting plan circulating from one bed to another each year. However, this often does not happen. Right now I can see that our four beds are becoming depleated and last year, before we left Anestis did some deep digging in two and I addeds lots of manure. 

In this garden Anestis does some early planting, putting in vegetable seedlings before we arrived in May. So we have onions, garlic, cucumbers and zucchini in June. And not long after tomatoes, and peppers, enough to make our very useful tomato sauces.

We do add compost from our heaps each year, and often sea weed and this has certainly helped to inprove the soil, but I’m thinking of following the advice of an old gardener, Ester Deans, who started a movement to build gardens that involve no digging (though hay is hard to get hold of on the island). Gardening into her ninties Ester also insisted that dowsing helped her in the garden.

Ester Deans Recipe for a no-dig garden 
Make a rectangular frame, line the botton with a thick layer of new papers, then add a layer of lucern hay, sprinkle over some fertilizer, and eight inches of straw topped by another sprinkle of fertilizer, then four inches of compost. 

Into the Kitchen

Children and Vegetables

I once scattered a packet of heritage carrot seed in the garden early in the year and they came up all kinds of colours and shapes, and very strongly flavoured. These were hardy enough to last until the grandchildren arrived in July. My four year-old granddaughter would not eat anything that sounds, looks or tastes like a vegetable. Though, having been told that carrots help you see in the dark, she made an exception for raw carrots. Carrots will last throughout the summer but they also needed to be watered every other day to get them through.

When whese mixed orange and cream coloured carrots, growing in clay soil, were pulled up there were some rather weird and sexy carrot shapes.


Long green beans are another early vegetable. One year we arrived early enough for me to grow some climbers from seed. I set up some tall bamboo frames for them but usually Anestis plants a low growing variety.

 When they are ready I pick and blanch bowls full, freezing them in empty ice-cream containers for later.

One recipe I like to make with means is a slow cooked dish with roughly chopped means cooked with with tomatoes and a lot of garlic and I mean a lot of garlic! After an hour of cooking the beans will still hold their shape and the garlic and tomatoes have mellowed into a thick sauce.

Melitzanas, so Greek!

When  I’m in Greece I tend to use the Greek names for vegetables, and then take a while to recalibrate my thinking when I return to Australia. Here egg plants are not French aubergines but melitzanas, and zucchini are not the French courgettes but kolokithia.

Melitzanas need less water than some plants but still need to be topped up in the hot weather to give a good crop. In hot years I’ve noticed the fruit can almost be cooked on the plants.

My son was here for a holiday one year and took a liking to Mousakka and wanted the recipe and so I emailed it to him. You will notice my recipes are not very exact. This is because I think that you have to prepare a dish for yourself, and for your own palate.

Mousakka is basically layers of a tomato/meat mince, vegetables (melitzanas, potatoes and kolokithia), and topped by a béchamel sauce and baked in the overn. 

Another melitzana recipe is the very rich dip called Imam baldi. This dip involves long slow cooking with garlic, onions, tomatoes.  

Little shoes are small melitzanas sliced in half and topped with the mince sauce then baked. 

In the case of each recipe the melitzanas taste better if the are first sliced and salted, and then washed and toasted until brown. Or they can be turned over a flame to blacken the skin, which is then removed to leave a smoky flavoured flesh. 

Onions, garlic and the Evil Eye

We often use garlic in our cooking, though it is a flavor more often associated with Turkish dishes. A plait of garlic is supposed to be a good deterrent, to keep the evil eye or other malevolent forces wandering around the garden at bay. I'm not sure I believe this but I always have patch of garlic, and it is dug up in June and plaited and hung in the shed.

Anestis always also has a large patch of onions. He has often left them in the ground, then I go and dig and use as I need them. This year howver I suggested he dig them up and leave them to dry in the garden shed. After a week I plaited them in bunches and hung them up like the garlic.

Tomatoes coming out of our ears!

Anestis buys and plants tomato seedlings in early June, and after a few weeks, when they are about three feet tall, he ties them onto bamboos stakes he has cut down for that purpose down.

As mentioned in the last blog, to cope with Lemian summer heat and lack of rain, we make a channel to water each row, flooding it about every three days, plus I'll cover the roots with straw.  We usually have a good crop, and begin picking the in early July, with enough for salads and sauces for the next three months.

I’ve already mentioned my tomoato sauces which are better than Paul Newman’s; made with a bucket of tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, onions and garlic from the garden, plus sage, thyme and basil from the herb beds. This is cooked, strained and bottled and good with spaghetti or with any number of dishes requiring a tomato sauce. 

