Crete and Olive Oil: An Affair Lost in Time

Olive Oil In Crete

It is this time of the year where, Olive Oil, one of the most important (if not THE most important) products of Crete is being produced. A walk around the outskirts of any urban area of the island has evidence of recent or immediate agricultural activity in land covered with olive groves. Cars parked on the side of the road and harvest nets spread as far as the middle of the road witness the activity in the olive groves now. The closer we get to Christmas Holidays the more intense the activity is. People take a few days off from their day jobs in order to gather with the rest of the family and pick up the olives so they can produce the olive oil for their yearly consumption, and if it is a good season, even make an extra income.

Regardless of the weather conditions, families with gather up the necessary equipment and head to the groves in order to produce the olives. It does not matter how remote you travel one is at this time in Crete, in the silence of a car free environment one can always hear the sound of the small motor engine that powers the harvest sticks, the distant shouts of men trying to communicate over the noise of the little power generator and the sound of the leafs taping each other as the branches get shaken, almost beaten so the olives can drop.

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But let us take things one step at the time. In order to understand olive oil and what is the fuzz all about one must understand the product and its importance in time and space for the people of Greece in general and Crete in particular.

Where Does It Come From

There is a very long history and mythology around the olive. Some say it has been harvested in Crete between 9 and 12.000 years BC, while others argue that it came to Crete from Minor Asia and Syria  around 6000 BC.  Despite the fact that there is no clear cut evidence as where the tree is really coming from, it is certain that the production of olive oil on the island has been an ancient practice. Minoan frescoes portray the harvesting of the olive with sticks, while chemical analysis from residues collected from clay pots of the time witness the use and storage of olive oil.

The Significance Then..

Olives and olive oil have been central in the daily life of Greek people. It was always considered one of the most premium products to have. It was closely linked with the holy and the divine. Athens, for example, took its name after the goddess Athena presented the Athenians with an olive tree for a present. Once the great city of Athens was build there was a battle as to which God will be the city dedicated to and named after. The competitors were Athena and Poseidon. On the holy rock of Acropolis Poseidon stroke his trident and water sprang. Athena on the other hand hit her spear on the rock and an olive tree came out. The Athenians thought that the olive tree was an incredible gift to receive and the rest is history….

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The importance of the olive is also evident in the Olympic games where the ultimate reward for the champion of any sport other than the olive wreath (kotinos) was very large amount of olive oil.  In many cases Olympic Champions would leave with ships full of amphorae with olive oil in them making them very rich men.

Another example that signifies the importance of the olive was that men that did not take care of their olive groves were looked upon almost as criminals. If a man would burn or destroyed or burn an olive tree, he was sentenced to life in prison.

The Significance Not so Long ago..

Outside the mythological and historic significance of the olive and its products, olive oil was a product that played a vital role in the everyday life of the Cretan.

First and foremost we cannot discuss about the Cretan cuisine without olive oil. It is used in every dish. It is consumed in every possible way. Fried, baked, boiled, oven cooked, just name it! Olive oil is the crown jewel of the Cretan Diet and a house without it is a poor house. An urban legend suggests that in the late 1950’s an American researcher visited the island in order to examine the dietary habits of the people of Crete. After spending some time with the locals he came to the conclusion that the Cretan Diet is beneficial due to the amount of olive oil used, since as he mentioned, their food swims in olive oil.

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The importance of olive oil is evident everywhere in the life of the Cretan. Other than the nutritious aspect of it in terms of food, it is also the beneficial elements with regards to  the human body. It was very commonly used in beauty products, as well as, remedies for the cure or prevention of unwanted body effects.  For example it is believed until today that a spoon of olive oil before a night out will prevent one from getting drunk. Olive Oil mixed with laurel was particularly good for keeping a dark shiny color on woman’s hair. Olive Oil with walnut shells exposed on the sun for 7 to 10 days and then applied on the skin is believed to assist in gaining a nice chocolate color on your skin during the summer. There are various examples of olive oil usage in similar ways which made it vital in every day practices.

