FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD Part Six

 Growing up in an Anglo Greek household – Guest Post from Soroptimist Mary Sue

My mother always enjoyed cooking as had her own mother. At school, her favourite subjects were Domestic Science and Physical Education. At 16 years she left school. Her role for the next four years was to run the household and cook for her father, invalid mother, elder brother and sister. She well remembered doing a weekly bake of cakes and  finding, when visitors came to call, that her brother had scoffed the lot.  She then had to cycle to the local bakers to buy more!

After the death of her parents in her early 20s and the marriage of her brother, she and her sister set up home together in a flat in Chester and for the next ten years, they were jointly responsible for housekeeping. There they lived a life commonplace today but unknown to most of their contemporaries. Needless to say, their home was a popular place for friends to gather free from parental control.

My father was born in Burma, then part of the British Empire, in 1908, five years before my mother.  There he lived for his first six years. My grandfather was in business and was a leader (Vice Consul) of the Greek community in Rangoon. At the outbreak of the First World War, the family (father, mother, my father and his two sisters) were on holiday in Greece. They never returned. Consequently, my father’s earliest culinary memories were of Greek cuisine, initially with a hint of the Far East.

He loved the life in his parent’s home town of Volos, under Mount Pelion, in the North East of Greece.

He remembered fishing down by the harbour on the Gulf of Volos taking with him some bread and olives by way of a snack.

All this changed when he was 12 years old, and my grandfather took him across Europe by boat and train to be educated in England under the guardianship of Mr. and Mrs.Lee, friends of my grandfather in Rangoon, and now retired to Bristol. The cultural shock was enormous. With none of the speedy, cheap transport, we so take for granted today, visits home were taken only every two years.

His new life, of course, included a new cuisine, both with his guardian’s family and at boarding school. It left him with a life long loathing of bland food and boiled vegetables, especially (stinking) sprouts as he referred to them.

His culinary life changed for the better when he met my mother, in the early 1940s. He had completed his training as a Civil Engineer, specialising in Land Drainage, at the outbreak of the Second World War. He was posted to Chester to work for the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food in Land Drainage to increase food production. He and my mother were introduced by mutual friends. Even allowing for food rationing, my mother was able to introduce him to tasty English food though, however good that was, he always hankered after the Mediterranean cuisine of his childhood and the occasional curry.

Gradually as the years progressed it became possible to buy Mediterranean ingredients, and they were introduced into my mother’s English style of cooking. Olive oil, originally purchased from Boots, the Chemist, became our cooking oil of choice, herbs, pasta and rice were staples of the grocery order as were tins of Cirio Tomato Puree.  Mr Spriggs, the Manager of Wilkins, our grocer, noting how many tins we ordered asked my mother what its use was?!  The tomato puree and herbs became ingredients in my mother’s Greek Pie ( a pork pie with Mediterranean influences)

Although my father returned to Greece regularly during my childhood, it was not until 1961, in the Summer holidays after my GCEs, that my mother and I joined him for 6 weeks.

His family introduced us to a whole new experience in eating: leisurely meals taken outside in family gardens, restaurants shaded by vines and bougainvillaea and cafes on the pavement and seashore.

We ate stuffed peppers and  tomatoes, fresh fish, chicken and lamb roasted with garlic and herbs, souvlakia(skewered meat), keftedes(meatballs), tyropittakia(a  pie made with filo pastry filled with feta cheese and spinach (optional)-there is a delicious meat version too))and, of course, Moussaka. This used to be considered a festive dish until it became so popular with tourists!

These dishes were usually accompanied by a Greek salad and either chips or bread.

To follow there would be fresh fruit: bowls of peaches floating in iced water, fresh figs, cherries, oranges and apples.

We drank local wine, lager (then made in Greece by the Fix Beer Company and at the time a very fashionable drink), and iced water.

Greeks love their sweets: Baclava (filo pastry filled  with honey and nuts) Kadaife ( looks like small shredded wheat also filled with honey and nuts) halva ( a sweet nutty block made with semolina and almonds or pistachio nuts) Kourabeades (shortbread made with roasted almonds) and Loukoumi (Turkish Delight delicately flavoured with rose water and sprinkled with icing sugar) but they tend not to be eaten as part of a meal, rather as we do with cakes and chocolates, with tea or coffee at other times.

