Xinohondros- a fermented milk/cereal mixture

The combination of ground cereal grains and milk or yogurt to produce a highly nutritious, storable foodstuff is a common practice among the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean.

There are two Cretan variations under this category: xinochondros (sour ground wheat) which is the boiled mixture of fermented goat’s or /and sheep’s milk and “chondros” and galochondros (milk-ground wheat)  which consists of fresh unfermented milk and chondros. Both are usually consumed in the dried form.

Chondros is called the coarsely ground wheat on the islands of Crete, Carpathos and Kythera. According to Geoponika,* in ancient Greek chondros was the dehulled  emmer wheat grain (Triticum dicoccum) that had been  pounded, boiled and gradually mixed with white, fine gypsum and a quarter part of the whitest and finest sand for each part of gypsum ( a practice that contributed to the grain husking). When chondros was all husked, they passed it though a rather coarse sieve. The best was the first-sieved chondros; the third sieved chondros had the worst quality.

The pre-procession of cereals is actually an idea  dating back thousands of years.

The archaeobotanical remains of ground einkorn and barley grain from northern Greece and Santorini indicate that preparations created by parboiling cereals and combinations of ingredients such as cereals and milk go back as early as the third millennium B.C. in northern Greece and mid-second millennium B.C in Santorini. Although the archaeobotanical finds of processed cereals cannot tell us much about the techniques and the recipes involved in their preparation, the description of Geoponika is reminiscent of bulgur preparation.

As I’ve already said,  the cereal grain that is know under the name chondros in Crete, Carpathos and Kythera is simply coarsely cracked wheat. For a very long time it was home produced and in the hands of women, men were not completely excluded from the grinding though. Nowadays, the manual grinding process has been replaced by the mechanical one and women buy chondros from the market. Sometimes bulgur is used instead of cracked wheat.

Chondros is mainly produced using Triticum durum, so in the recipe below I used mavrathera, a local variety of Triticum turgidum subsp. Durum.

HOW TO MAKE XINOCHONDROS

Keep the raw, unpasteurized milk in a room temperature until it begins to turn sour and thick. Stir once or twice per day.

Put the sour milk into a pot. You can use the whey too. Bring to a boil.

Carefully add the ground wheat (in a ratio 1 wheat: 3 ½-4 milk). This is the time to make the sign of cross or blow three times, thus you will bless the xinohondros or  you’ll awake the apotropaic gods. 🙂

Simmer stiring  constantly. When it thickens and spoon stays in the centre of the xinohondros, remove from fire.

 Leave the mixture  to rest overnight and then spread in the form of spoonfuls or  rectangular pieces in the sun to dry. If you will make a large quantity, keep it in a pillowcase or cloth bag.

Xinohondros is made in the summer, when there is enough sun for it to dry out.

Though it  is usually consumed in a dried form, fresh xinohondros has a wonderful taste and can be served for breakfast. Dried xinohondros is found in a myriad of recipes in place of rice. It is  used in soups and stews  or  it is cooked with chicken, or okra, or pork, or  snails, or vegetables, or legumes,  or simply milk.

* Geoponika, edited by Beckh, published in 1895 Leipzig by Τeubner

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FOOD & MEMORY

1. I begin with two anecdotes.

a) When my friend Stavroula Markoulaki, archaeologist and president of the Historical, Folklore and Archaeological Society of Crete, ate a piece of fresh xinohondros during the Saturday branch of the 1 st Symposium of Greek Gastronomy she shook her head and said ” I feel such a fool”. Why? Because while living in the village Apothikes with her parents she never interested in her mother’s rich and complex knowledge of cooking and cheese making. “Now that I am interested in her rural  cooking, she is dead and I don’t remember how to recreate her recipes. Oh my poor mom.  I miss her so much!”

The cultural gap between rural mother and modern, educated daughter brought considerable changes in the transmission of traditional food. However, xinohontros evoked some of my friend’s deepest memories.