Olive Oil’s divine and religious character did not alter despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population of Crete are Christian Orthodox. It is used in major rituals by the Church including Baptism. In this case the godparent of the child is placing olive oil all over the child in order to pass the mercy and blessing of God. Another example is the Olive oil used for the light candles in front of sacred icons. It is considered that applying a small amount of this oil on ones face is a divine blessing. A visit in cemeteries demonstrates the sacred role of Olive Oil as well. The candles burning in memory (or rather for the blessing) of the deceased, is composed from 3 parts water and 1 part olive oil in order to keep the memory flame on. This is why small bottles of Olive Oil are always placed around the graves. Many argue that the use of olive oil in such rituals is the continuation of ancient practices due to the importance of Olive Oil as a product and its immediate connection with the light.

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One can talk about olive oil for ages and spend thousand of words trying to describe both its practical, as well as, symbolic importance. Olive Oil is part of the daily life of the people of Greece in general in all its facets. Whether part of food, or part of rituals, or part of the daily life in forms of cosmetics and other products, it is omnipresent. In later stages we will try to understand olive oil as a product in terms of its nutritious elements, however, the place it held in the perception of people is of vital significance. This way we can better understand the love affair and dedication of the people of Greece in general and Crete in particular regarding olive oil that is lost in time.

 

Top 4+1 Cretan Wine Varieties!

Wines of Crete continues to win more territory in international wine markets. The collective effort of the modern, organized wine makers of the island has brought local wines into wine lovers markets around the globe. Slowly but steadily, the different wine varieties from the Crete get to the position they deserve. As explained in previous articles, wine making in Crete is special for both its long tradition, as well as, the special geo-climatic conditions of the island. Because of the later a series of amazing varieties of grapes make Cretan wine hard to ignore.

What follows is a list of the top 5 must try wines based on the criteria of how rare it is and how different it is from other wines one can have. At this point it is important to note that I am writing this not as a wine specialist, but as a connoisseur. In the text that follows you will not find any wine specialist terminology or advice. Instead you will read the opinion of a person in search of flavors that are special in different ways. So here we go:

1. Dafni- Δαφνί

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This is a type of wine everyone agrees is a special as a white wine can be. Dafni is a white grape variety that offers an amazing combination of herbal flavors. The name derives from the plant Δάφνη-Dafni which in Greek is the laurel or bay leaf. This is because the initial nose, as well as, flavor is that of a bay leaf. My personal view is that it could easily be called rosemary as well, since after a few seconds from the first sip a bouquet of rosemary flavor appears. Perhaps this is the one wine that encapsulates Cretan landscapes in the best possible way. Dafni was almost extinct until a local family initiative brought it back to the wine making scene of the island. You can taste it fresh or aged (yes it is a white that can be aged) and it is the perfect wine to combine with cheese, raw or cooked vegetables, and white meat.

2. Moschato of Spina- Μοσχάτο Σπίνας

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Moschato from Spina is a white wine with a huge surprise. It is among the few wines that tastes completely different than what it smells. The initial nose is creating the expectation of a sweet wine. However the taste is something completely different. Dry, fruity yet buttery and mellow are the first impressions when it comes to taste. The vine itself is a clone from the global known Moschato, however the original birthplace of the Cretan variety is a location called Spina somewhere between Rethimnon and Chania in Western Crete, hence the name. An ideal refreshing summer white wine, or in my opinion, the perfect first date wine. Not strong, easy drinking, fruity flavor, a lot of promise….

3. Vidinano- Βιδιανό

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Another white wine with an exceptional character. Vidiano is a variety that according to a lot of wine makers is the future of wine making in Crete and Greece. In the original webpage of the wines of Crete it is characterized as the next Diva of Cretan wine making due its apricot, creamy flavor. Another important characteristic of this special wine is that it can be aged into barrels. Modern wine makers spend are doing a lot of experimentation in order to highlight this special ability of Vidiano. Combine it with pasta, fish, or white meat with lemony sauces.

4. Mandilari- Μανδηλάρι

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From the reds the one MUST try wine in Crete is Mandilari. This is a love it or hate it type of wine. Strong, with a lot of tannin this thick red wine will not disappoint regardless if you hate it or love it. The brutality of its character makes wine makers blend it with other varieties in order to make it more applicable to the markets. If you try it on its own keep in mind that it is among the type of wines that grabs your tongue aggressively and does not let go. However, whether you have it is a blend, or on its own, it is the perfect wine to escort a nice beef steak or a soft piece of lamb.

