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A Little History of Greek Cuisine

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Joined: 06 February 2010
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    Posted: 11 February 2010 at 14:24
OK TW...I'll keep it coming, might take a few days, but as time allows I'll get it all up.
 
I have quite a collection of cookbooks, many with histirical notation in them, so when I can find one to suit a specific forum, rest assured I will get it up there.
Go ahead...play with your food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 February 2010 at 13:21
this is excellent!
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From the Complete Greek Cookbook, by Theresa Karas Yianilos
 
Greek Food and Hospitality
The Ancient Greeks began the art of cookery one thousand years before Christ, and Greek recipes have influenced many cuisines. You may discover that Greek recipes in this book have a ring of familiarity or you may even know some of them under different names. Menus from Homer and Plato, nine hundred years old, are as similar as the list of foods your doctor hands to you when he tells you to diet.
 
     Most Greek food is simple to prepare. A meal can be made from a bit of cheese, a few olives, some fresh bread, and a piece of roasted meat or fish. Often, a complete meal will consist of fresh vegetables, quickly boiled, sprinkled with olive oil and lemon juice, or perhaps be only a casserole of vegetables and meats. Desserts and cakes are usually drenched in syrup.
     The love of sumptous feasts and elegant presentations of food is part of the Greek heritage. Legends about the fabulous meals and menus that the maigeires , or chefs of ancient times prepared have endured throughout centuries. A Greek cook has always been considered a prize: whether a respected slave cooking for lords of the Roman empire, or today's professional creating savory meals for the patrons of restaurants, hotels, cruise ships and airlines.
 
     The concept that preparing and cooking food is an art is still very much a part of the Greek psyche. Greek hospitality extends to friends and strangers alike and always includes a ritual of eating and drinking. To allow a visitor to leave without serving him something would be barbaric. For a guest to refuse to partake, even a token nibble, would be equally intolerable. You may have heard the old saying: "When Greek meets Greek, they start a restaurant." At any rate, it is true that when a Greek meets a friend, they sit down and eat.
 
     The kind of Greek cooking found today in the United States has evolved primarily from peasant cookery. Many of the Greeks who emigrated to the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century were poor unsophisticated people from small agrarian villages. With them came certain attitudes, customs, and traditions regarding food which could be traced back into ancient pagan Greek history, and more recently to Christian and Moslem influences.
 
     The plentitude of America's larder, however, and the great variety and availability of even unseasonal foods encouraged certain refinements. New cooking methods replaced painstaking procedures required for some of the ancient recipes, and many special dishes formerly made only on great occasions or holidays can now be made frequently. Modern daughters urged mothers, aunts,and grandmothers to explain every step of their recipes; they then adapted them using new ingredients and convenience foods, and devised shortcuts with modern methods and appliances.
 
     Attitudes about food have also changed, even including those which originated from religious practices. In Greece,on many fast days throughout the year, the eating of meats and animal products, such as milk, fats  and butter was prohibited. Since the fast coincided with the scarcity of these products, adhereing to the Orthodox fast for a full forty days before Christmas, Easter, and other religious holidays was easier to follow in Greece than in the United States. It is my personal observation that very few modern men and women maintain the full traditional forty days fast in bountiful America. Many devout Greek Orthodox Christians have recognized the body's need for protein foods and no longer consider it a sin (amartia) to eat meat, butter or milk. A token fast from certain animal products is usually two or three days, or a week at most.
 
     Regtional differences in recipes, still existing in isolated parts of Greece, have disappeared in the United States where recipes are readily exchanged from cook to cook and ingredients easily purchased.
     Importers of Greek foods have made many of the exotic foods available at specialty shops. Even that American institution, the supermarket, carries gourmet foods, so many unusual recipes can be served at almost anytime.
 
     The recipes in this book reflect the simplified, modern approach to Greek cooking: step-by-step instructions, modified proportions of sugars, fats, and oil; the use of instant foods and spices; tested short-cut methods and the recommended use of appliances.
 
