What is it about cool autumn temperatures that dredge up a feeling of nostalgia? The grey morning mist and the occasional shower tend to reinforce that yearning for home and hearth. Even the gloaming (Greek soúroupo) takes on a wistful edge in this season. You can smell the change in the air.
There’s change in my Athens market, too. They’re now full of pumpkins and squashes – sending me messages of jack o’lanterns, pumpkin pies, and spicy pumpkin bread. Four years ago when this blog was in its infancy I posted my homey version of pumpkin bread. It’s comfort food at its best, bringing memories of childhood and contentment. I am planning on making a few batches of that nostalgic cinnamon and nutmeg spiked pumpkin bread soon.
And, also those other “P” fruits – pomegranates and persimmons – are once again displayed in the liaki stalls: colourful indicators of autumn.
Some summer crops are still available – at the tail end of their seasons – like tomatoes and courgettes. Using up some of our last courgettes, I made that other homey spicy bread – zucchini bread – similar to the pumpkin one. That’s not such an odd councidence as they are both members of the cucurbita genus, although one white fleshed summer squash and the other orange fleshed winter squash. My recipe dates back to my teenage years. It is handwritten and smeared with evidence of decades of cooking – a nostalgic memento.
I noticed that, during the past month of October, one of my early posts was getting a lot of views – The Original Jack o’Lantern. In fact, it got quite a number of hits during the past four years, invariably spiking in October. The post discusses the old tradition of carving a turnip instead of a pumpkin with instructions on how to produce your own turnip head. It was a timely subject for the season, but it seems a world ago now. Greek halloween customs are almost non-existant and dressing up is usually reserved for carnival just before Lent. Plus, I don’t think I have ever seen a swede (i.e. rutabaga or yellow turnip) in the Greek market.
Yet another seasonally popular post from years ago is on the custom in the north of England of eating parkin on Bonfire Night. It reminded me that it is nearly the 5th of November. Bonfire Night is a very British holiday that marks a failed attempt to blow up the House of Lords in 1605 by the Gunpowder Plot conspirators including Guy Fawkes. I must see if I can find some treacle for parkin (more comfort food). Who knows? Perhaps we may even attempt a (suitably safe) bonfire here in Athens – with or without a “Guy” to burn.
Its nice to look back from time to time. And, although nostalgia is primarily a positive emotional experience, it can be tinged with a tiny dose of sadness. The word stems from Greek nostos – meaning homecoming – and algos – meaning an acute longing. We spent part of October back in England and had a homecoming in my UK kitchen. It was only for a short period of the time and it was great to see all my things again – faded Irish linen tea towels, my collection of nested ceramic bowls (with their cozy homemade and quilted separating pads), favourite china mugs, etc. But, now we’ve moved on and left them behind – tinged with a tiny bit of homesickness. I remind myself that they’ll be there when we return.
The Athens kitchen has now become home as well. I’ve been making a lot of sourdough bread here – thinking “outside the box” beyond my regular white loaves. With the Kastoria rye flour we brought back from our holiday up north in September, I’ve been making wonderful loaves of sourdough rye. The deli I bought it from has an e-shop which ships within Greece, so finding rye and other hard to find flours just become a little bit easier. And, if I find treacle for parkin, I will be able to make my grandmother’s Pennsylvania-style pumpernickel: a dark, almost black, rye. I’ve also found a great combination of whole wheat sourdough and walnuts which I’ll be posting on soon. These are very comforting breads for the cooler weather.
The walnut bread is great with butter and honey. It’s a good thing that a friend recently brought a gift of a fabulous jar of thick Greek honey with a honeycomb. I’m going through it at a prodigious rate – only half left now.
The juggernaut of time seems to move quickly this time of year. We’ll soon be approaching the year end holidays with all the baking and sweet making that entails. I still have quite a bit of egg white stashed in the freezer and will be making some of the meringue based sweets I explored last year – “cheat” florentines and walnut macaroons. Plus, there is a whole host of similar recipes from ladyredspecks, listed on her blog, Please Pass the Recipe. I recently made her simple amaretti biscuits, but they did not last long. There wasn’t even any time to think about taking a photo. As she warns – resistance is, indeed, futile. But, there’s always next IMK.