5. Syrah

1211761790062Surprise surprise. Here is a Frenchman or woman. This is a proposal for more universal flavors. Lets say you have tried every local variety in Crete and you want to taste something familiar. Syrah is your choice. This wine, although well known around the world from the French winemakers, is doing fantastic in the climatic and geographic conditions of Crete. Actually it is doing so well it is developing a character which differentiates a little from the original. The slightly fruitier flavor and more gentle character have created the perfect alternative from foreign varieties, as well as, a great companion for blends with the local heavier and more tannik wines. Enjoy it with red sauces, and casserole dishes.

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Let’s Talk About Wine in Crete!!! Part 2- Why Is It Special?

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As we saw in Part 1 wine is among the most ancient alcoholic products that have accompanied human development for centuries. Greece always had a special connection with wine and its production. The Greeks even believed in a God among the Greek pantheon that was protecting and blessing wine production in the country, the world famous Dionysus. The importance of wine and its presence in the every day life of the people of Greece is highlighted even in the Christian Era with Jesus blessing the three most important products, bread, olive oil and wine! Wine in Crete, being among the most prominent viticulture areas in the Mediterranean,was considered among the most celebrated and important products in the everyday life of the people of the island. This importance together with the special character of the Cretan wine makes local wine production a must see for every visitor of the island. Having looked at the historical context of wine making in Crete, let us now examine other characteristics that make the Cretan wine so interesting for the traveler in search of flavors.

Geography and Climate

The case of wine presents an excellent example of the importance of the location of Crete in the Mediterranean for the special climate of the island and its relation to  the biodiversity of Crete. Some scientists argue that Crete has such a diverse environment that for environmentalists and nature scientists it could be considered a continent it self. However this can be observed even if a visitor is not a scientist. The aggressive red stones of the South East meet the black sand of the South, that change into the forest of the Selakano forest as you head to the sandy North shores through the mountains. Herbal low vegetation areas alter to cypress hill forests and maple trees in the rocky mountain tops. The wine areas of the rolling hills of central central Crete meet a completely different environment than the wine areas of the West that are more exposed to rain and lower temperatures.

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Perhaps an indicator of the importance this terrain and conditions offer to the viticulture of Crete is that in a geographical space of  8,303 km2 (3,206 sq mi) there are 10 different endemic grape varieties. These are Dafni, Plyto, Vilana, Thrapsathiri, Vidiano, and Moschato Spinas for the white wines and Kotsifali, Mandilari, Liatiko and Romeiko for the red. Each and every variety has its own special, unique flavorful characteristics that will surely surprise every wine lover. In addition to these varieties a lot of wine makers brought different vines from other parts of the world for experimentation in two levels. First in order see how these vines will do in the Cretan terroir. The results actually were very good. Varieties such as the Syrah, Grena and Cabernet Sauvignon did rather well. The second reason was to combine these international flavors with the local special flavor in order to make it more applicable to international markets. Let us not forget that local market is not an easy one for the Cretan wine makers.

The climatic conditions of the island have a very important role on the flavors these amazing varieties give and the experience every wine maker has during the making of the wines. The climate of Crete is characterized by extensive dry periods during summer, and heavy rain periods during winter. The rain periods are not consistent like northern European countries, but are short and heavy. In order to put this in perspective the amount of rain we receive in Crete is the same as in Bordeaux, which means around 700ml a year. The difference is that this rain is between the months November to March. Add to this that Crete is an island that has approximately 250 sunny days and it becomes easy to imagine the effect these climatic conditions have on the flavors of the wines. Of course there are always surprises like this year (2015) where the whether, just like the economic and political situation in Greece, have been unpredictable.

The Culture of Harvest

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The Cretan moto “trigos, theros, polemos- τρύγος, θέρος, πόλεμος”  which loosely translates as, wine harvest, wheat harvest-reaping, and war is an indicative of the belief that these are the three toughest and most unpredictable situations. They are hard work and you never know what you are going to get. Trigos, the wine harvest, is a hard laboring job. Traditionally wine harvest was a family job. Towards the end of August the family would go from vineyard to vineyard in order to collect the grapes. Some grapes would go for raisins, others were table grapes, and the best would go for wine. Jobs were distributed among the family. The eldest and most experienced, together with the women and children would cut the grapes. The youngest and strongest men would carry the heavy boxes with extra care to a location where they could be easily transferred to the wine press. Now draw picture in your mind. This job is done under a 30C degrees heat minimum. The juices from the grapes that are freshly cut attract wasps and bees that enjoy their juices as much as we do and your feet are constantly mixing with the vine branches and leaves that are long and tough to go through. Not an easy job.