 (Photo credit: Kyrstyn Kralovec)

Cretan xinohondros is a dried food based on a cooked mixture of fermented milk and cracked wheat. When it is still fresh and soft, xinohondros is a delicious creamy food. 

b) Food has own stories to tell.

Katina Providaki and her tiganopites (Photo credit: Kyrstyn Kralovec)

During the preparation for the Symposium Saturday dinner, Katina Providaki, a volunteer local cook, suggested tentatively that she would like to make tiganopsomo (fried leavened flatbread).  I was surprised when her 30 years old son said that his mother never makes it at home. “Why haven’t you ever made tiganopsomo for Stratis?” I asked her. “ This is  a treasured delicacy from my childhood” she answered. ”My mother made use of the leftover bread dough; she  hand flattened  it after rising and fried it.  While it was still warm she drizzled it with petimezi… you see, honey was very expensive but everybody had a little jar of petimezi.  But after my mother passed away (she died when Katerina was 14 years old) I didn’t even try to make a tiganopsomo. My heart would break, I thought. Tomorrow, for the first time in my life,  I will make tiganopsomo. Thus you will see how a poor mother “soothed her child’s insides” (malakone ta mesa tou paidiou tis)
For Katina  tiganopsomo is the symbol of her mother’s love and care.  And as Marcel Proust wrote in Remembrance of Things Past   “…when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection” (Volume 1: Swann’s Way: Within a Budding Grove, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin p. 58).

Why does food hold such power?

2. Sadly, even in villages the knowledge of traditional foodstuffs is rapidly declining, while there is also a considerable loss of memory  of poor people’s foods. Lantouridia is a typical dish of Crete’s “poor” cuisine. The most common way to prepare them  is to combine flour or bread with water to form very small balls of dough.   They  are cooked in boiling water or milk or meat broth and they are served as a very thick soup. If they are  boiled in water or milk they can be served with sugar or honey.

To make a pot of lantouridia for the Symposium Saturday dinner, the volunteer cook asked about 10 women. No one wanted to remember the exact method of preparation.  (Who cares about those foods?  They were poor, as poor as our houses. I don’t want to remember them… I don’t want to remember those days”: Stella Konstantoulaki).

I wonder how these foods are going to be archived for future generations.

3.  Smelling a pot of basil or homemade stakovoutyro (butter) “It really smells like Chania!”

Stakovoutyro (Photo credit: Kyrstyn Kralovec)

In Greek, the experience of self -imposed exile, the  absence from one’s home due to immigration is called “xenitia”. Xenitia conveys  a condition of estrangement, hard living in foreign lands, long absence from homeland, though  it can exploited  to the benefit of the immigrant. It provokes an intense, deep pain of longing to return home (nostalgia).
The tastes and smells of homeland  accompany xenitemenous (immigrants) in their  new homes. The food recalls memories that include parents, relatives, friends, past events,  homeland itself.

a) Xenitemenoi need to have some object as a tangible site for memory. Packages of food sent to  migrants is a common link to home. Sometimes they are given the word “kaloudia” (goodies) and they carry inside them the sun of the homeland, its sea, the smells of family house, the mother’s love. They are a piece of patrida (homeland).

b)Xenitemenoi live with a foot in both worlds. For them,  the role of food and memory in preserving their identity is as essential as the language and news from home. Thus, food not only express the sense of loss and desire for home but also signifies a sense of belonging. Two Symposium speakers,Maria Verivaki and Ozlem Yasayanlar ,  referred to this wonderful part of culture, the food memories and identity. Please click here to read the abstracts of their announcements: http://greekgastronomy.wordpress.com/abstracts/

And click here to read a great article about xenos (foreigner), xenia (hospitality)  xenitia and xenophobia  http://diatribe-column.blogspot.com/2007/10/xenia.html

As you  have probably already guessed,  the theme for the 2013 Symposium  will focus on Food, Memory and Identity.

