Intangible Pie

Greece, understandably, is very proud of its heritage. For most people outside the country, this is symbolised by the shining white columns of the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis and the numerous other antiquites seen throughout the country. However, there is something defined as Intangible Cultural Heritage that includes music, dance, traditional agricultural and craft practices, regional festivals, etc. A very important aspect of this intangible heritage close to my own interest is culinary traditions.

The Greek Government’s Directorate of Modern Assets and Intangible Cultural Heritage has published a lovely bi-lingual booklet in Greek and English on one such culinary tradition. It is available online: Η ΠΙΤΑ – THE PIE

The booklet covers pies from Greece’s northern and easternmost territory of Thrace, the Epirote region of Zagoria, the plains of Thessaly, the Ionian island of Corfu, the western mountains south of Epirus, the central regions of Lamia and Galaxidi, the northern Peloponnese, the southwestern peninsula of Messenia, the Aegean and Cycladic Islands to the east, and last (but not least) the great island of Crete. Easy to follow recipes for each region are included. Be warned, traditional measurements include – from larger to smaller – the “glass” (a standard water glass), the “teacup” and the “demi-tasse” (the common Greek coffee cup).

Pies, or pitas as they are called in Greece, can be savoury or sweet, large or small, circular, spiral, layered, covered or uncovered. The pastry is more often than not homemade phyllo, but other bread- or cake-like pastry can be found. The fillings are seemingly unlimited, usually based on what is to hand at any given time of year. Specific pitas are also associated with specific places or specific events. Or they can just be made to use up leftovers, encased in layers of homemade phyllo – like the one above made with cooked chicken and a herbed rice pilaf. But, more on pies in future posts!

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13 comments

  1. it’s interesting how an every day domestic items like a pie is deemed intangible, esp when pie features so highly in the Greek diet. You can touch and feel the recipe, the ingredients, the pie plate, but the pie was so delicious it disappeared..

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    • I know what you mean – tangible things defined as intangible. But, I think they mean the *practise* and *tradition* of pie making. I would think that ephemeral is a better word for the actual pies – you eat them, naturally.

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  2. Yes, this is great and much needed. The increasing recognition of intangible cultural heritage is particularly important as the vast majority of heritage carried by women is intangible, but creates an essential fabric of culture and culturing. In the past scholars have largely ignored this type of culturing by women as it is not always easy to quantify and often lacks in physical artifacts as a lot of female production has always been for immediate consumption in the family and community. I don’t mean just yummy stuff to eat, lol.

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    • You are so right! Much of women’s traditional heritage is intangible and should be recognised. Despite the fact that much of what is produced is made for immediate consumption, there are physical artefacts involved – those traditional thin rolling pins, baking pans, those cups and demi-tasse used in measuring ingredients, etc. It is like the kitchen equipment that intrigues archaeologists investigating past cultures. However, intangible culture also includes music (often executed by men) and dance (both men and women) and a number of other “intangibles”. I would say that recognition of intangible cultural heritage is needed for a fuller picture – as you put it – the fabric of culture.

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      • Yes, come to think of it – it’s not that there is a shortage of artifacts, but its that many of the artifacts that materialise this intangible heritage are often not the kind of stuff that would have traditionally maybe less valued. Although having said that, it it these artifacts that are often passed from generation to generation and often even stay in (knowing) use. (Like my grandmothers chip pan) Maybe the question is also ‘valued by whom?’ Love the pattern on that pie in the middle picture by the way – is that done with lace?

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  3. The size of that pie in the photo is something to behold. I suppose that the stories, feelings and traditions that are passed on in food culture are somewhat intangible but so worth preserving and celebrating.

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  4. This pie reminds me of the pies made by Anna, my Greek next door neighbour, where intangible pies seem to miraculously emerge from her laundry. No Greeks cook in the kitchen- that’s only for show!

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    • Your friend Anna would like the free pdf booklet, I think. Perhaps she might spot a few pies from her own region. It is in both Greek and English. When you say laundry, is this a sort of pantry/outdoor kitchen sort of thing? Yes, cooks here still cook in outdoor ovens – particularly in the hot months.

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      • Yes, I’ll print it off for Anna. She would like to read it, though I doubt she has used a recipe in her life. Wandering around her inner city garden is amazing. She pulls off a branch of wild Anise or fennel, and says ‘put with the φασόλια
        fasólia, or shows me the tomatoes in her front yard she is keeping for the sporos. At 86 her garden gets more interesting and she seems to have amazing energy. She drags out all our large council bins, hers and ours, and returns them each evening. ( we aren’t often there on the right day) and loads our green bin up with yet more cuttings and sticks…..
        Her extra kitchen is located in the laundry which is a little room at the end of the house, but still inside it. All cooking takes place there. All the Australian Greeks and many Italians do the same thing. The real kitchen is a showpiece for coffee making and the de rigeur microwave ( to heat up her pites). Her house showcases Greek taste, from the 60s to the 90s. Pure white lace antimacassars on chairs, lace on mini nesting tables to serve coffee, water, ouzo, sugar dusted almond biscuits, cold wedges of cucumber with fetta, pide, chocolates, and cold sliced fruit- for morning tea at 11 am!!! Large jigsaws of Greek fishing villages framed in gold, family photos everywhere, plastic tablecloth on the kitchen table, fake flowers in a vase, ( real ones in the garden) , Greek TV blaring at all times, and everything spotlessly clean. Anna doesn’t speak much English so I latch onto as many Greek words as I can and we go from there. She is such a special lady to me.

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      • Wow! Anna’s Aussie kitchen sounds just like some country kitchens I’ve seen here in Greece. The 11 am “tea” is traditionally the first meal of the day (“kolatisio”) in agricultural communities. A jolt of coffee begins the day, often before dawn when the weather is cooler and they stop for a break (around 11) when it begins to hot up, particularly in the summer. I can see from your loving description that your neighbour is a very special person.

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