Cured lean pork – a Byzantine tradition.

In his lettter to Alexios Pantechnes, Ioannis Tzetzes,  a 12th century Byzantine scholar, thanks him for his gifts which were spices and a living partridge, adding that he preferred slaughtered animals to alive ones, because he could not suffer seeing blood from slaughterd animals. But, if Alexios would like to send him meat he should send meat prepared by cooks or preserved or fresh meat drained out of blood.

Generally the consumption of fresh meat on a large scale was a priviledge enjoyed by the wealthy Byzantines. For poor people like Tzetzes fresh meat was a luxury. Thus, he relied mainly on eggs, dairy products, legumes, cheap part of meat and taricha (processed fish and meat) for protein.

Pork appears to have been the most popular source for preserved meat.

Since pork produces meat and more pork, and in an extremely crowded city like Constantinople pigs were raised even in houses, preservation was the only effective solution to protect meat for an extended period and store food to one side….

….if people didn’t want to sell the living piglets.

In another letter, Ioannis Tzetzes describes his housing conditions. He lived on the second floor of an apartment in Constantinople while on the third a priest lived together with his children and piglets.  Tzetzes couldn’t do anything against the endless suffering of the flood of urinating children and piglets. Obviously, the priest not only raised and sold pigs but he cured their meat too.

How was meat preserved in Byzantine times? Salting was the most common technique. Salt was also used in conjunction with sun–drying and, less frequently, with smoking.


Et voila!

This is apaki, salted and -optionally- smoked  lean pork, which is  very popular in Crete until nowadays. The 12th century Ptochoprodromos’s satire provides a testimony on it. The poet had found his father cooking a piece of slightly salted apaki which was well covered with fat.

I  salted my apaki and 30 days later  I  smoked it at 100 C for 10 hours,  using olive wood together with oregano, marjoram, thyme and sage for smoke. The meat shrinked.  Excellent stuff though.



This piece has been cured in salt and vinegar mixture for 48 hours (a popular technique in Crete). Sage and thyme added their flavor to the meat. Then I patted dry the meat and I smoked it  with apricot wood.  Marvelous taste!!



This one has been left in wine vinegar for 3 days.
I am going to cover it with a thick layer of salt and black pepper. No smoke. And yes, I am curious about its taste.

You can add apaki to omelets, legumes, pulses, vegetables, salads, or  just cook it for 6-7 minutes in orange juice and you’ll have a delicous meze for raki and  a great companion to pasta and rice.





July 16-17, 2011, Karanou (Municipality of Platanias, Chania/Crete)

Saturday, July 16

8:30 Registration

9.30 Welcome messages from Ioannis Malandrakis, Mayor of Platatanias, and the organizers Mariana Kavroulaki & Stavroula Markoulaki, president of Historical, Folklore and Archaeological Society of Crete.

Session I Chair: Kostas Moutzouris

10:00 The importance, for archaeology, to study the fauna and the flora on excavations in Greece in order to address a more complete study of ancient diets.
Anaya Sarpaki Dr. Archaeologist / Archaeobotanist & Melpo Skoula Dr. Βiologist/ Botanist, Park for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna at the TUC

10:20 Tastes from seeds in prehistoric Greece: seeking continuities and discontinuities in archaeo-botanical data.
Sultana Maria Valamoti, Αrchaeologist /Assistant Professor, AUTH

10:40 “Lucullian meals” depicted in the mosaics of ancient Kissamos.
Stavroula Markoulaki, Ph.D Αrchaeologist

11:00 Questions and answers

11:20 Edible Wild weeds in Venetian Crete (Poster).
Kyriaki Panteli, Social Geographer

11:40 Coffee / Mountain Tea Break with a parade of Cretan cheeses, local preserved meat, home made bread, olives and more.