My father loved the thick Turkish coffee taken with a glass of water, but even in the 1960s, many Greeks preferred something lighter, more approaching the coffee we drink in England, including Nescafe!

The family did not understand our love for English tea or the need to make it with boiling water! They drank herbal teas, my elder Aunt Fifi loved chamomile. My uncle Themi, if offered a cup, would refuse with the words “I am not ill!” He saw it as something you drank if you were off colour!

In 1973, following my father’s retirement, my parents spent six months living in Greece and catered for themselves.  I joined them on my last holiday from teaching. I learnt that, as in England, milk was delivered to the door. For breakfast, we ate wonderfully fresh circular rolls scattered with sesame seeds. .They were delivered door to door by young lads on bicycles who shouted their wares. Delicious full-fat yoghurt with a thick cream skin could be bought from the dairy as could feta cheese. Fish was bought from the fish market down on the quay at Volos. At first glance, the butchers had no meat or poultry because it was too hot to display them. You asked for what you wanted, and it was taken out of the chiller for your inspection and purchase. There was a lovely corner shop where we regularly brought fruit, vegetables and local white wine in what looked like lemonade bottles. Chilled it was delicious and had a real “kick”! We picked our own oregano (Rigourney as the Greeks call it) from Mount Pelion. We put the branches in an old sheet, shook it hard, removed the branches and hey presto(!) there was the herb ready for storage and use.

Filo pastry was purchased from the grocers, it was stacked up in piles and looked rather like the tissue paper then used by bakers in England to wrap bread. My aunts did not make their own filo pastry, but in previous generations, it was expected that all girls of marriageable age would be able to do so. We had a demonstration of the art by an elderly relative. She came with her own very thin and long rolling pin. We watched mesmerised as the lump of dough was transformed into a wafer-thin sheet which she tossed around the floured board with nonchalance.

Although our kitchen had a modern stove with an oven, we followed the Greek practice of taking large dishes to the bakery to cook and collect at lunchtime. On one occasion I saw a young lad trip and empty a large dish of stuffed peppers on to the road. Te crima (What a pity!)

Following our trips, the Greek influence on my mother’s cuisine increased. She added Moussaka ( the Greeks pronounce it MousSAKA, not MOUSsaka) stuffed tomatoes and peppers, taramosalata and Kourabeades to her repertoire of dishes and our salads and other dishes tasted more Greek too!

My father died many years ago, and in the time since then, there has been a revolution in English cuisine. He would be amazed at the range of staple Greek foods that can be bought in supermarkets today. In our village shop you can buy genuine Greek feta cheese, tomato puree oregano, a range of olives, peppers bottled and fresh, olive oil, courgettes and occasionally aubergines.

How times have changed!

 

Recipes 

Greek Pie

Shortcrust pastry made with 12oz of flour and 6oz of fat

2 hard boiled eggs quartered

Filling:-

1 medium onion  chopped and lightly fried in olive oil

500gm of sausage meat

3 dessertspoonfuls of tomato paste (not pasata-that would make the mixture too wet)

Salt and pepper and  dried Oregano/Mixed herbs to taste.

Method:

Line a 9inch dish with pastry.

Prepare and cook the onion and leave in frying pan.

Place the sausage meat in a bowl and break it up with a fork mixing in the tomato paste, salt, pepper and herbs

Place in the frying pan with the onion and mix together over a gentle heat.

Place the mixture in the pastry case

Place the quarters of hard-boiled eggs on top.

Top with pastry: Cut slits in the top and lightly brush with a milk and water mix. Add any other decoration (if you wish)

Cook for 1hour in the oven at 150 degrees centigrade(fan assisted oven)180 in a conventional oven.

It is good hot with vegetables, but I prefer it cold with a Greek salad.

Taramousalata

 

4oz of fresh smoked cod’s roe –you will have to buy this online. I suggest the Fish Society at www.thefish society.co.uk. Its high price probably explains why people prefer to buy Taramousalata ready-made! 4-6oz of sliced brown bread (without crusts)

1 small onion roughly chopped

½ pint of olive oil

lemon juice and pepper

 

Method

Soak the bread in water and squeeze out the excess.

Place the bread together with the onion and cod’s roe in a blender and blend them together.

With the blender going add the olive oil slowly and continue to blend until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Add pepper and lemon juice to taste.