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ

AFTER THE 1st SYMPOSIUM OF GREEK GASTRONOMY


It is more than three weeks that the 1st of the Symposia on Greek Gastronomy is over but since I can say that it went very well, I wanted to share some thoughts on it …

Speakers were the most critical aspect that contributed to the success of conference. They shared their knowledge and they generated questions on a wide variety of topics related to History and Evolution of Cretan cuisine. You can read the abstracts here:

http://greekgastronomy.wordpress.com/abstracts/

However, much of Symposium’s success was due to all those who supported it or voluntarily contributed to its development.

Because, if a conference doesn’t have much money it must have a team of dedicated people…

But,

our Symposium had a great group of dedicated volunteers,

though they had never met each other…

though they had come from different backgrounds and countries ( and I must say I was impressed with the quick respsonse from foreigner residents of Crete).

Moreover, the whole village that hosted the Symposium volunteered. Yes, the whole thing was embraced enthusiastically by the locals….

And

people of different generational ages, gender and ethnicity worked so well together!

Of course,

I recognise the valuable contribution from our sponsors. They made our job much easier and helped make the Symposium enjoyble for participants. So I won’t forget the constant support Stratos Milidakis gave us (administrator at Oadyk/Project: Gastronomy Routes and Culture of Flavors Network under AXIS 4). I will not forget Mrs Nikolakakis’ kindness (Anek lines).

I will remember with deepest appreciation Philip Exadaktylos, Giorgos Detsis and Vicky Koumantou. We welcomed them as sponsors but they quickly became our friends. They also did volunteer work.

Nor will I forget Alexandra Manousakis and Katernina Douloufakis from the most respected Cretan wineries, Manousakis and Douloufakis respectively. Their wines capture their charm.

And I am touched by the “Iardanos”, the association of tradesmen and entrepreneurs of Platanias. Their packages were filled with wonderful goodies.

 

But

the entire Symposium would look very different without the generosity and support of our volunteers. They helped in all kinds of ways, from fetching, carrying, serving, cooking dinners for 150-250 people, to translating, interpeting (what a demanding job! Two volunteers did it magnificently) , offering hospitality, photographing etc. Their effort is deeply appreciated.

 

 

The youngest and most dedicated volunteers: Orfeas Dialinos (11 years old), George Pantelakis (16 years old), Anna Iakovou (13 years old)

 

Of course,

I would like to give a special thanks to the chairpersons of the sessions and particularly to Jennifer Moody, landscape archaeologist, for taking the time to contribute to Symposium conclusions.

Many many thanks to Evangelia Voutsaki, a gifted and inspired young photographer. Her photographs were shown projected as part of a slide show during the symposium.

Special tribute goes to the women of the village. Women of almost all ages, from their 30s to their 90s, cooked for the dinners. They seduced us with the food and heritage of the region where they live and with their respect for the raw materials and their appropriate seasons. Those enthusiastic home – cooks shared wonderful recipes and stories and they offered their warm hospitality to the Symposium participants.

I deeply thank them all.

 

To see pictures of volunteers, click here.

You will find a man’s image among the pictures of women cooks. When pilafi is made in large quantities, it is a man’s job.

For the menu click  here .

If you speak Greek, watch the videos below to find out more about the dishes of the Saturday dinner.

 

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watch?v=_oFanvNexyQ&feature=related

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Some refreshments were made by volunteers, speakers and sponsors. The lemonade with the wonderful scent of lemon verbena was made by ethonobatnologist Fusun Ertug, who was speaker in our Symposium.  To make it  mix 1 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice with cold  sugar syrup (5 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar. Steep 10 leaves in the mixture of hot syrup for at least ten minutes).    Soumada, a delicious, soft, almond flavored drink was made by  Vicky Koumantou . Click here to read about thassorofon  , its Byzantine version.  A cup of  refreshing iced mountain tea was the perfect  treat to quench our thirst.  To make it, fill a large pot with water and add mountain tea (Sideritis syriaca), some marjoram and 3-4 leaves of sage. Bring water up to a boil and let steep. Strain the mixture  into jag, let it cool  and refrigerate it. This is ideal for summer time.  When ready to serve, add some slices of lemon.  You can drink it as a refreshment, it is perfect to accompany a light meal though.

