What is that old Morton’s salt motto? When it rains – IT POURS. This 1914 magazine advertisement for the product shown here spells it out. Well, the flurry in my kitchen this past month seems to live up to that saying. It seems that I was metaphorically huddling under that umbrella (minus the salt) while a storm of activity poured. First was the post-holiday dealing with leftovers, then our orange harvest and dealing with the neglected and rather weedy garden, followed by freezer catastrophe and Vasilopita baking, and to cap it all, prep work for a (very) large formal dinner we host every February. All of that on top of the everyday stuff. Plus, we are due to leave the country soon, getting back to Athens just in time to pull that dinner together. It can be done, but it is all in the forward planning – hence the flurry of activity, some planned, some not.
First, the leftovers (or my preferred phrase – les delicieux petites restes, delicious small remains) were dealt with promptly. I posted a recipe dealing with one leftover this past month – Potato & Chestnut Pull-apart Rolls. It helped that we downsized Christmas this year – both presents and food. Instead, we embarked on a few trips to visit places of interest. We had a fabulous trips to the Palamidi (Venetian fortress) at Napflio, to the fortified hilltop Byzantine town ruins of Mystra (in the rain) and, after the New Year, to the coastal site of the ancient sanctuary at Perachora and yet another fortress at Acrocorinth towering above the ancient city of Corinth. A much better holiday present!
Once the family returned to the UK, the nerantzia (Sevilles) began flooding into the kitchen by the bucket full. Marmalade making went into production for several days – just shy of industrial scale. Some of it will be consumed by us throughout the year and quite a few smaller jars were made up as gifts. British style marmalade is something of a treat here. Marmalade is a generic term for jam in Greek – marmalada (μαρμελάδα). Most Greek orange jams made here are different. They generally use sweet oranges, ground up, cooked with sugar and a bit of water to produce a thick orangey pulp.
I also harvested my first small crop of beragmot oranges. The bitter juice was added to some of our nerantzia marmalade for a delicious combination. The aromatic zest, however, didn’t go to waste. It was very finely grated and packed into a jar and just covered with a bit of tsipouro (a grappa-like alcohol). This produces a mushy essence that can be scooped out and used in baking. I got this handy tip from a friend whose mother makes this flavouring essence.
While harvesting those bergmots, I noticed that my little garden plot was in dire need of weeding. Many of those “weeds” were tsouknídes (τσουκνίδες) otherwise known as nettles. They were in their bright green youthful phase – perfect for picking and cooking. It is a now or never situation. Soon the nettles will be too tough to use (and they will take over the garden). Numerous batches of nettles were harvested, cleaned, boiled and puréed to be frozen. They will be retrieved later to make nettle pasta – Italian strettine.
Once the nettles were under control, a puntarelle emerged, looking much like another weed. I had planted seeds in the summer hoping to have a crop of that wonderful crunchy Roman chicory, but it seems only one survived. I discovered extremely good, detailed instructions on how to make the anchovy flavoured puntarelle salad from Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy. Some of you may follow Rachel’s blog, Rachel Eats, which also lists many of her recipes, including instructions for punterelle.
Cleaning out the garden led to more cleaning out – this time one of the storage freezers (we have 2). After the holidays, it still seemed chock-a-block with frozen stuff. Plus, there was a bit more ice coating the interior surfaces than I liked. One carton (miraculously with label intact) held pitted black cherries from warmer days. I vaguely recalled that I wanted to experiment with sorbet, but after defrosting and juicing the cherries, there was not quite enough for a batch. So…thinking cap on, I’m working on a recipe for what I am provisionally calling Black Forest Sorbet.
It was a good thing that freezer was defrosted and the contents diminished since – very soon thereafter – the other freezer suddenly gave up the ghost and there was a hasty re-arrangement of food stuffs. A replacement was quickly ordered, but the new unit is taking its time to be delivered. It was a lot to cope with.
This pushed the scheduling of our Institution’s Vasilopita cutting (which meant baking it in the first place) back until the very last minute on the last day of the month.
All of that distracted me from gearing up for the big dinner. Luckily, earlier in the month, we had made one of our tri-annual visits to the mega catering supply warehouses. However, there still is a lot of prep work that needs to be done – anything made ahead that could be frozen (having to wait for the eventual delivery of the new freezer). That means endless bread baking, producing vats of Beouf Bourguignon from 10kg meat, making loads of little blinis for canapés, and churning batch after batch of srawberry sorbet. We had already bought the fruit, processed and frozen, when strawberries were plentiful in the spring market. I call that very far-thinking future planning, but I’ve learned my lesson – always have a contingency plan. And, perhaps another contingency plan for that contingency plan.
I have vowed that next month it will be Lazy In My Kitchen….