Around noon the family would sit under the shadow of an olive or walnut tree that were most commonly found in the vineyards. Lunch is usually simple. A Cretan Salad, with fresh tomatoes, atzouria (a type of cucumber), onions, olives, eggs, boiled potatoes, rusks, olive oil and vinegar would be served to share with some bread. After lunch the family would continue with the harvest until late afternoon.

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After the harvest is over and all the grapes would be collected it was time for the press. Each house had its own patitiri-πατητήρι, a wine press that was usually located either in an underground basement, or somewhere outside. The grapes would be emptied in the large confined areas and the family started the wine dance. Careful, rhythmic, heavy steps, with one foot close to the other were pressing the grapes in order to squeeze the juice out. In the bottom of the container where the dancing was taking place, there was a hole for the juice to come out and end into the barrels. Again this is not an easy and as fun as it looks like job. The grapes are pinching your feet, the wasps are partying on the juices, the dried juice sticks in your feet, and you must not stop until the job is finished otherwise the grapes will go sour. Once the pressing was done, the grapes that were pressed are collected in a corner of the patitiri, and heavy, flat pieces of wood were placed on top of them over night for the remaining juices to strain out.

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With so much work it is no wonder that people of Crete are proud of their own production. If the vineyards survived during the maturation period without any damage from the weather or other imponderable factors, there was the responsibility of collecting the grapes and creating the wine that made the end result even sweeter (even if it wasn’t).

Grapes and wine are inseparable for the life of the Cretan. The grape is an incredible fruit that offered so many things to the people of Crete and they in turn make sure they respect and continue their tradition around grapes and wine making. From the depths of history to the amazing, courageous, and very well educated wine makers of today Cretan wine and grape harvest lives on. Perhaps my wish is for the younger generations to continue these traditions and education. After all it is this combination that suckles them into being courageous and take the risks involved in modern wine making. The science of wine making suggests that today you must not step on the grape since it is the skin of the pulp that gives you the flavor, but it definitely does not suggest that enjoying the family moments of the hard labor of trigos does damage to the wine. It is these moments, as they combine with the amazing Cretan landscape that visitors must seek in order to make their experience on the island unique and UNFORGETTABLE.

Let’s Talk About Wine in Crete!!! Part 1-HISTORY

The celebrations and feasts of the first 15 days of August are now past which means that wine harvest is about to begin. The weather this year has been really strange and unusual but this means all the more interesting time for winemakers of the island and this years production. A year full of unexpected rain, late summer and no heat waves can only mean a new interesting product from the grapes of the island. Wine making and the people of Crete go hand in hand for centuries. It is this time of the year that it is just about right to talk about grape harvest, Cretan wine making and the importance of wine on one of the most interesting wine making regions of the world.

History

The majority of of wine making varieties that are cultivated on the island, as well as, Europe belong to the Vitis Vinifera, the vine that brings wine in a more lose translation. The Vitis Vinifera comes in Europe from Caucasus where the land and climatic conditions made it ideal for its development and growth.

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Wine making and viticulture develops during the agricultural revolution (5000 B.C.) with the Arians, the Persians and the Assyrians to be among the first people to cultivate vineyards. The Egyptians, the Phoenicians and the Greeks are said to have learned the art of wine making from them. For many years the Egyptians and the people of Mesopotamia were the best in wine production, but soon their glory was lost by the Greeks and Phoenicians because of the quality of grapes grown in their areas.

In Crete wine making and viticulture have been essential for the growth of the Minoan civilization and the importance of the island in antiquity.  The archeological evidence of wine making dates to 4000 years ago, while Vathipetro is a location in central Crete where the oldest wine press is found and dates 3500 years ago. Homeric poems make special reference to the world famous wines from Crete. Large amphora, the discovery of underground storage facilities, as well as, Minoan fresco and artifacts demonstrate the importance of wine making in Minoan everyday life.