If you would like to try the dish of lentils and bulgur that was included in the Sunday menu, a cup of iced mountain tea goes so well with it!  The ingredients you will need to make the dish are: 2 parts of boiled lentils and 1 part of wheat grains soaked in water. Strain both lentils and wheat grains, add salt to taste, mix and let cool. Add chopped parsley, chopped onions, cumin, olive oil and wine vinegar.

 

 

Special thanks to the Cultural Association “Risa” for graciously opening up the old school of Karanou to us for two days.

 

 

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ

THE BEST WAY TO START YOUR DAY.

An early morning swim  in the clear, calm sea is  the best way to start your day …

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Next,  a walk through a symphony of wild seaside plants:

 

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The spectaculare yellow horned poppy (Glaucium flavum, gr. kitrini paparouna, κίτρινη παπαρούνα ) grows here. Like other members of its family, it contains poisonous alkaloids. 

 

 

 

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The Latin  name Eryngium maritimum for sea holly ( Gr. αngathia, αγκαθιά, μοσχάγκαθο)comes from the Greek word ‘erynggion’  ηρύγγιον.  ‘Maritimum’ refers to the plant’s seashore habitat.  Pliny mentioned that Greeks used both stem and root as food, served raw or boiled.  The young flowering shoots  are still eaten today. They are blanched, boiled and served with olive oil, vinegar and chopped garlic or they are cooked with eggs or lamb.    The roasted roots taste like chestnut.

 

 

 

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The sea shore is also home to thyme (thymari, θυμάρι)….

 

 

 

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…..and rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum, kritamo, κρίταμο).
The name crithmum comes from Greek krithe = barley, from resemblance of its fruit to barelycorn. The leaves are mainly collected from young, tender plants  before flowering and  eaten fresh or pickled in brine or vinegar. Pickled leaves  are used in salads. Served with olive oil, they  make a balanced accompaniment to Cretan raki and ouzo.  

 

 

 

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 And here is the perfect place for a glass of flavored iced coffee before going to work.

Yes, the early morning swim  is exceptionally rewarding.

 

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ.

AFTER THREE MONTHS….

Four weeks ago, we arrived back in Athens, after being gone for 3 months. This time I’ve brought  several tons of olives and cheeses, herbs, books and I managed to forget half my clothes.
What I miss while here:
The view from my sister’s kitchen window

 

view-from-the-kitchen-window

 

And the view from my balcony

view-from-balcony

 

Writing under the olive tree very early in the morning

under-the-tree

Weekends in Karranou

Wandering around Chania’s old town

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 and harbour

old-harbour

 

I miss the sea….

sea

… always the sea.

And I miss the lazy summer noons

The first autumn rain

The smell of the herbs

My mother and my sister

Sunday morning chat over a cup of coffee

 The old women, who brought me food gifts saying: eat, in order to remember Chania.

Knowing that my friends are either a short drive or a phone call away…
…. always my friends.
Yes I miss my summer home.
However, I am back…
I am back in the swing.
But eating with friends lift my spirits. Oh yes, my Athenian friends….

dinner

Apaki is smoked pork meat. Zelokoumpe or zylokoumpi is a goat or sheep cheese.

Vinegar or lemon juice or fig juice is used instead of rennet

Lentils (fakes)

3 cups lentils

6 cups water

½ cup olive oil + 1tbs

1 medium onion chopped

15 baby onions

4 garlic teeth chopped

3 medium green bell peppers cut into pieces

2 tbs tomato paste

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp grated orange peel

salt and pepper

3 tbs red wine

Rinse the lentils under running water and set aside to drain. Place the peppers and the baby onions in an olive oiled pan and roast them. Place the lentils in a casserole, add the chopped onion, cover with water and cook for 15 minutes. Add peppers and onions into the lentils, stir in the garlic and olive oil, season with salt. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and add the tomato paste, the bay leaves and the orange peel. Cook until thick (adding some water if necessary). Stir in the wine, remove the bay leaves, season with pepper. Serve hot or cold.

