Gastronomy and Christianity
Recipes accompanying celebrations of Orthodoxy.
Every feast and every special day of the Christian calendar is connected with food. From the established fasting every week to the long periods of abstinence from meat before Christmas and Easter or the feasts of the saints- all of them are extremely important. Christmas Period can become an excellent guide to inspiration for those who love cooking and look for traditional flavors.
Polisporia has been a part of Christianity since ancient times. It is a mixture of seeds, a delicious habit in the “villages of the swamp” in Aitoloakharnania. On November 21 is the feast of Holy Mary the Polisporitis, so the faithful make a sweet soup to honor her. This soup is a tribute to Virgin Mary for the good harvest in the summer. But since nothing is accidental, this day has been celebrated since antiquity, also as a tribute to God to thank him for the previous good harvest, as the heavy winter was about to come. In fact, the ancient Greeks seem to have participated in a ceremony in honor of goddess Demeter in order to thank her for the rich harvest of the previous year. Somehow, this habit has passed into Christianity, but this time in order to honor Saint Mary.
Polisporia is a mixture of wheat, oats, chickpeas, corn, lentils and beans boiled with water. Housewives usually add sugar, pomegranate and cinnamon into the soup.
The fish as a symbol is connected with Christianity. Fish is essential in the meals prepared for the big celebrations of Christianity. In fact, fish is allowed to be eaten on some occasions during the periods of great fasting in the Orthodox Doctrine.
Salted cod is traditionally the meal of Greeks not only on the 25th of March but also on Palm Sunday. Cod was used because it was a cheap fish and it could be conserved for a really long time (no need for cooling). Salted cod is traditionally served with garlic dip, which is made of garlic, potato or bread. Actually, on Palm Sunday it was a tradition to stop fasting for one day and eat salted cod or other fishes. This exception is based on the fact that Palm Sunday is a “despotic” celebration.
The vine, another strong symbol of Christianity. Grape leaves are extremely important because they are used in order to make wine, grape must, molasses. May is the best month to collect grape leaves. St. John the Theologian who is celebrated at the 8th of May, is also called “dolmadas” on the island of Crete. St. John is known as the protector of vines. “Dolmades” is the food that believers used to offer to him. Women give dolmades to the priest, who blesses them and then gives them back to the believers.
Traditional food for the feast of Saint George.
There is a Bulgarian adage that says: Easter is good but the day when Saint George is celebrated is better. Saint George is considered to be the protector of shepherds and flocks. On that day, it is compulsory to eat lamb. Otherwise people believed that the animals wouldn’t give birth or the ground would be fruitless and unproductive.
Before the lamb was butchered a priest used to read a prayer and then they would sprinkle the lamb’s blood on fruit trees to protect them from illnesses or weeds. This tradition still exists nowadays, especially in villages.
The preparation for the festive table starts early in the morning. Housewives cook the lamb and prepare the meat soup. First of all, they wash the intestines in order to make the “skembe” soup, which is similar to “mageiritsa”. The ingredients of skembe are onions, butter, red pepper, milk and of course intestines. Skembe is served with vinegar, garlic and red pepper. If you are not willing to try skembe, you can always try the alternative “kourban” with meat, green onion, carrots, fresh mint, potatoes and variety of undercover spices.
Additionally, from intestines is made dish called “dobr sharma”. Firstly, the intestines are boiled and then smoked with butter, onions and garlic. Then we add rice with black and red pepper, parsley and mint. Some people add mushrooms or cover the food with Greek yoghurt and two eggs before it is baked. While women are cooking the dobr sharma, men are skewering the lamb. They eat all these goods with green salad, wine or Greek raki.
Traditional foods you should taste in Corfu on your Easter Holidays
Holy Easter is the biggest feast of Greek Orthodox Church and it’s celebrated with great respect. Additionally, it’s considered to be the most picturesque time of the year. Unique customs make celebrations in each place of Greece special. Easter in Corfu is extremely beautiful for the visitors. The influences from Western European culture are obvious even in this purely Orthodox feast. The special local customs and the coincidence with the beginning of spring highlight a uniqueness that has made Corfu Easter attract visitors from all over the world.
Customs and flavors of Venetian origin.
The events start on Palm Sunday with the ceremony of St. Spyridon’s seventh scarecrow. This litany has taken place since 1630 in remembrance of the island’s salvation from the deadly plague epidemic. When the litany is over, the Philarmonic parades from the central points of the historical center playing cheerful marches. These musical sounds prepare believers for the Holy Week. In the market of the city spreads the smell of “Fogatsa”, the traditional Corfiot sweet of the days, which is a kind of Easter bread of Venetian origin. Fogatsa is more compact than the traditional Easter bread, is round and large and has a unique smell. On these holy days you will find it in large quantities in all the bakeries of the island. You will also find “Colombins”, a kind of crown-shaped pigeon. The Venetians used to make cakes shaped as pigeons for Easter, a custom that Corfiots adopted by giving it their own character. With the dough of Fogatsa they make strips while placing a red egg in the center and often decorate it with colorful wings.
The celebrations of the Holy Week end with Resurrection. Corfiots eat a different kind of Mageiritsa called “Tsilihourda”. Tsilihourda is not a soup; it is a dish made in a pot made with chopped lamb with a thick sauce of fresh onions, parsley, dill, salt, pepper and lemon.
Easter Sunday is called by the Corfiots “Day of Shine”. This is the day that expresses brilliance, joy, pleasure and feasts after seven weeks of fasting. In Corfu, the lamb’s scent has only appeared in recent decades and is not a part of their tradition. People to eat an egg-lemon soup made of 2 or 3 different kinds of meat. This soup helps the weakened stomach to recover from fasting.