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The Minoans being conquerors of the seas and the largest naval force at their time have developed trade to a great extend with other countries. Besides, trade is what made the Minoans the force they came to be. Wine was among the chosen products for exportation and it did rather well judging from the archeological evidence. Wall paintings in Egypt depict Minoan ships arriving to the Egyptian ports, while the discovery of a ship wreck close to the coast of Turkey revealed an amphora filled with wine that dated 3000 years ago. Finally the Law Code of Gortyn is the oldest legal text in Europe makes special reference on wine making laws.

The Romans brought a new dimension to wine making on the island. Their need for large amounts forced the cultivation of vineyards all over the island, while at the same time helping people of Crete to advance their knowledge and specialization skills on wine making. This combination led to the exportation of Cretan wine to Rome.

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However with the arrival of Christianity and the division of the Roman Empire to Eastern and Western, as well as, the implication of Crete to different battles stalled and even damaged the wine production practices on the island. it was only until the taking over of the Venetians that the local wine making sees new developments. Cretans use the marketing connections of the Venetians and the safety they provided in the Mediterranean in order to start export again. Special Cretan varieties such as the Malvazia Di Candia the Malvazia of Crete become famous as far as England. Records of the time suggest that the king of England had to send an ambassador to Crete in order to regulate the prices and exportation. Annual reports of the year 1445 make reference of 20.000 barrels being exported from the ports of Crete.

The end of the Venetian Era meant the end of the Cretan wine in the rest of Europe too. Ottomans gave little attention to the continuation of this trade and kept most of the production within the shores of Crete. This turned the production into family oriented productions with each house producing their own wine for domestic consumption.

From the 19th Century to Today

The transitional periods in Cretan wine making have a significant importance if we want to understand the basis upon people understand and use wine in Crete today. The domestification of wine making and its sudden change from a “world commodity” to a local product brought a lot of changes to how people perceive it today. Even today, in the modern, western, open wine palleted world industrial wine making in Crete is owned by families that try hard to establish themselves in the world wine market.

Domestic wine making meant the shift of attention from the local market completely. In Venetian times perhaps there was also no local wine market but there was a local hub that was responsible for the exportation and distribution of the product in different markets. After the Ottoman empire each winemaker or vineyard owner was making wine for his own household. This meant that the wine experience as we know it today did not exist. The hard work wine harvesting involved, as well as, the delicate and sensitive work wine making is made each wine maker and producer very proud for the end result. A visit in any household was accompanied with the offering of the house wine. The guest was also the wine critic and the household marketing before the offering would be one to highlight how special and unique the house wine is. “You have never tried such wine. It is a plain blessing. If you will not like it i will be very surprised. It has no additional flavors like other put. Berries, apples, pears and the like. This is pure.” Even if the wine was close to vinegar the passion and sparkle in the eyes of the maker would oblige the visitor to agree.

Today similar perceptions exist and are very lively. Truth be told if anyone ever tries to make wine, one must be extremely objective in order to develop the flavors desired. It is very hard after so much time, effort and hard work to admit to failure when the result is something not bad. Wine is not like food. You cannot ditch it and make another. If it is bad, it is a years efforts going to waste. So it is not hard to imagine why these perceptions develop and exist. A region so rich in wine making and export can only develop passionate feelings about its products.

Modern wineries although they prize their products they are open to co-operations and teamwork for the promotion of their products. The result is not bad at all. In my humble, nevertheless Cretan oriented opinion, Cretan wines have nothing to be jealous of. They can stand on any competition or market with pride and highlight their specificity and uniqueness, which is the combination of both the terroir, as well as, the hard work and specialized knowledge of the local wine makers.

Comments on Dan Nosowitzs: Greek the Salad. Authenticity is a con.

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Here is an interesting article i came across about Greek salad. There are many parts that I agree with and a lot that i disagree with, however I find the article interesting and ,as juicy as, the vinaigrette in the bottom of the bowl after you finish the Greek salad.

Before you start reading I would like to make two notes. One: In Greek when we say something comes from the village it has two meanings. When it involves actions and behaviors it denotes something of lower quality and education, and/or simplicity. When it comes to food it underlines originality and freshness. So when you go in a bakery and ask for a horiatiko bread the reference is on the type of making. When you go and ask for tomatoes horiatikes it means you are looking for tomatoes that are fresh, juicy, and organic.