History Of Greek Cooking
 
A Scene From Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles
The poet's and philosphers of Sophocle's time, four hundred years before the birth of Christ, not only discussed the merits of the Parthenon, they held long discourses on the art of cookery. Traditionally, cooks and priests were one and the same. They alone knew how to butcher meats for all sacrificial rites.
 
     For centuries the preparation of food was considered the perogative of men. Furthermore, recipes were exchanged between men rather than women. Dining was considered another of the arts. Sophisticated men's clubs where gourmets gathered to discuss the merits of different foods, native and foreign, were numerous, and virtually all the foods familiar to the world today were known and used by the ancient Greeks.
 
     From 900 BC to 158 B.C., a span of seven hundred years, Greece was a powerful military force in the Mediterranean, with bases or colonies on the coast of Asia Minor, Cyprus, Egypt, Gaza, Italy, France, Spain, Sardinia, Persia and India. Greek colonists brought with them beautiful pottery, sculpture and crafts.
 
Typical Greek foods such as olives, cheeses, figs, oil,wheat, barley, wine and honey were introduced along with Greek cuisine. Even today similar recipes, many with the same names, are found in all of these countries. The aesthetics in shopping for food were considered important. The marketplace was no crowded bazaar but an attractive shopping plaza called the  agora, consisting of individual shops, statues, fountains and altars.
 
     By the fifth century B.C., Greeks knew how to bake over twenty kinds of breads, from pancakes to sourdough, and many kinds of sweet cakes. Some of these cakes were decorated and given as prizes to Olympic athletes, or carried in festivals, just as cakes are decorated today for birthdays, holidays, weddings and anniversaries.
 
     Rome became the power in the Mediterranean after 158 B.C.  The Roman's undisguised respect and admiration for Hellenic culture fostered their national pride although their status under Rome was that of a subjugated people. From their Greek teachers the Romans learned how to appreciate the arts, as well as the art of dining.
 
     Combined forces of Christian Romans and Greeks overpowered the Romans in 312 A.D. and moved the seat of culture away from Rome, choosing the site of the ancient city of Byzantium rather than Athens to build the great Christian city of Constantinople which remained for 1000 years  as the largest city in the world. These Byzantines retained the best of their two heritages, Greek art, language and literature plus Roman laws and government and called themselves Rhomaioi (Romans), a name still used by the Greeks today, to distinguish themselves from the pagan connotation of the Hellenism. They added to the Greek way a love for the ornate that outdid both the Romans and the Greeks.
 
     Today, the manner of cooking of northern Greece and the mountainous areas differs from that of the southern and costal regions.The historical reasons are many. While the sophisticated and genteel Byzantines ruled with reigous zeal throughout Greece, including the outlying islands of Crete, Rhodos and Zakynthos, there were periodic invasions of Goths and Visigoths well into the thirteenth century. In A.D. 500 the Huns reached Corinth. The barbaric Huns disgusted the Greeks. Thety used knives to cut their meat at the table, and preferred a fat called butter which the Greeks considered a body salve, not a substitute for olive oil.
 
     The Slavs and Avars came to Greece in the seveth century; the Slavs remained and settled. To this day, rabbit, in the Greek stew called stifatho, is known by the Slavic word, kournelli. 
 
     Crete, off the southern tip of Greece, became a Moslem territory in the ninth century, and the people of Crete, the Kritiki, had to abstain from their favorite meat: pork.
 
     In northern Greece, the Bulgars crossed over the border and taught the Greek mountaineers the secret of making yogurt. No sooner had the Byzantines chased them out when the Vlachs, a nomadic people from Romania, invaded Thessaly in the eleventh century and called it Great Walachia. They brought their own recipe for a hot spiced preserved beef called pastourma and one for noodles known as trahana, but the Greeks never cared much for it or them....and when someone is called a vlachos today, he is being told that he is gauche, a country bumpkin, a nomad who doesn't know the refinements of civilized living.
 
