And Rhodes (send us) raisins and figs, sweet like dreams.
Ermippos 63, at Athenaeus, 27e.
The black raisin was well known in antiquity. The most famous raisin of classical years was produced in Rhodes island, however the raisins of Chios island were in great demand during Byzantine years. Raisins were consumed as a snack or dessert or used in cooking by ancient Greeks. It was not an uncommon practice to be used in sauces, mixed with mustard seeds. In Byzantine period quantities of raisins were eaten during periods of fasting and by monks. At 17th century, they were also used as a spice. That’s why Agapius Landos, a Cretan monk who wrote a very popular geoponical book, adviced his readers to eat tender spinach sprinkled with pepper, or cinnamon, or raisins. He also proposed them consume the cappers sprinkled with vinegar, olive oil and raisins.
Raisins are a good source of potassium, they are rich in anti-oxidants and have concentrated sugar content that makes them very rich in calories. Raisins give much energy. It is not accidental that during the German domination of 1940, many people survived from starvation eating some raisins, few olive oil, corn bread or corn gruel and greens.
Raisins, currants and sultaninas
Raisins include two distinct products which are currants, or black raisins or Corinthian raisins and sultaninas or sultanas. Currants are black dried grapes, sultaninas are dried pale- blonde grapes. Currants are consumed in food, in sweets or alone. Sultaninas are eaten either as food or mixed with other dried fruits and nuts. Traditionally, both products are sun-dried; however, nowadays they are often mechanically dehydrated.
Black raisins are also called currants or Corinthian raisins. The name “currant” is derived from the old French raisins de Corauntz, the raisins of Corinth (Peloponnese), because for a long time the surrounding areas of the city of Corinth were the main producing regions.
In 13th century, Peloponnese began exporting the raisins to Britain and Netherlands. Since then, the crop has been of great economic importance.
In 1516, the Venetians transplanted the currant vines from Peloponnese to Zante- the southern island of today’s Eftanisa or Ionian islands- which was under their rule. They hoped of major profits from the trade with Western Europe. Indeed, those hiqh quality black currants became Zante’s black gold, and one of its most characteristic products. In 1673, Venetian corresponding to the European demand for more currants drained the east-central part of the island and gave a real boost to raisin production.
By 1836 the currants cultivation represented the 3% of the total vine cultivation in Greece. Though currant was the main Greek product that was massively exported, England was traditionally the main importer country. The English cooking used lots of currants in puddings, cakes and currant-soups. But in the following years the situation changed. In the middle of 19th century not only the Ionian islands developed a monopoly control of the worlds currant-supply, but also Northwestern coastal Peloponnese had a great interference in the intensive cultivation of currant- vines. It is impressive that the production of vines dedicated to currants raised up to 23% over the next 25 years. Beside the demand for currants by English and Austrian market, there was a dramatically growing demand for currants by French wine making, due to the devastation of French and Spanish vineyards by the insect Phylloxera. Greek farmers focused on raisin vines, with wine- vines, legumes and cereals coming second. It is noteworthy that in 1845 cereals formed 41% of the agricultural production and in 1881 they fell to 23.7%. The intensive cultivation of currant vines offered to the farmers a unique opportunity of maximizing their profits. Many of them became very rich.
But, by 1883 the French vineyards had recovered from the Phylloxera. The French government voted protective laws for the local vineyards and the wine economy, hence imposed heavy duties on imported currants. In the beginning of the 1900s the Greek currant – market collapsed.
The areas of currant cultivation faced the economic destruction and, mainly in Northwestern Peloponnese, dynamic social fights took place. The Greek government tried to cure the economical and political trouble, which had been caused by the currant crisis, not by adopting structural agricultural and economical measures but by intervening in the market. Thus every year, it retained a percentage of currant production in order to support prices.
Slowly, farmers began to produce wine and other goods again or abandoned agriculture. They moved to the big cities of Greece or abroad. From 1890 to 1914, over of 350.000 Greek workers migrated to America.
Sultanina or sultana (sultana is the feminine form of sultan) is a type of white seedless grape and also the name of the raisin which comes from this grape. The raisin has a very delicate aroma and very sweet taste. Sultanina grape is believed that originated in Iran and from there, was taken to the valley of Ermos river (Magnesia, Western Asia) and to coastal regions of Smyrna (Asia Minor). Its ancestor may be traced in wild sultani (agriosultani) that is found in Crete and the more distant ancestor may be traced in the Razaki variety. The first known case of sultanina’s cultivation in Greece dates on 1838 (Nafplion, Peloponnese). On 1901, we know that sultanina was also cultivated in Sitia (Eastern Crete). The cultivation of the grape expanded after 1923 due to the massive migration of Greeks of Asia Minor to Greece. Among them were many famous sultanina’s farmers. Heraklio of Crete, a region which had been accepted many refuggees, became one of the most serious sultanina’s cultivation areas.
Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona, The development of the Greek vineyard from the Greek revolution to the 2nd World War, History of Greek Wine, Santorini 7-9 September 1990
Miles Lambert-Gσcs,The Greek Wines, p. 207-208.
Γ. Μαργαρίτης, Σπ. Μαρκέτος, Κ. Μαυρέας, Ν. Ροτζώκος, Ελληνική Ιστορία, Νεότερη και σύγχρονη Ελληνική Ιστορία, τομ. Γ΄, Πάτρα 1999.
Β. Κρεµµυδάς, Εισαγωγή στη νεοελληνική οικονοµική ιστορία (18ος – 20ος αι.)
Πιζάνιας Π., Ο Αγροτικός κόσμος στο Ιστορία του Νέου Ελληνισμού 1770-2000, Αθήνα 2003.