CHRISTMAS #3. PASTRY SWADDLING CLOTHES (Τα σπάργανα του Χριστού)

spargana

Thin ribbons of fried dough or strips having the thickness of a pencil…
They are crunchy but fragile and melt in the mouth.
It’s quite easy to make them; you just need flour and water or orange juice and sometimes eggs or/and yeast. Cut the pastry sheet into squares of 7cm width or into ribbons of 10 cm x 15 cm or strips of 0,50 cm x 18 cm.
Twist ribbons and strips around two fingers while you transfer them to the hot olive oil, producing shapes of flowers, double cross and tubes.
Deep -fry until they start to turn gold. Remove and drain on paper towel.
Then pour honey or petimezi (grape syrup) over them and cover with chopped walnuts, sesame seeds and cinnamon powder.

In past, a great deal was prepared before the Christmas Eve. These fried pastries were the traditional treat to the Christmas visitors and gifts to widows and to those in mourning. They are called lalangia, lalangites, diples, pitoules, tiganites, avgokalamara etc. and evoke the swaddling clothes of Christ.
Spargana (swaddling clothes), is what they are called in Northwestern Greece. There, at night, dawning Christmas, the women pour a light batter of flour and water on a heated stone or piece of metal and make a sort of pancakes. Then, they pour honey or syrup over them and sprinkle them with pounded walnuts and almonds. Sometimes layers of spargana are piled upon each other, each one spread with honey and covered with chopped nuts. When it’s time to serve, the spargana have absorbed the honey and are tasty and fluffy.

These pastries belong to the special foods, which are offered by women to women in puerperium. When offered to Mary, they identify her with every other new mother. They also identify her son with every other newborn and in a way they prefigure his death since their shape is so similar to a shroud.

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NOTHING DIFFICULT ABOUT HYDROMELI. (Except that you have to wait more than a year to taste it.)

But yesterday I finally opened a bottle of my own hydromeli.

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The drink which was called hydromeli (water- honey) by the Greeks and aquamulsum by the Romans is found in many cultures throughout history, and is also known as mead.
It can be regarded as the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, and the simplest of course.

Hydromeli preceded the wine in Greece for a long time. The Orphists in one of their favored poetic version of the stories of the Gods, describe the cruelity of Zeus who castrated his father Kronos when he was drunk on honey of wild bees. Of course Kronos could never drunk on honey but he could drunk on hydromeli.

I made the hydromeli using the honey from melomeli (quinces in honey), according to the instructions given by the Greek physician Dioscorides.
Thus, I had to make the melomeli first.

Materia Medica de Dioscorides, Iraq, Ecole de Bagdad

“ And Melomeli, which also is called Cydonomeli (Quince honey) is made as follows. The quinces with their seeds removed, are put into good store of honey, so that they are covered. This becomes good after a year, being like mulsum (honey wine). […] (De materia medica)” 29.

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I used thyme honey and 2 quinces, which after almost a year in the jar were softer, but not very soft, and their perfume was absorbed by the honey.

Then, it was time for the hydromeli, which was the simplicity itself.

‘Hydromelon is made as follows: one metretes (apr. 8.6696 gallons) of melomeli of quinces is mixed with 2 metretes (eighteen) of boiled water and sunned in the days under the Dog star (from the beginning of July to the beginning of September). […] (Dioscorides 30)

I mixed 500 gr. quince -honey with 1 kg boiled water and I left the mixture under the sun. After four months I have a very drinkable sparkling hydromeli.

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As for the two quinces, I made a honey-sweet jam with them, so autumnal in taste.

Both hydromeli and melomeli are recommended by Dioscorides for treating the stomach ache, dysentery, liver ailments, kidney disorders, and painful frequent urination.

CHEESE & SESAME BALLS

MANOURI is one of the joys of Greek cheese production. The word derives from the ancient Greek manos (tyros)= light, not hard (cheese) and highlights the cheese’s old origin. A good manouri is an exceptional fresh Greek cheese. It has delicate, milky taste, characteristic flavor, dense but smooth, almost spreadble texture and white color.   It is produced in Thessaly, Central and Western Macedonia from whey of goat or sheep milk, or mixture of them, with the addition of fresh full-fat milk and fresh cream. You’ll find it at the market in log-shaped rolls, or in pieces cut from a roll.

 

 

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Although cheese purists eat it on its own, perhaps with a drizzle of virgin olive oil or with a cracker biscuit, what manouri really does is afford you the ability to play around it. Try it fried or grilled, in pies or in stuffings for vegetables or, even better, eat it with some fresh or dried figs or preserves or nuts and honey… it is fantastic!

The recipe that follows is for cheese junkies and was inspired by reading a piece of a poem entitled ‘Deipnon’ (The Dinner) by Philoxenus of Cythera. Philoxenus of Cythera (435 BC-380 BC) was a Greek dithyrambic poet who had an adventurous life. This extravagant Deipnon in verse, which have been preserved by Athenaeus, author of The Deipnosophists, probably intended as a satire on the luxury of the court of Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse.

During the banquet, interminable dishes were consumed by the gigantic appetites of the guests: breads white as snow, fat eels and a conger eel to awake a god’s appetite; a ray fish, some tope, an electric ray, cuttlefishes, squids, octopuses, and a roasted lobster as large as the table; cuttlefishes dredged with flour; fried shrimps; desserts placed on green leaves and sweet – sour breads larger than a pot; an enormous chunk of roast tuna fish; a home raised pig’s belly, shoulder and kidneys; a kid’s roast head; lambs’ tripes, intestines, feet, head, noses seasoned with sylphium; boiled or roast kids and lambs; hares, chickens, partridges, and cushats; breads; golden honey with yogurt and fresh cheese; honey pies sprinkled with sesame seeds, cheese pies and fried desserts made with sesame seeds and cheese. Here we are, at last!

 

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CHEESE & SESAME BALLS 

300 gr. manouri

2 tbs. + 1/3 cup of flour

1/2 cup thyme honey

1 cup sesame seeds

olive oil for frying

 

Crumble cheese by hand. Add 1 tbs. honey, 3 tbs. sesame seeds, 2 tbs. flour. Mix well. Shape into balls, roll in flour and fry in hot oil.

Gently heat the honey for a few seconds until runny, but don’t overheat it. Place the cheese balls on a plate covered with ½ cup sesame seeds. Pour honey over them and sprinkle with the rest of the sesame seeds.

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This is my entry for La Fete du Fromage, hosted by Chez Loulou