     By the 1200's Venetians sailed across the Ionian Sea and settled in the costal regions of Greece. They built beautiful castles in the islands and left a heritage of cookie recipes, made with semolina, farina. To this day the women of the Ionian islands are reknowned  for their honey cookies called fenekia, meaning Venetian.
 
     The Crusaders also marched through into Thessaly, the central and southern parts of Greece, staying long enough in the thirteenth century to teach the Cypriots a new way of making wine. They may have dropped some lemon seeds from the lemon trees they discovered in Palestine, thereby introducing that most versatile fruit of all to Greece.
The Fall of Constantinople
 
     Serbs, Italians and Franks came to Greece during the 1300's and 1400's. The Italians shared their pasta secrets, which Marco Polo had brought back from the far east, and taught the Greeks how to make macaroni and spaghetti, while the Franks, or French built splendid chateaux in Peloponneseus and gathered more than just a few recipes. The great Byzantine era came to an end in 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Moslem Ottoman Turks who had already established themselves in other parts of Greece. They changed the name of the Byzantine christian city to Istanbul and ordered that Turkish be spoken. The teaching of the Greek language and the freedom of the church were tolerated, but Turkish influences crept into everyday life, and recipes as old as Mount Olympus were now called by Turkish names.  The Greek cooks learned to add great amounts of garlic to meat and vegetables to please the Turkish palate. The famous Greek dish of Moussaka was born when the Turks introduced the vegetable eggplant. Greeks shared the same delight as the Turks over the hot beverage made from coffee beans some Arab discovered in Ethiopia. The ancient Greek custom of men's clubs was revived with the cafenion - the coffee house which sprang up in every village. The Greeks always had a sweet tooth but the Turkish habit of nibbling sweetmeats at all hours was contagious. The Turkish candy called lokoum and halvah remain favorite confections today. When the Turks were finally driven out of Greece in 1821, three hundred and seventy-one years later,they left behind a new flavor in Greek cooking.
 
     Following the Turks, The British arrived and watched over Greece until 1940. They introduced potatoes, tea, beef, marjarine, and a drink called tsintsibira, or gingerbeer. The French now returned some of the Greek recipes they had borrowed centuries before, laden with sauces and tomatoes, a South American fruit. Among the upper class Greeks and in restaurants it became tres chic to give every recipe a French name. The French term "a la" meaning "in the style of" was added to everything. The French had discovered the secret of making chocolates, cakes, and marzipans, and the Greeks were delighted to add new words to their vocabulary:  tortes for the many layered cake with frosting between layers; keik for the cake with the frosting on top. They copied the French custom of molding chocolate into rabbits, baskets, chickens, eggs and other symbols at Easter, and Greek confectioners spread this custom to the United States.
 
     The Americans went to war-torn Greece in 1943 to help the Greeks fight the invading Nazis. They stayed to reconstruct, bringing large sums of money with the Marshall Plan, plus definite food preferences and individualistic ideas. They taught the Greeks new methods of agriculture. Once barren lands began to produce with abundance. American tourists came in great numbers and the Greeks learned to like ham and eggs, bacon, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried potatoes, sodas and milk shakes, as well as an old American Indian food, corn on the cob, which is now sold on the streets of Athens cooked on charcoal braziers along side a three thousand year old recipe of kokkoretsi sausage.
 
     The Greek's fierce pride in their heritage has kept the basic culture intact. Whether a slave under Roman rule, a captive under Turkish domination, or a newly arrived immigrant, the Greek is always aware that he is the direct descendant of men like  Plato, Homer, Aristotle, Demosthenes, and Aristophanes. The Greek who begins life in a new land on the bottom step of society as a dishwasher needs only to remember how Aesop left a legacy of poetry while cooking as a slave. If some of the recipes seem long and time consuming, it is only because the Greek does not consider cooking a chore IT IS ART!
Go ahead...play with your food!
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