Secondly, because of this ambivalent meaning of the word horiatiko the salad was considered a lower standards food. Not because of its nutritional value, nor because of its quality. It was considered of lower culinary level value at the time. It was the simplicity of the food that made locals consider it a food not worthy of the attention received by foreign visitors. Thus a tavern owner that invested time and money in order to be able to create the infamous chicken a la creme and charge it for a few more drachmas now receives a shocker with an order of an ultra huge Greek salad that he charges for less than half the money. However the nutritional value was well known and this is why a horiatiki was never absent from the Greek table.

Finally I must say each region has a potential alteration in the Greek or horiatiki salad. In Crete for example cucumbers were changed to atzouria or ksilaggoura which can be considered a mix between a cucumber and a zucchini, however they belong in the family of melons (Cucumis melo). IMGP3235There was also the addition of an egg, potatoes and the famous Cretan green glistrida (Portulaca Oleracia).

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To conclude and let you enjoy the article i must say that the part i agree the most with the author is the paragraph that argues: “On the other hand, there is no such thing as authentic food. The concept requires that all cuisines from primarily non-immigrant countries be thought of as static and unchanging, which of course they are not. Dishes are created all the time, even in countries with much longer culinary histories than ours. Existing dishes are modified. New influences change the way people eat. Regional specialties overlap, mingle with each other.” It is precisely this fact that makes the culinary world so amazing to explore and wonder with!

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Greek the Salad

Authenticity is a con.
by Dan Nosowitz August 4, 2015

The Caesar is the most popular; the Cobb has its devotees; and I’m sure somebody must love a Waldorf, but the Greek is my favorite in the pantheon of classic American salads. Crunchy raw vegetables, theoretically juicy tomatoes, raw onion, dried oregano, and the salty/sour punch of feta cheese, olives, and maybe capers or pickled peppers—it’s a powerful, flavor-forward salad that’s hard to mess up.

Like many other classic American dishes (ground beef tacos, spaghetti and meatballs, General Tso’s chicken), the Greek salad is a domestic creation with a vague reference to some other country. It is common to find excoriations of the American Greek salad that claim that a dish called horiatiki (pronunciation is close to whore-YA-tee-kee) is the truly authentic Greek salad, the one Greeks love, the reason that any real, authentic, Greek person from Greece and not America would look at an American Greek salad and think, “Pah! This is not authentic!” (Horiatiki is a salad of roughly chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and sometimes sweet green pepper, with feta cheese, olive oil, olives, and oregano. It has no lettuce.) Ahhhh, authenticity.

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On the other hand, there is no such thing as authentic food. The concept requires that all cuisines from primarily non-immigrant countries be thought of as static and unchanging, which of course they are not. Dishes are created all the time, even in countries with much longer culinary histories than ours. Existing dishes are modified. New influences change the way people eat. Regional specialties overlap, mingle with each other.

When you talk about traditional or authentic food, it’s also important to remember that basically zero world cuisines were unchanged by the introduction of New World ingredients in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It took some cuisines an extra couple centuries to figure out how great corn, squash, chiles, potatoes, and, especially, tomatoes are. Greece was one of those. Tomatoes weren’t introduced to Greece until the beginning of the nineteenth century, and then a civil war further postponed widespread adoption, so it wasn’t until the late nineteenth and even early twentieth centuries that tomatoes became really popular in Greece, despite the fact that they grow readily in the sunny Mediterranean climate.

“We always have a salad, this is a thing you always have at the table,” Aglaia Kremezi, a cookbook author, cooking school instructor, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on Greek cuisine, told me. There are many ancient Greek dishes that we would recognize today as salads, one in particular taking shape thanks to the needs of farmhands. “In the original village kind of salad, it was a lunch you could take in a box and eat in the fields,” Kremezi says. You’d have a pepper, a cucumber, some cheese, some onion, and, importantly, some bread. You’d chop it all up and have a meal, right there in the field. The farmhand salad, which does not really have a name, is fairly similar to a Lebanese salad called fattoush and an Italian salad called panzanella. They all use some form of stale bread-like product (the Greek version uses paximadi, twice-baked barley bread that has a texture similar to a biscotti) to soak up liquid from a fresh vegetable salad.