Session II Chair: Stavroula Markoulaki

12:00 Botanical Diversity in the Cretan Diet.
Melpo Skoula, Dr., Biologist / Botanist- Anaya Sarpaki, Dr. Arcaeologist/Archaeobotanist, Park for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna, Technical University of Crete – Costanza Dal Cin D’Agata, Biologist, Park for the Preservation of Flora and Fauna, Technical University of Crete

12:20 Wild leafy greens in the “Cretan diet”.
Costas D. Economakis, Agronomist, former Senior Researcher ΕΘΙΑΓΕ

12:40 Ten Edible Native Grasses and their Involvement in the Diet of the Present-Day Inhabitants of Eastern Crete Today.
Antonia Psaroudakis, Agricultural University of Athens, Department of Crop Production, Agricultural Experimentation and Laboratory of Plant Breeding / Technological Institute of Crete, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics (speaker) – Petros Dimitropoulakis, Technological Institute of Crete, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics – Theofanis Constantinides, National and Capodistrian University of Athens, Department of Biology, Department of Ecology and Taxonomy – Andreas Katsiotis, Agricultural University of Athens, Department of Crop Production, Agricultural Experimentation and Laboratory of Plant Breeding – George Skarakis, Agricultural University of Athens, Department of Crop Production, Agricultural Experimentation and Laboratory of Plant Breeding

13:00 Laban, jameed, kishk, and more: yoghurt and yoghurt-based products in the Levant.
Carol Palmer, Ethnobotanist / Director of the British Institute in Amman, Jordan

13:20 Questions and answers

Lunch on your own

Session III Chair: Anaya Sarpaki

18:00 The Cretan diet on the edge of nutritional epidemiology since the 1950s. Are there more secrets to reveal?
Antonia-Leda Matalas, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens

18:20 Dietary Change in Crete.
Tourlouki Eleni, Public Health Nutritionist – Christos Lionis – Foteini Anastasiou- Evangelia Ladoukaki – Maria Antonopoulou – Ioanna Tsiligianni – Nikos Tsakountakis- Kornillia Makri – Demosthenes Panagiotakos

18: 40 The Cretan Diet and its Position of Nutritional Education in the Prevention of Childhood Obesity.
Joana Petraki, Dietitian / Nutritionist

19:00 Questions and answers

Pre-dinner drinks and beverages

20:45 Dinner Buffet for Registered Guests. The people of Karanou will bring food and recipes to share.

Sunday, July 17

9:00 Sunday morning trip to Omalos plateau.

Learn how to make staka, the traditional local butter.

Session IV Chair: Katerina Tzanakaki

17:20 The myth of Cretan cuisine in Anatolia.
Fusun Ertug, Ph.D Archaeologist / Ethnobotanist

17:40 The population exchange and Cretan cuisine are alive and well in Izmir.
Özlem Yaşayanlar, Translator/ food –blogger

18: 00 The relationship between the Cretan kitchen, food memories and identity – some observations from a Cretan food blogger.
Maria Verivaki, English teacher at MAICh / food blogger

18:20 The rizitiko music genre and Cretan nutrition (Rizitika as a fifth component of the Cretan diet).
Antonis Mavridakis, Psychiatrist – Psychotherapist

18:40 Questions and answers

Session V Chair: Jennifer Moody

19:00 The Cretan vineyard: one of the most ancient vineyards.
Antonis Dourakis, Owner of Dourakis Winery / President of the Winery Network in Chania-Rethymnon

19: 20 Transformations and reviews of the role of table wine on the modern Greek table.
Alexandros Sakkas, wine writer/ wine critic/ wine educator

19:40 A king from rags and patches.
Mary Frangaki, former TV producer; alternative tourism business owner.

20:00 Questions and answers

20:20 Jennifer Moody, Dr., Archaeologist, and Mariana Kavroulaki, independent researcher of the History of Greek Food and co-organizer of Symposium will conclude the work of the conference following the presentations, discussion of the papers and recommendations of those attending the conference.

21:00 Farewell dinner: From austerity to feast; Cretan cuisine tells its stories.

UPDATE: For a  peek at the topics being covered at the Symposium, please take a look at the  abstracts here.


My favorite melopita (apple pie)…

…is actually a tart, very popular in urban areas of Chania (Crete) during the 1980’s.
It was never called a tart, though.