And nothing in Australia tastes as good as a salad of our fresh sliced Greek tomatos. One particular hot day I mixed cold watermelon with the tomato slices and flavoured the salad with mint. 

There can be problems growing tomatoes though some years. When it is very hot and the plants dry out too much the fruit developed  black bases, plus there have been years when temperatures soar and the fruit almost cook on the vines.

We often get seedlings coming up in the beds from the compost dug into the beds. These are usually smaller and tougher tomatoes that do not need as much water, and we find we are still picking them into September. These may have come from a packet of heritage seeds I brought from Australia. They rate as one of my best vegetable toughies!

Note. Tomatoes belong to the same family as potatoes, egg plant, capsicum and hot peppers, and are even related to tobacco, nightshade and petunias.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Garden to Kitchen

Garden to Kitchen

The Marmalade Mafia – a kitchen story

Often we have a lot of people turning up for coffee and elevenses. We always stopped work at this time of the day and make coffee for ourselves and any of our workers or guests. And, if anyone else wants to reach us, they know that is the time to come. On this occasion Takis and his assistant Anestis were finishing off a tricky cementing job on the third floor and it was left to me to make the coffee and carry the cups and glasses of ice water out onto the terrace. On this particular day we had three of our neigbours calling. Panoyiotis had come with a pot of honey we had ordered, his wife Vetta had come with a bunch of treated sultana grapes for me to put out in the sun to dry, and another neighbour had come hoping to watch Takis making marmalade.

It happened to be one of Takis' Greek-frenetic days, he was not only supervising the cement laying on the top floor, but also popping out to the terrace to chat to the coffee drinkers, AND in between demonstrating to this guest his marmalade-making techniques. Understandably agitated at one point he let a pot drop on the tiled floor, but the mess was soon cleaned up. And amazingly, before the group left we had a line of six pots of marmalade, ready for the store cupboard.

Marmalade making is a bit of a passion for Takis. And recently he has thought of it as a possible new project, one that could make use of a lot of the wasted bitter oranges in Greece. And so, in Greece and back in our Australian home, we have cupboards full of his samples – sweet, bitter, sugarless, and all kinds of mixes of sweet and bitter oranges and lemons. This project began as a reaction to the horribly sweet and strangely sweetened orange marmalades that are nowadays in the shops. They all require refrigerating when opened, and mostly are nothing but chunk-less jelly. We prefer our marmalade to be bitter, sticky and chunky.

(The sugarless samples are for me as unfortunately I’ve now discovered I’m a diabetic. When Takis eats his freshly baked bread, with real butter topped with his kind of marmalade my mouth drools. I have to ask for just one corner of his slice. And I must say I feel sorry for today's youngsters who have to put up with the loss of so many taste sensations that today's market is getting rid of.)

Finding a gap on the supermarket shelves Takis began setting out to right a wrong. And he is so set on making the perfect marmalade that he has roped in a few accomplices to see if he could fine down his recipe and the time it took to make. The Marmalade Mafia I call them. Anestis was called upon to scrounge some of the bitter oranges from the gardens he works in – where they had been left to rot. Maria, his wife, brought us some extra jam jars, and a visitor (knowing of his latest passion) brought us a jar of Scottish marmalade, to make a comparison of what we believed was an original recipe. All of these helpers doubled as taste testers.

Takis' Recipe
This recipe uses the bitter orange fruit know in Greece as Nerantzia. (No added pectin is required)
5 ripe oranges (2 kg )
2 kg.  sugar
1.5 litre water
Peel the oranges in way to leave the centre core still covered with pith of the fruit intact.
The outer orange peel can now can be sliced in strips, according to your preferred thickness.
Place the peel and the whole intact centre fruit in a large pan.
Cover with the measured water. Bring to boil, cook for 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and cover with a lid. Leave overnight for the peel to soften.
Bring this water and peel to boil again and cook for 2 minutes.
Reduce heat, remove whole fruit ( one at a time), and place in stainless steel colander.
Squeeze each fruit to extract juice and pectin from pips.
Pour this juice into the pan.
Add the measured sugar and stir until sugar melts.
Boil hard and start watching for setting.

Most people have heard of Seville oranges however the Greek bitter orange, known as narantzia, gives just the taste and texture we love. By the way, a piece of trivia about the Greek bitter orange, that I found in Jennifer Gay’s book, Greece: Garden of the Gods. The word narandj is from an Arabic word meaning a fruit much loved by elephants!

