The summer heat came in suddenly early in May, reaching temperatures in the high 30s C (high 90s F). Everyone says this is a highly unusual situation for summer temperatures to begin so soon in the year. The garden needed watering regularly, so we are lucky we have a huge underground well that is replenished each year in the rainy season with runoff water from the hillside behind us. More unusual weather struck later in the month with a few freak storms, helpfully adding to the water supply and making the garden very happy.
You cannot get more local than your own vegetable garden. We have ONE wild artichoke (αγκινάρα) growing, the first ever to crop in the artichoke plot that I established. It does have these rather wicked looking spikes on the ends of its leaves. I’ve heard that they are sometimes called gaidouragatha – donkey’s thorns. Most of my plants are quite young, having been put in earlier in the year, and I believe it takes a while for them to establish themselves. I’m now pondering what to do with a solo αγκινάρα. Part of a meze platter, perhaps? Apparently, they are very difficult to peel – no doubt because of those donkey thorns.
Meanwhile, I’ve been getting the freezer cleared out (as far as possible), ready to fill it with big bags of ice – an essential ingredient for surviving Greek summers. In doing this cleaning, I discovered a giant bag of Greek chickpea flour stashed away sometime last autumn found after my supply of Italian chickpea flour ran out. Chickpea pancakes were the result, plus a whole host of ideas for future use, many inspired by Indian cuisine. I also have a recipe somewhere for a Cretan chickpea bread I might investigate. It is amazing how different flours elicit such excitement (well, perhaps among a select portion of the population fascinated with cooking and experimenting in the kitchen).
I must have pancakes on the mind, possibly triggered by another recent find – a huge jug of Canadian maple syrup, only it was confusingly labeled as σιρόπι ‘Vertmont’, sounding like something out of Harry Potter. It turns out that Vertmont is not a mis-spelling of Vermont, but is the name of the Canadian border town. The raw product is shipped from Vertmont to Denmark, bottled in a small town north of Copenhagen and then shipped all over Europe. Speak about a global food network! It’s not the best maple syrup I’ve had, but still the real thing and not a flavoured sugar syrup. Beggers can’t be choosers. 🍁
Another amazing find was the availability of bags of mixed frozen berries imported from Bulgaria and Poland and packaged in Greece. It is quite informative reading the small print on packaging labels! Most berries – apart from strawberries – are not normally grown here in Athens (or anywhere nearby) and as fresh fruit, they are enormously expensive. I do miss them, particularly the ones that grow in my UK garden which my son (hopefully) is either eating or stowing away in the freezer. I was chuffed to find these big bags (1kg each) of ‘Fruits of the Forest’ mix at a good price. They proved to be fantastic for making sorbet. I simply modified one of Nick Palumbo’s recipes in his book, Gelato Messina, now more confident in making sorbetti. Will be posting the recipe for this soon.
After a day trip to the island of Aegina, the pistachio capital of Greece, one cannot leave without a stop (and shop) at the pistachio growers cooperative kiosk on the peir before boarding the ferry. A big bag of roasted pistachios and a large jar of glyko (spoon sweet) came back to Athens with me. I love the spoon sweet made from tender immature nuts, including its outer coating. Delicious with a bit of yoghurt.
Lastly, mastic experiments are ongoing – with a number of false starts – with the mastic I brought back from Chios last month. The best of the lot so far is a simple mastic butter for locally grown asparagus.
Despite my weakness for those berries & the maple syrup, I do try to keep things local and seasonal – the source of that asparagus. It is the season now for cherries, artichokes, asparagus and apricots with strawberries tailing off at the same time early tomatoes begin. Luckily, my neighbourhood laiki (open air market) usually keeps me grounded in the here and now!