Sunday, December 25, 2011
The Greek way . . .
When one thinks of Greece, what often comes to mind is the ancient
civilization that flourished there thousands of years ago. Ruins of
this ancient culture still stand as reminders of Greece’s glorious past.
In modern times, Greece is an interesting combination of old and
new. Even contemporary Greek cooking reflects ancient times, with
dishes such as dolmádes, or stuffed grape leaves, dating back thousands
Greece is located between western Europe and the Middle East,
and Greek cooking combines influences from both of these regions.
When the Romans invaded Greece in 197
B.C., for instance, they
brought with them pasta and tomato sauce. Yogurt, rice, and many
pastries came from the Persians, and coffee came from the Turks.
These influences, along with those ingredients and methods that are
uniquely Greek, created a cuisine that is both rich in tradition and
Greece is a land of sun and sea located in southeastern Europe. The
country is surrounded on three sides by the sea: the Ionian Sea to
the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Aegean Sea to
the east. A relatively small country, nearly one-quarter of Greece is
made up of islands 437 in all and can be divided into nine major
Macedonia-Thrace is a rocky, sparsely populated area in north
eastern Greece. Tobacco is grown in the many valleys, and other
crops are grown in the plains along the coast.
The Salonika Plain is Greece’s most important agricultural area.
Here, fruits, grains, and cotton are grown, and goats, sheep, and
other livestock are raised. Sheep and goats graze in the Central
Pindus region, a mountainous area where cotton, lemons, and olives
Thessaly is often called Greece’s breadbasket because wheat is
grown in abundance there. Fruits and olives are grown in Thessaly
as well. Athens, the capital of Greece, is located in the Southeastern
Uplands. Goats, wheat, and grapes are the major products of this area.
The Peloponnesus is a mountainous, rugged peninsula. Only
about one-fourth of the land is used for growing crops, but some
vegetables, grapes, olives, and grains are grown there. This area is
most famous for its ancient ruins.
The Ionian Islands in the Ionian Sea produce many crops, includ
ing grains, olives, and grapes. Tobacco, grapes, barley, and wheat are
the chief products of the Aegean Islands, and Crete, the largest Greek
island, produces olives, grapes, sheep, and beef cattle.
Greece’s climate and geography have always been major influences
on its cuisine. The juicy lemons, tangy olives, fresh herbs, and veg
etables that grow in Greece’s warm sunshine are some of the country’s
Fishing is a major industry in Greece. The Mediterranean, Aegean,
and Ionian Seas yield bountiful catches, and the Greeks enjoy many
fish and seafood dishes, often flavored with oregano—the most
popular Greek herb—and fresh lemon juice.
Greece’s rocky, barren mountains are ideal for herds of goats and
sheep, and these animals provide several important Greek foods.
Goat’s milk is used both as a beverage and for making cheese,
including tangy, white feta cheese, the best known of all Greek
cheeses. This salty, crumbly cheese is eaten plain, used in salads, and
added to stews and soups. Lamb is the most popular meat in Greece,
although chicken, pork, and beef are enjoyed as well. Meat is often
grilled over hot coals in outdoor pits. Olive trees grow all over in
Greece, and the oil that is pressed from these olives is some of the
finest in the world. In Greece, olive oil is used for frying, dressing
salads, flavoring foods, and for making pastry dough. Greeks snack
on cured olives and put them in salads.
Honey, which is found wild in all parts of Greece, is the Greeks’
favorite sweetener and is used in many popular Greek pastries.
Mount Hymettus near Athens is famous the world over for the wild
honey found there.
Greek Cooking in Ancient Times
The art of cooking was appreciated thousands of years ago in
ancient Greece. In fact, the world’s first cookbook is said to have
been written in 350 B.C. by the philosopher Archestratus. At that
time, cooks were very highly regarded.They were not thought of as
household help but as artists, and they were eagerly sought by
The Deipnosophistae, or Philosophy of Dining, was written around
200 by a Greek man named Athenaeus. It presents a picture of the
foods and eating customs of the ancient Greeks, including such
famous authors as Sophocles and Homer. According to Athenaeus,
the ancient Greeks were the first to eat oysters, to grow cabbage and
artichokes, and to create baked goods such as pastries and
The Greeks liked eating food that was very, very hot. In order not
to burn their hands and fingers (spoons and forks were not yet
invented), they trained themselves to withstand the hot tempera
tures by dipping their hands into hotter and hotter liquids every day.
Napkins were not invented until the fifteenth century, so the
clothes of the ancient Greeks got very dirty at mealtime. Polite
diners changed clothes between courses in order to appear clean
The ancient Greeks had some other customs and beliefs that
might seem odd in modern times. Grasshoppers were one of
their greatest delicacies. They often served lettuce soup at the end
of an evening meal because they thought it helped them sleep.
Ancient Greeks also believed that honey could make them live
longer. Democritus, a Greek who lived to be 109 years old, said
the secret to his long life was eating honey and rubbing his skin
with olive oil!
Holidays and Festivals
One can find a celebration almost every day of the year somewhere
in Greece. Schools and businesses close on holidays, and people usu
ally attend church. Nearly all Greeks belong to the Greek Orthodox
Church, and most Greek holidays are religious. Whether it is one of
the fourteen Greek Orthodox holidays, a name day, or a political hol
iday, a feast always accompanies the celebration.
Easter is the most important holiday in Greece. The Easter season
begins with Carnival, about two months before Easter. Greeks cele
brate Carnival with dancing, merrymaking, and parades with floats.
On the last night of Carnival, people feast and dance throughout the
night for the last time before the pre-Easter fasting of Lent begins.