“REGRETFULLY WE ARE BANKRUPT”: FEAR CUISINE

“We will not allow it to be said again ‘Regretfully, we are bankrupt’. I will give, we will give our all in order to save the country,” prime minister George Papandreou said, referring  to the phrase “Regretfully, we are bankrupt” with which  prime minister Harilaos Trikoupis had announced in 1893  that the Greek government was unable  to cover the repayment of its debts. Greece already had declared two bankruptcies in 1827 and 1843  and that one was not going to be the last one. In 1932, a time of global economic crisis,  Greece was led again to bankruptcy… its last loan repaid on 1967. 

Four bankruptcies,   International Financial Control Commissions overseeing the payment of the country’s large external debts, foreign interventions in internal affairs…. since independence, Greece has had a short history of precious autonomy.  

File:Oil painting of the Greek Parliament, at the end of the 19th century, by N. Orlof.jpg

Oil painting of a session of the Parliament, with P.M. Harilaos Trikoupis at the podium. Late 19th century.

It is interesting  that the memories of the 1893 bankruptcy are not forgotten.  
An economic crisis caused by the closure of the French market of the currants- which was the most important Greek export item-  and the overproduction of the fruit, prooved disastrous both to the Greek state and to the rural Greece.  The urban districts were affected too, since many citizens had lent large sums to the currant farmers to enable them to carry on new plantations.  
The currant crisis, the excessive borrowing  and the effects of the Long Depression soon were transformed into a huge  income crisis   and  contributed to the bankruptcy of the Greek government.  The subsequent few years were extremely harsh for the Greeks since the national economic crisis was combined with political instability, social unrest and massive emigration, especially to the United States and to the big cities. 

And when serious economic chaos occurs, the impact on food is obvious enough:  many people  don’t have money to buy it and many families find themselves dealing with dramatic situations. 

However, cookbooks published during this period  don’t reflect the reality of hard times. The recipes call for the best ingredients and  only a few of them are really cheap,  just as they always had been;   Addressed to the upper and middle class, who experienced hardship but could afford to buy food, cookbooks also offered a kind of escape choosing to be rich in spirit than providing instructions for non- expensive meals.     
Women’s magazines and periodicals were not a source of inspiration for those who could read, didn’t have enough money and wanted get creative in the kitchen, either;   But reading behind the lines you can have a sense of crisis: advertisments for cheap meat,  the final cost of some recipes,  more recipes for leftovers, frequent use of currants and  substitutes such as stafidine* for sugar.  Many recipes were included for desserts…  sweet taste calms the fear.

But four years after the bunkruptcy and soon after the military defeat in the ill-advised Greek-Ottoman War of 1897, Greece imposed on  International Financial Control in the form of financial “aid”.  Women magazines offered more money- saving recipes and tips on how women can win the crisis on the home front.  Things had become very, very hard.

“STAFIDINE PUDDING

Boil 640 gr milk and soak  450 gr old bread in it for one hour. Knead the mixture.  Add equal amount of currants  and 450 gr stafidine syrup. Mix them well, add the zest of one lemon (finely chopped), and 2 beaten egg yolks.  Knead again, beat the egg whites until frothy and add them to the batter. Mix well, pour the batter into a buttered dish and bake. If desired, add ground almonds or pieces of candied fruits, citron in particular. This excellent pudding costs  only 1, 15 drachmas  and is enough for 12 persons.”

Ladies’ newspaper, April, 3, 1894, p. 8

 *Thick syrup derived from raisins… there was plenty of cheap stafidine in the market.

 

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ

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ADMIRAL’S MIAOULIS SEA BASS …

In brief: “Greece became independent in the early 1830s, after a prolonged war of liberation/secession from the Ottoman empire. Like the contemporaneous revolts of the Carbonari in Italy and France (1820, 1821) and the victorious uprising of the anti-monarchist Spaniards (1820–3), it was a war fueled by the ideas of the French Revolution, which the diaspora Greek merchants of the secret society Philiki Etairia (Association of Friends) had enthusiastically espoused* in order to bring down the Ottoman ancien régime. It was a war carried out by the “damned of the earth” (mostly landless peasants) in the poor and inconspicuous southwestern corner of the sultans’ possessions that had fired the imagination of liberals and radicals all over post-Napoleonic, counterrevolutionary Europe. An eight-year confrontation with the Porte** (1821–9), with many ups and downs and considerable infighting, ended in the defeat of the radical elements that had started the revolt. Territorial expansion was the compensatory mirage offered by the new rulers, King Otto and his Bavarian army, since Greece, as the first Balkan nation to achieve statehood, was allowed to exist only as a monarchy, and it ventured into the modern world under the watchful eyes of the three Protecting Powers – England, France, and Russia – who carefully monitored the first steps of this energetic newcomer into the china shop of the Eastern question.”*** (Yanis Yanoulopoulos)