Trahanas

This pasta is one of the many recipes for thrahana that are found in Greece. It is made with flour, leaves of white beat, onion, garlic, leek and white fennel and comes from Chios island.

Stir in 2 cups trahana in 4 cups boiling water, add 2 tbs olive oil and cook about 10 minutes (add more water if necessary, to make a thick soup). Then add ½ cup strained yoghurt, ½ cup crumbled feta cheese and stir. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and serve.

 

 

 

TAMING THE WILD

The history of humanity is closely linked with the taming and domestication of wild plants and animals. Of course it was the long and laborous work of Neolithic people behind them. The labor was worth: Neolithic humans satisfied their hunger and provided most of our food today. Moreover, domestication led to food production and food production led to explosions in population and technology, to social stratification and political centralization. It also provided the basis for the intellectual construction which is allied with the enjoyment of food.

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These photos are from Falassarna, a semi-mountainous coastal area located about 55 km west of Chania (Crete). Though Falassarna is best known for its endless beach and turquoise waters, also is a notable archaeological site. Falassarne, a local nymph gave her name to that area, which flourished mainly during the Classic and Hellenistic years. However the oldest ruins date from the Middle Minoan period. During the periods of flourishment Falassarna was a great naval force, as was on the route between Ptolemaic Alexandria and the Aegean. Its power brought it into conflict with Rome, which destroyed the city in 69 AD. Both the rise of sea level and the massive earthquakes (365 AD) that raised this part of Crete seem to have contributed to its total decline. To the north of the beach you can see the remains of the ancient harbour, cyclopean walls, a stone carved ‘throne’, the ruins of a temple, possibly dedicated to Apollo or Artemis (Diana) etc.

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While going down from the top of the hill to the beach, you don’t only have magnificent view of the sea and the wild landscape of western Crete but you have the view of greenhouses too.

 

 The fact is that during the last 3 decades there is a considerable increase in the number of greenhouses. The degradation in groundwater and seawater is a seasonal result of the agrochemical pollution caused by them.

It looks like a paradox that we are talking about an area which hosts a large number of species and habitats and belongs to the Natura 2000 European protection network. As Crete is the northern point where certain African trees are encountered, you can see cedars and palms amongst the sand dunes.

Cretan cedar
Cretan cedar

Turpentine tree (Minoan kri-ta-nos, botan. pistacia terebinthus), crithmum maritimum….

Turpentine
Turpentine

 

Crithmum maritimum
Crithmum maritimum

cretan thyme and rare aromatic, ornamental and medical plants also grow wild in the region. 

Wild thyme
Wild thyme

And here is a wild -thyme field.

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Wild thyme is deeply appreciated for its gentle flavor, its high- antiseptic essence oil and its nectar for bees. The question is if a so –called wild thyme is really wild thyme. Is it wild thyme because it grows in the wild or cultivated thyme because someone planted it? But if the greenhouses can have serious effects on the health of local flora and fauna the ‘cultivated’ ‘wild’ thyme saves the wild one from harvesting. These are the two modern faces of taming the wild nature, after all.

CULINARY MEMORY (?)

What has happened to the traditional cooking knowledge? A few days ago, I found some photos from earlier this summer of the 10th Agricultural August – Land and Culrure Fair. The Fair took place at the Venetian harbour of Chania and was framed by rural and food products and few samples of popular artifacts of Municipalities of Chania, Cretan businesses and women’s Agrotouristic Cooperatives.

kiosks

Now, the question is about those food products which were made by women farmers and Cooperatives. Indeed, a lot of quality food products were available at their kiosks:

loukoumades and small pies (kalitsounia) made with a variety of stuffings,

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small semi-sweet cheese pies (lyhnarakia)

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gorgeous thin cheese pies from Sfakia sprinkled with honey

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honey, raki, rusks, semi-sweet breads

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cheeses, olives, olive oil, wines, dried pasta,

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 fried pastry sweets (xerotigana), spoon sweets etc., etc.