Three Easter recipes from Corfu
I. Tsilihourda~Corfiot Mageiritsa
• Offal of lamb or goat
• Entrails of one lamb or goat
• 2 lettuces chopped
• 5-6 green onions chopped
• 2-3 fresh garlics
• 3 leeks chopped
• A bunch of dill, parsley, chard
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• A glass of white wine
• 1/2 cup of lemon juice
Cut the offal into pieces and wash the entrails. Let them dry and then brown them. Then, add olive oil, green onions and leeks. Cook them for a few minutes and then add the lemon juice. Add the entrails and 1/3 cup of water. Boil over low heat until they become soft and then put in lettuces, dill, parsley, chard and garlic. Mix gently to spread the greens evenly. Cook Tsilihourda for 10 more minutes and then add salt and pepper. Our Corfiot Mageiritsa is ready and is best served hot.
II. Beef and lamb soup with egg-lemon sauce
• 1 kg lamb
• ½ kg beef
• 4-5 cups rice suitable for soup
• 2 eggs
• 2-3 lemons
• Salt, pepper
• Olive oil
Cut all of the meat into pieces and boil it in salted water, skimming it off. When it starts boiling remove the meat from the pot, put it in a plate and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Drain the broth and remove the fat. Add an extra cup of water and let the broth boil again. Put rice into the broth and boil it until rice is cooked. Mix up the eggs with the lemon juice and add the mixture into the pot. Soup is ready to be served.
• 9 cups flour
• 2 cups milk
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• 1 cup melted butter
• 2 ½ cubs fresh yeast
• 4 yolks
• 1 vanilla
• 1 spoonful orange zest
• 3 spoonful sweet orange
• 2 spoonful orange liqueur
Preheat the oven to 180˚ C. Heat up the milk and when it starts to fade put it in a bowl. Add yeast by crushing it with your fingers. Mix well and add 1 cup of flour and half the sugar. Mix it up and leave the mixture covered with a towel for about 30 minutes until it rises. In a large bowl beat well 3 yolks with the rest of the sugar and vanilla. Add the spoon sweet, zest, liqueur and melted butter. Mix the egg mixture with the yeast mixture and gradually add the flour to obtain a soft and tender dough. Cover it with a towel and leave it in a warm place to rise for 1, 1 ½ hours. Once its ready divide it into 2 equal parts forming 2 loaves. Put them in a buttered round baking dish, spread their surface with the egg yolk and cut it in shape of a cross. Bake for about 1 hour until it turns golden.
What do Greeks eat at Christmas
Food and religion is connected in Greece. Religion wouldn’t be the same without food. The Christmas celebration is one of the most important religious feasts. Christmas is also deeply combined with family and of course food. Food brings the family close on these festive days. Over the years traditional food customs have been combined with international influences from around the world.
In the Christmas period in Greece, are prepared and consumed food and sweets which come from the customs and lifestyle of the past, even with symbolic significance.
One of the most important as well as common custom is the slaughter of the pigs, which includes a series of traditional dishes. In addition to the known traditional foods such as turkey or pork meat and pies and the classic desserts such as melomakarona, kourabiedes, baklava, kandaifi and vasilopita, every place has its own gastronomic tradition. Let’s see every place separately.
Northern Greece and Thrace
In the “village of bees” traditional Christmas food is called “Msoura” and it’s made of simmering pork, beef and chicken with vegetables and rice in the oven.
Pontian dolmades made of cabbage are another festive food with symbolic significance, as the wrapping of cabbage leaves symbolizes Christ’s diapers.
In the northern region of Greece, pork is usually served with pickled cabbage.
In Evros on Christmas Eve, there are 9 different raw dishes on the table, suitable for fast, symbolizing the abundance of food throughout the year.
“Bamboo” is not missing from any Thracian house. Bamboo is pork with a lot of herbs, which has been simmering all night to be ready and warm on Christmas morning.
Also, there are honey, wine, apples and pies in every table all symbolic.
The festive table includes dolmades and pies such as “kaismeri”, meat pie, “batsara”, dairy pie, sweet pumpkin pie and of course “melomakarouna” as the Epirotes call them.
In Ioannina the “wild boar salmi” and classic baklava are the main dishes.
In Zagorokhoria they make “spargana”, a sweet similar to pancakes.
Pork has a ritual and all the festive dishes were made based on pork. Women then made “fat” and “flour” while men were having fun. Various parts of meat were intended for different foods like sausages.
In Trikala on Christmas Day they used to eat all together “gournada” that is roasted pork. On Christmas Eve pork chips are barbequed, sprinkled with plenty of salt. That’s called “kontosouvli”.
In Mainland on feast days they eat pork with celery, chicken soup, and stuffed turkey. First they made the “buds” which is the large intestine boiled and stuffed with liver, spleen, herbs and spices. Christopsomo and pies are also included in the festive table.
The story of Fanouropita
The majority of Greek people remember their grandmothers saying “St Fanourie, show me where is the…” (Lost items, keys, jewels or even grooms for their daughters.) At the same time, they were making a pie called fanouropita to honor him. Every year on 27th of August churches are full of fanouropites that housewives made for St. Fanourio. This custom/ tradition at first took place in Rhodes and then became famous all over Greece.
Here is a traditional recipe for fanouropita
• 4 cups flour
• 1 cup olive oil
• 1 cup sugar
• ½ cup water
• ¾ cup orange juice
• 1 spoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• Lemon-orange zest
Mix up all the ingredients for a few minutes and then add flour and baking powder. Mix again until it becomes homogenized. Then add 1 cup of raisins and 1 cup of walnuts (optional). Then put the mixture in a baking dish and bake it for 45 minutes. When it’s ready, sprinkle it with powdered sugar and serve.