Greek cuisine shares some similarities with western European cuisines like Provencal and Italian, but in many ways it’s more similar to the cuisine of Turkey, with which it shares a short border. As in Turkish cuisine, Greeks often start a meal with an array of small salads and plates—you’d have some cheese, some savory pastries, some salads, each one a separately prepared mini-dish that’s served all at the same time for you to pick and choose. These mini-dishes, when served in this way, are sometimes called meze, like the Turkish version, and sometimes called orektiko.

Horiatiki was not one of the salads Kremezi grew up eating, because it didn’t exist until the mid-nineteen sixties. “When you sat down at the tavern, you ordered tomato salad and feta cheese, and then whatever else you wanted to order,” Kremezi says. Tomato salad, sometimes with cucumber or onion, sometimes not, was its own dish. A big slab of feta cheese (sheep’s milk only, or if you must, a tiny bit of goat’s milk, says Kremezi), covered in olive oil and dried oregano, was its own dish. Olives, too, were separate. Horiatiki takes all of those disparate meze dishes and combines them into one big salad.

Horiatiki was created, and then adopted throughout the country, in response to Greece’s desire in the sixties to be considered a real urban power—a European country, not a Middle Eastern country, like Turkey. Horiatiki is a salad to compete with niçoise. And it showed off so many of Greece’s strengths: phenomenally powerful herbs, strengthened in flavor by having to struggle in the dry, hot climate; truly world-class cheese; incredible fruits and vegetables; and some of the best, strongest, fruitiest, most flavorful olive oil anywhere. If you were an American tourist in 1968 and you had horiatiki at a seaside tavern, your mind was blown. This was some good shit.

To Greeks, it was kind of silly. “My parents were snubbing it, saying this is an overpriced way of serving,” says Kremezi. “And the whole thing backfired, because tourists would order the horiatiki and nothing else. They would call them horiatiki tourists, cheap tourists.” The name is curious as well. In Greek, “horiatiki” means “village,” a term and concept that was anathema in the sixties as Greece tried to appear modern and European. “If you wanted to dismiss something, you would say ‘this is horiatiki,’ to mean, this is not good,” says Kremezi. “So for a salad to succeed with that name, it must have been a great salad!” It was, and is, a great salad, and soon it exploded in popularity all over the country. Now it’s found in any tavern, any resort, or any seaside fish shack in Greece. It’s also found year-round, though to Kremezi, ordering a horiatiki off-season is a clear giveaway that a diner doesn’t know what he or she is doing. “Horiatiki is a summer salad,” she says. “Now, of course, they make it all year round, but if people know their food, they don’t order horiatiki in the winter. In the winter we have the greens salad, mixed greens.”

In the US, Greek salad is a little different. It’s commonly found in diners, in pizza joints, and at any “American food” type chain. It’ll have a base of iceberg or romaine lettuce, feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes (sometimes cherry, sometimes sliced), onions (usually red), and a dressing of olive oil, vinegar (usually red wine), and oregano.

This Greek salad, not to be confused with the horiatiki, emerged at around the same time, in the sixties. (There are references to “Greek salad” before then, as early as the nineteen thirties, but these were bizarre concoctions of mayonnaise and cabbage and it’s unclear what, if anything, made them the least bit Greek.) Greek immigrants flowed into the US in their biggest numbers from around 1890 to 1923, when a law put a cap on immigrants; hundreds of thousands came to avoid the chaos of the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and World War I. Many of those found work, as immigrants tend to do, in restaurants. But Greeks, for whatever reason, managed to connect with Americans by creating or co-opting two very important American restaurant types: the diner, and the pizza joint.

Greek immigrants disproportionately ran both; most New York City diners, for example, are owned by people of Greek descent. Greek immigrants also found notable success in the pizza world. The inventor of Hawaiian pizza is a Greek guy who immigrated to Ontario, and the owner of the famous Mystic Pizza hails from Greece as well. Greek restaurant owners, while catering to the tastes of their new home, also inserted a few elements from home onto their menus, most notably in the Greek salad, an American riff on the concept of combining a whole bunch of Greek classic items onto one plate. With the success of both diners and pizza joints, generations of Americans have grown up with the Greek salad as a nostalgic touchstone.