At that time there have been two major waves of foreign influence in Greek food: the French and the Italian one. To these must be added the significant Asian influence that affected restaurants in big cities and the profound American influence in the fast food area. That cultural and culinary blending was also the most striking feature of women’s magazine cookery columns.
However, the label kitsch should applied to this culinary pluralism. Mixtures of elements deriving from several cuisines and the use of crème fraîche became commonplace. Pasta, vegetables, meat, were buried under a mountain of crème fraîche, sweet and sour sauces for pork and chicken gained increasing popularity.

this recipe is for a very scrumptious tart.
Soft, slightly sour myzithra or fresh, buttery anthotyros replace the sharp cheddar cheese that is baked into the crust in the original recipe. Apple pie with cheese is common combination in parts of New England and the Midwest… some people grate it into the filling or bake it into the crust.



The Cretan twist


1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter

1/4 cup  icing sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg yolk

ice water

1 1/2 cup  flour

1/2 cup  myzithra or anthotyro or ricotta cheese

1/3 tsp grated lemon zest



6 apples with firm flesh (+-900 gr)

3 tbsp butter

1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar

1/2- 2/3 tbs ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp grated lemon zest


1 cup almonds, blanched and rough chopped


Stir together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Add butter and cheese and blend with your fingertips  until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk, 4 tbsp ice water  and  stir  until incorporated. Add more ice water if needed; the dough must be soft and elastic.

Roll out dough and fit it into a tart plate. Trim edges.

Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1/2 hour.

Preheat oven to 200 C degrees.

Peel and core apples. Cut them into 2 cm thick.

Stir together apples, sugar, butter, cinnamon, lemon zest.

Spoon filling into tart crust.

Sprinkle sugar on top and bake until crust is golden-brown and filling is tender.




Apple Pie


The quality of soil is of prime importance in growing a successful organic vegetable garden. Unfortunately, our Cretan garden has poor, heavy, tightly compacted clay soil.  To improve it, we  double dig it, amend it with lime,  add animal manure, organic minerals and grow plants -like legumes- that add nutrients into  it.  Vegetables are rotated each year. This  helps them resist  pests and diseases.   

Everyone knows how hard it is to grow organic -and  clay soil makes it harder- totally worth it though. Moreover,  the short duration of vegetable crop  makes us creative cooks while it lasts.


This  morning our garden provided those beauties you see below …







The peppers were beautiful  to eat.  I stuffed them with  chopped tomato and  onion, mint,  barley bulgur and raisins. The filling was sprinkled with salt,  ground black pepper and olive oil. 



I placed them on a bed of tomato/olive oil/ chopped garlic sauce and baked them at 180 C for about 20 minutes.






I also made a salad of tiny tomato and purslane sprinkled with sea salt and coarsely ground pepper, then sprinkled with virgin olive oil and vinegar. 









Although melon is full of strong aroma,  the mouth watering and thirst quenching watermelon is perfect for this hot, hot summer day.

But you already know it… 


And, of course,  if you grow some lavender, the second better thing is lavender  ice cream!







A summer without it would be very dull.

Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers straight from the garden, olives -that came from our olive trees- preserved in bitter orange juice. Onion juice and bitter orange juice marinated fresh tuna. Boiled potatoes. Sea salt and ground pepper. Olive oil. Small barley rusks wet  with fresh tomato juice and olive oil. Basil leaves.


Greek Salad on Foodista





” Their heart is like an artichoke” Greeks say, describing those who are in love with love and keep a leaf for everyone in sight, like an “I love you…. and you…. and you”.   Here,  the phrase retains the meaning of the original French expression  “avoir un coeur d´artichaut”: to  easily fall in love.

But they also say “Their heart is like an artichoke”  referring to those  who are prickly on the outside, though tender inside, like animated artichokes. It takes much patience and time to peel off their panoply of thorny leaves until you finally have their heart. 


Just like human  hearts, the delicate hearts of the tough purple flower buds require care. 
Hence, add the juice of one lemon to a bowl of cool water. After cutting off artichokes’ stems to the bottom,  remove the hard outer leaves… keep going- removing leaves until you reveal very soft, yellow ones.  Cut off their tops and use a spoon to remove and discard the choke.  Halve the artichokes, rub the cut surfaces with one lemon cut in half, and place them in the lemon water until you’re ready to cook.  Artichokes brown very quickly and you don’t want to see your hearts changing color.
Of course, don’t throw away the stems. Peel them and cook along with the artichokes.
Of course, don’t throw away the leaves. Eat them one at at time, sprinkled with lemon juice. 