Sadly, «like any other revolution the Greek revolution remained incomplete. It established an independent state which in its function undermined and finally abolished the promises of the revolution.
Most revolutionaries were imprisoned, or died in utter poverty. The Revolution itself became a national myth, de-politised and de-radicalised, with racialist undertones and quasi-religious character.» (Vrasidas Karalis)

Not long after the establishment of the modern Greek state, Athens, the new capital city, had become « a heterogeneous anomaly; the Greeks in their wild costume are jostled in the streets by Englishmen, Frenchmen, Italians, Dutchmen, Spaniards; and Bavarians, Russians, Danes, and sometimes Americans. European shops invite purchasers, by the side of eastern bazaars, coffeehouses, and billiard-rooms; and French and German restaurants are opened all over the city» (1838, J. L. Stephens, Incidents of travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia, and Poland ). The cosmpolitism and modernization had begun to affect Greek urban centers as early as the eighteenth century. At the same time, food  began to be transformed into a matter of prestige.

The first modern cookbook written by Greek author was printed in Constantinople in 1863.* It was almost entirely French oriented, since the writer N. Sarantis created it responding to the impact of the French gastronomy on the Greek society of Asia Minor.
What is important about the cookbook is that in addition to recipes taken or adapted from French cuisine, Sarantis overturned a few French recipes with Greek nationalist ideologies. Inspired by ancient and contemporary history, he also created dishes named after Kleopatra, Archestratos and important figures of Greek War of Independence, in order for us “not to forget those brave men”.  Three fish dishes were designed in honor of three Greek Admirals of naval forces in the Greek Revolution. 

Food can certainly define a national identity. Sarantis, using recipes and  ingredients of French haute cuisine,  probably imagined the emergence of an elite Greek cuisine which could be high, almost as much as French cuisine, but fundamentally related to national character.  Did those recipes survive for a long period of time?  Sarantis’ dishes had no future. It seems that it was too early to construct a cuisine where particular foods would be considered emblematic of the nation.

However, a few decades later Greek modernizers began to construct the urban Greek cuisine ignoring local particularities. About the same time, Nikolaos Politis, the founder of Greek folklore, listed food as an area of study for scholars concerned with preserving national traditions that were threatened by corruption through cosmopolitan modernity.
The fight had begun.

 ADMIRAL’S MIAOULIS SEA BASS

miaoulis

Andreas Vokos (Miaoulis) (1768 – 24 June 1835), Greek admiral and politician, who commanded Greek naval forces during the Greek War of Independence. (commons.wikimedia.org)

Sea bass, lard, egg white, champagne, butter. Served garnished with lobster tail, ragout of mussels, shrimps and mushrooms, cuttlefish ink, green cucumbers, fish jelly and crayfish butter.

 

 ADMIRAL’S SACHTOURIS SEA BASS

thgeorgiossachtouris

 George Sachtouris (1783 – 1841). Greek admiral.

Sea bass, lobster butter, 1 egg white, green cucumbers, lard, butter. Served garnished with ragout of oysters, crayfish tail, sauce made with lobster butter, sauteed red mullet fillets. The fish head is filled with lobster which is garnished with lobster croquettes and sardine butter. 

 

ΑDMIRAL’S KANARIS FLOUNDER

File:Konstantinos Kanaris.jpg

Konstantinos Kanaris (1793 or 1795 – 2 September 1877).
Greek admiral, freedom fighter and politician.
(commons.wikimedia.org)

Flounder, farce  ink, 1 egg white, green cucumbers, mushrooms, lemon juice. Served with pea ragout, bechamel sauce and oysters.   

 

*Sarantis N., Singrama mageirikis is tin aploellinikin… 1863, Constaninople.