However… these were products that fulfill the interest of outsiders who have an apriori notion of cretan cuisine and represent only a small part of the rusks, homemade cheeses, pasta etc. that differentiate the food from region to region. What has happened? I wonder. Do women make food products that are already well known and make good profits? Or is the loss of traditional transmission of knowledge from mothers and grandmothers to daughters and granddaughters? Of course urbanization broke part of the link between mothers and daughters and modernization led to a loss of many chararceristics of traditional cooking, especially those regarding utensils, methods and eating behaviors. On the other hand, cuisines of Cretan agricultural regions still rely heavily on tradition, though allow room for many innovations.

Looks like those women of 35-50 have lost a part of the culinary memoir. Are their mothers the connection to a way of cooking that is gradually being lost? When they are gone the link will disappear as well? I wonder….

TIME FOR STORING!

Don’t you just love the smell of first rain? It was raining all night and morning yesterday. Chania saw the first rain in four months! The scents of Rosemary, Sage, Lemon Verbena, Thyme, Mint and Lavender filled the air. Autumn has finally arrived.

 first-autumn-rain

In the mean time, the sun dried tomatoes and figs are ready for storing. The old tradition and art of preserving foods is still alive. On the other hand, the last fresh okras of summer will not be hung in the half shade to dry; they will be prepared for freezing.

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They’ ll stay tender if you’ll follow this method: wash them after discarding stem edges and air dry before placing them in plastic bags in small quantities and freeze.

The seeds are well dried and are ready for storage until the next planting season.

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Old Cretan varieties of cucumbers, watermelons, melons, zucchinis, pumpkins, amaranths, beans…. a precious gift that I received from a local farmer. They are saved from plants that have grown in his family garden for four generations. Farmers like him don’t only preserve a heritage, they also preserve genetic biodiversity.

Fish with okra
(Cretan Cooking by M. & N. Psilakis, p. 72-3, Karmanor ed. 2000)

 

1 kilo fish (preferably sea-bass, red snapper or saupe)

1 kilo okra

½ cup olive oil

½ kilo tomatoes

1 or 2 onions

½ cup lemon juice or vinegar

salt, pepper
Clean the fish. Wash the okra, cut off the stems, and put them in a bowl doused with lemon juice or vinegar. Leave in the sun for 2-3 hours (this is so they won’t dissolve in the cooking).

Brown the onion in a pot and add the okra, the tomatoes, salt, pepper and 1-2 cups water and simmer till half cooked. Remove half the okra, place the fish on the okra in the pot and add the other half. Cook for another 20 minutes without stirring the food; only shake the pot from time to time to prevent the food from sticking.

(This dish can also be cooked in the oven).

Okra and tomatoes are a classic match in Crete. They are stewed together or when okra is fried chopped tomato is added too. Combining okra with fish is a characteristic of Cretan cuisine.

PRICKLY PEARS

Prickly pear cacti.  Around here they grow almost everywhere.
It is said that the first ones were planted by Venetians on Crete and on the Aegean islands.

They are easy to grow… even on a stone wall nearby a minoan site.

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They provide fences for the Cretan olive groves.

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And their fruits are delicious…

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The best way to enjoy them? Eat them chilled.

Of course, peel them first, to remove the spines (Hold prickly pears down with a fork. Use a small sharp knife to cut off their ends, make incisions lengthwise down them and carefully peel the tough skin.)
In Greek they are called French figs (fragosyka), Paul’s figs (pavlosyka), soft figs (apalosyka), shoe figs (papoutsosyka).