 

Serve it as a starter in small bowls garnished with olives and accompanied by crusty bread, but it is equally good as an accompaniment to a salad or part of a buffet.

Greek salad 

Mixed lettuce leaves

Tomatoes ( as many as you like, quartered if not cherry ones)

Half a cucumber (medium slices))

1 sliced pepper (any colour but green!)

1 small onion finely sliced

Olives (black and green)

Diced feta cheese

1 small Bramley apple (cored and roughly chopped-this converts it into an Anglo-Greek salad as do the lettuce leaves!)

Lemon juice and oregano

Method

Put all the ingredients into a salad bowl. Sprinkle with a little lemon juice(I use the bottled variety)

Mix the whole lot together with clean hands or salad servers.

Sprinkle the completed salad with a generous amount of oregano or mixed herbs

Oil and vinegar dressing can be added to the salad in the bowl, but I prefer to let guests add their own according to their taste.

N.B.I have left the quantity of ingredients a bit vague so you can alter as you wish.

Moussaka

The mince

500gms of minced lamb

2 medium onions roughly chopped

3 or 4 cloves of garlic –finely chopped

1 pepper roughly chopped

1 medium Bramley apple cored and roughly chopped

4 or 5 small mushrooms or 1 large flat one cut into slices

Cheap red wine or dry cider

Jar of Pasata( I use a 500gm jar of  Dolmio Light)

Olive oil.

Salt and pepper

Oregano or Mixed herbs

Lea and Perrins sauce

Method

Cover the base of a casserole with olive oil and add the onion, garlic, pepper, apple and mushrooms.

Cook gently until all are softened.

Add the meat and mix the ingredients together.

Mix in the pasata.

Pour in the wine or cider and mix again. N.B. Do not make the mixture too wet

Season with salt and pepper

Sprinkle in some Oregano or Mixed herbs.

Add a splash or two of Lea and Perrins sauce(optional)

Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes

The Aubergines

4 or 5 aubergines cut into slices of  half an inch thick (as these are to be layered in a dish I sometimes buy a packet or two of aubergines of different sizes instead)

Olive Oil-a lot!

Method

Fry the slices on both sides until they are golden brown (beware of overcooking them!) You will need to top up the oil in the pan as fresh slices are added.

Put the cooked slices on a kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil and lightly pat them on top with kitchen towel too. This is a messy business, but it prevents the dish from being too rich.

The Bechamel sauce 

1 pint of full-fat milk

2oz  of butter

3 teaspoonfuls of cornflour

1 tablespoonful of grated cheese (cheddar or feta-to be authentic!)

3/4 beaten eggs

Freshly grated nutmeg

 

Method

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour to make a roux.

Add the milk gradually and, heating gently, stir the sauce until it thickens

Stir in the cheese and salt and pepper to taste

When the sauce is cool, add the beaten eggs

 

Assembling the dish 

Layer half the aubergines, overlapping slightly, on the bottom of a large square oven proof dish

Spoon in the mince (use a slotted spoon so that it is not too wet)N.B. You may not use all the mince but never mind it is great on its own with pasta/vegetables

Layer on the rest of the aubergines

Top with the bechamel sauce which should be spread fairly thickly to just below the rim of the dish.

Grate nutmeg over the top.

Place in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees centigrade (Conventional oven) 150 degrees( Fan assisted  oven) for an hour or until the top is golden brown

Serve hot with a Greek salad

N.B. This dish can be prepared in advance and chilled/frozen depending on how far in advance.It will need thorough re-heating. In fact, it often tastes better this way as the sauce, and the aubergines have better absorbed the flavours of the mince

Kourabeades(Greek Biscuits)

 

8oz of Trex

1lb of Plain flour

2 tablespoonfuls of icing sugar

1/4lb of almonds which have been browned in butter and roughly chopped

Almond essence

Method

Cream together the fat and icing sugar until they are light and fluffy

Gradually mix in the flour

Add the almonds and a splash of almond essence

Knead the mixture into a dough

Cut the dough into small pieces and roll them into sausage shapes.

Place on a baking sheet, allowing room for them to spread slightly

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180degrees centigrade (Conventional oven) 150 degrees (Fan assisted oven) for 30 minutes or until they are golden brown.

Allow to cool

Dust with icing sugar

 

Although best fresh they can be kept in an airtight tin,

They are good with tea or coffee or as an accompaniment to a sweet.

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