There is no true Greek salad; horiatiki, aside from being only a few decades old, is also as fluid as any other dish. Some versions, says Kremezi, include herbs like purslane, a lemony succulent that’s also common in the northeast US, or rock samphire, an herb which grows out the sides of cliffs above the Mediterranean. Some might include sweet green peppers. She always includes capers. But what I found most interesting is what she doesn’t include: vinegar, and olives.

“In Greece we never add vinegar. Why do people add vinegar? Tomato is quite sour,” Kremezi says. “Why do they add vinegar, balsamic vinegar, these things? It’s beyond me.” She finds, as well, that olives, being very salty, throw off the balance of the salad. “Feta is already quite salty,” she says. She’s right; I never thought about it, seeing the Greek salad mostly as a salty and acidic kick in the teeth to balance out some greasy pizza, but it is not a particularly well-balanced salad. Kremezi’s version, though, is.

The basic elements of a good Greek salad are fairly uncomplicated. You need good tomatoes, in season. Heirlooms are perfect. This is a limited-edition salad, only ideal for a few short weeks in the summer, because you need top-quality tomatoes: they’re going to be supplying both acid and sugar. Get nice cucumbers (Kremezi likes either English or the curved, ridged Armenian type). Good quality fancy olive oil, preferably a heavy, fruity one. Good feta cheese—Greek, or Bulgarian, made of sheep’s milk, packed in brine. God help you if you buy pre-crumbled grocery store feta.

An underrated key to the Greek salad, whether American or horiatiki, is in the herbs. In Greece, most herbs and greens are gathered wild, and are powerful and unusual because of it. A jar of McCormick dried oregano is not really a good substitute. But fresh oregano is very easy to grow in pots, and absolutely delicious. Oregano is a key ingredient in Greek cuisine; Kremezi says there are more than twelve different varieties, all used for different things in different parts of the country, and that the best stuff is the wild type that’s never watered and is all the more potent for it. “But the fresh one,” like you would grow in pots, “I like the fresh one,” she says. “And I think it adds a very interesting touch to the salad. With the feta it’s very ideal.”

Source: http://www.theawl.com/2015/08/greek-the-salad?src=longreads

A Vegetarian Lent Reciepe: Marathopita

Μάραθος-Maratho (Fennel)  is among the most aromatic herbs of Crete. It is used very often in Greek and Cretan cuisine in order to highlight and give flavorful emphasis to different products, such as snails or cuttle fish. Maratho is mostly known in different cuisines for its very aromatic root, Finokio, which is used in salads. Crete though is one of these places that will give special culinary attention to the greens of fennel more than the root.

ingredient378_marathos

Fennel (Foeniculum Sativum) and its dietary properties have been known from antiquity. In Ancient Greece it was considered a therapeutic herb that assisted in problems related to indigestion or the urinary system. Dioskorides suggests that for people that have problems with the urinary system and pee “drop by drop” fennel is a remedy. Fennel is also an antidote to poison from mushrooms. It contains Vitamins A, C and B3, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus.

marauos-

Here is an easy to make delicious recipe that will satisfy your hunger and culinary curiosity during these fasting days in Crete as found in http://www.explorecrete.com/cuisine/crete-recipes-psoma.htm#marathopita.

Enjoy and Good Luck!!15604686779_1e2599ce03_o

INGREDIENTS:

3 bunches fennel

Some wild horta (greens) or spinach

2 shot glasses olive oil

½ kilo all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons

1 shot glass raki

Salt, pepper

Make pie dough : Mix ½ kilo flour with raki, 1 shot glass olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and some lukewarm water until dough is ready.

Filling: Wash greens and drain well. Then chop and toss lightly with salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon oil and 2 tablespoons flour.

EXECUTION:

Separate dough into small round pieces the size of tennis balls. Make a small cavity in the middle of each and add a tablespoon of filling. Then enclose the filling and work into balls again. With a floured rolling pin, press each ball into a thin round, the size of a plate. Brush each side with olive oil and cook in a stick-free frying pan over very low heat for several minutes on each side until golden brown.

NOTE> In years past, housewives would cook them on a stone or sheet-iron over a wood fire, and accompanying wine was a must.”