There is a plethora of ways to prepare artichokes. You can cook them, fry them, bake them, roast them, grill them, stuff them, use them in pies etc. or eat them raw~ sprinkled with sea salt and lemon juice. In Crete, the egg-size baby artichokes of the early spring  are  served raw, sprinkled with minced spring garlic,  lemon juice, virgin olive oil and chopped dill.  

But. At the farmers market we still have fresh and tender broad beans. And broad beans shine in a dish of artichokes. 



7 medium artichokes

3/4 k. broad beans

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 spring onions, finely chopped

2 spring garlics, finely chopped

3 tbs dill, finely chopped

lemon juice

olive oil

sea salt

ground pepper

Remove the broad beans from the tough pods and with the knife string the tender pods.

In a saute pan, heat 2 tbs olive oil and saute the onions. Add the broad beans, and the artichokes (drained), followed by olive oil, fresh onions, fresh garlic, water to cover, dill. Season with salt and pepper, stir well and cook until the vegetables are fork tender. Add lemon juice and remove from the heat. Serve hot, at room temperature or cold.

Globe Artichokes With Fresh Broad Beans on Foodista



Greek  Easter means lamb  but  the least physically attractive part of the animal, the head,  is what is treated as unparalleled delicacy.
The tradition of serving lamb head  at feasts and special occasions is still a popular custom, particularly among islanders, though it often inspires disgust to several of the foreign guests.


Popular items derive from it: jaws, tongue, cheeks, brain, eyeballs… 


The  eyeballs once were offered to guests as an act of hospitality, and to children as a magical act within the framework of analogic magic,  intending to maintain good vision.


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.



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

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.




 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. 



File:Konstantinos Kanaris.jpg

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

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.

I really eat bergamot for day to dawn…

…. and I write poems so as to fall in love rightly,  Odysseas Elytis says.*

 To fall in love you have to write poems of course, and the bergamot’s flavor explosions do pull the night away!

In another poem, he writes:  

You bite bergamot and then you drink drink drink cool water, coffees,

and a never- ending cigarette  like Greece.**

Naming bergamot, cool water, coffee and cigarette, the Nobel Prize-winning Greek poet  legitimates a Greek identity and culture rooted in  fragrances,  flavors and senses. 



(Photo credit: Mariana Kavroulaki)

Speaking for myself, when I say pergamonto all things become islands of spoon sweets,  liqueurs,  mixtures of salt and dried zest, and bergamot cookies.
But they are finally here… The  bergamot oranges with the rough thick surface are here, waiting to be  the most intoxicating spoon sweet. 
I bought 15 beautiful pergamonta from the farmers market and the first thing I did with my treasure was a not at all sweet spoon treat.

7 bergamots

300 gr. sugar

2 1/2  cups of water

juice of 1 lemon

The classic recipe uses 900 gr sugar for 7 bergamots, but I’ m not a big sugar person so I reduced it to 300gr.
Wash and dry the bergamots. Grate them to get rid of the bitter layer of the peel. Keep the zest in the refrigerator for a future use in cakes, cookies, puddings and custards. With a knife slice the skin of bergamots in eighths and pull each piece from the fruit. Cut pieces in half , across the width.

In a large pot bring about ¾ of water to a boil. Add the  peels and after 3-4 minutes remove them and drop in a large pot filled with cold water. Leave them for 10 hours. Remove from the water and dry them.

Bring 2 1/2 cups of water, the lemon juice and sugar to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add the  peels and cook them until tender (15-20 minutes). Remove the peels carefully and bring the liquid to a rapid boil and cook stirring, until thickened slightly. Add the peels and boil them for 2 more minutes.

Sterilize a large jar, pack the peels in it, pour the very hot syrup over them and cover the jar. Store the jar in the refrigerator.

This spoon sweet  has a unique sharp clear and refreshing taste, however if you don’t like its bitterness you should try the classic bergamot spoon sweet recipe.   

You can eat it by itself  but it’ s also great with yogurt or a soft white cheese with rich and slightly sweet flavor.  Use it in custards, rice puddings, cakes and nut filled fyllo desserts.

* The water of resemblance. The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis, Transl.  Carson J.; Sarris N., p.560.

** p. 589.

Bergamot Orange on Foodista