Nerantzia, Bitter Oranges
Archaeologists suggest that the Narantzia was cultivated in Cyprus as early as 1394 AD, though it is the Spanish Seville Oranges that most people think of when making  marmalade. The Seville Orange is sometimes used as a rootstock for grafts of Sweet Orange. In Greece the Nerantzia trees are often used as decorative street trees, as they are tough, and look very pretty hung with oranges. But when they fall they are mostly left to rot. We have one old Narantzia tree and have made the best marmarlade with it.

          Our Narantzia tree is in the corner of the herb garden.

Growing and Cooking – a practical approach to gardening
I love Mediterranean gardening, and though I may never have time or the money to make a wonderful Mediterranean Gardens of the type we see in glossy coffee table books (and often created by early English owners of Mediterranean homes) I do now have my own dream garden. There is the pleasure of sitting outside on stone terraces under the shade of pergolas on summer evenings. Then there is the enjoyment of gathering from our own vegetable plot. For in a Mediterranean Garden, if you have a water supply, you can grow fast-growing, hot-weather loving plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants. And the big plus is that there are so many delightful quick and tasty dishes that can be made from tomatoes, peppers, eggplants.

This is a place where almond trees need very little help to bare fruit. The old almond trees that were here when we arrived are now producing buckets-full, and at the end of the summer we have time to strip off the outer covering and painstakingly crack them, one at a time. And how delicious are the almond cakes we make with them.

We once drove by bus from Thessoliniki to Kevala past massive stands of corn. The green fields spread out as far as the eye could see. What was it all used for? Oil? Flour? Cattle feed? After the corm we passed lakes and then paddocks of fruit trees. The mainland was certainly a place of abundance, a shock for us after the dryness of Lemnos. But even on our windy, almost tree-less island, there were places where abundance could be found, in the valleys where there are vineyards and wheat fields, and in the allotments where each Lemian family has access to enough land and water to grow their own vegetables.

Caring for an Edible Garden in Lemnos
Almond, Apple, Apricot, Bitter Orange (narandzi), Cherry, Fig, Lemon, Orange, Peach, Pear, Plum, Quince.

Basil, Bay (laurus nobilis, daphne), Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme.

Beans, Carrot, Celery, Egg Plant,  Garlic, Globe Artichoke, Lettuce, Onion,  Silver Beet, Sweet Corn, Tomato, Zucchini.

                      The plot when we arrived

              Anestis planting one of our first fruit trees
                                                        Starting work on the vegetable garden


                                     The vegetable garden after three years

The previous occupant of our house had the topsoil removed as a way of weeding, so I wondered if there was still enough soil to plant vegetables. It was not long however before vegetables and fruit were plentiful, and our meals could be planned around what we harvest. This is very Greek, as recipes here tend to follow the seasons. Even the first year, because it was virgin soil, things grew at twice or three times their normal size. Our corn was as ‘high as an elephants eye’, and my sunflowers were three meters high and still growing when we left in autumn. Though there was no sign of either of them fruiting or flowering! I think the problem may have been that I was still a Mediterranean Garden Novice and gave the plants too much water.

Anestis has a feeling for plants so I trust him to look after the garden in winter when we return to Australia for a few months to catch up with our children. He plants out vegetables in early spring so that we have onions, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes nearly ready to pick when we return in late spring.

We have become aware that in Greece spring quickly turns into kalakeri (summer). We might have one or two thunder storms in June, but by July the heat has dried the garden to a crisp and in order to water I can only bear to go out in the early morning, and even then wearing a sunhat. But it was only a couple of years and our plants were more established, and I didn’t have to water as often. At first, worried about my young plants putting down their first roots, I had watered too much, but now I try to limit watering, even the vegetables, to only once every three days. And I even water now in the Lemian way, filling trenches with water beside each row of vegetables. This encourages the roots to seek dampness deep down. Plus, if I can find some straw I try to mulch around the plants, to keep the sun off the roots.

With this care in mid-summer I can go out and gather pails of tomatoes, peppers, egg plants and onions, knowing there will be more very soon. I roughly chopped the lot, cooking them in a large pan with some olive oil and herbs - usually some sprigs of sage, rosemary, basil and oregano. Then, after sieving, through my trusty tomato press machine, I bring the sauce once more to almost-a-boil and bottle. This sauce proves very useful when the house is full of guests, providing a quick base for a number of recipes.

Two Interesting Bogs with More Greek Recipes