The past month started off with a quick trip up North to Thrace. In a forest preserve close to the border with Bulgaria, we dined on wonderful boar and stag stews flavoured with orange and rosemary. In the silk producing town of Soufli, we went in search of kavourmas, a preserved meat confit made from beef, pork, buffalo, sheep or goat. It is said to be a Byzantine method of curing meat, but its name come from the Turkish kavurma which means roasting. Another speciality of Thrace is the dried vegetable trachana, characteristically red made from wheat (flour, cracked wheat or bulgar wheat) and vegetable pulp – usually a combination of pumpkin, red pepper and sometimes potato. We located homemade trachana for sale in a wonderful market cafeteria that specialised in hilopitas (i.e. pasta) in the town of Didymoteicho next to the ruined mosque of Celebi Sultan Mehmet. Milk based white trachana was also available. Trachana is usually slightly sour and is used in soups and stews and acts as a thickening agent.
On the way to and from Alexandroupolis, Blue (the Aegean Airlines Magazine) had an article on feta which they describe as “perfectly white and glistening with the sheen of its brine, full of milky richness with a buttery texture.” Yes, I guess that describes really good feta. I also realised that it is very difficult to take photographs of white on white.
We arrived back in Athens in time to welcome guests who flew in from Bucherest. They brought with them a present of the Romanian “feta” – Brânză de burduf, a traditional Transylvanian cheese made by kneading the curds in a sack. In fact, I think it simply means cheese in a bag. This is a mildly salty and creamy sheep’s milk cheese preserved in the sack made from a sheep stomach. Extremely delicious and, although it is similar to crumbly Greek feta, it has a completely different taste.
Another present was a book from a recipes from the archives of a manor house near Winchester in Hampshire. It had some intriguing/amusing recipes, one of which was Soup for the Poor (serves 60+), little more than watered down potato broth with a bit of beef. Another was Viper Broth, chicken broth with an additional twist (i.e. meat from a viper). The book did not recommend replicating that recipe. Then there were homemade remedies – numerous ones for rabies. I guess mad dog bites might have been more common in the country in the past. And, of course, it included the usual cleaning solutions for maintaining the furniture, the silver, etc. It is an interesting little book, the kind of thing one finds in gift shops at many stately homes open to the public – good reading, but I don’t think it is the kind of thing you would want to cook from. Although, the oyster sausages intrigued me….
And, since it was Easter, I made new and improved Hot Cross Buns – a post on them soon, I promise.
The chicken basket also came out of the cupboard again this year and was filled with red eggs, even if the below image from two years ago.
Just after Orthodox Easter, we travelled to Scotland via Frankfurt. With a 6 hour layover, we had ample opportunity to observe food customs. In the lounge, I was amused to see “frank fritters” in Frankfurt – who would have thought? Not that I ate them. I haven’t touched a hot dog since having read Upton Sinclair’s 1904 book, The Jungle about the Chicago meat packing industry. It was required reading during my school days and it is quite possible the reason a whole generation of people in the USA do not eat hot dogs.
Meanwhile, on the flight from Frankfurt to Edinburgh, Lufhansa Magasin had an article on Montenegro’s žućenica or wild chicory. While reading this, I realised that it was the same as the Greek pikralida (πικραλίδα) or picidium vulgare to give it its scientific name. Well, the article did say it was a common Balkan “herb” or green.
At our destination in St Andrews, we had a lovely time – a day and a half – and I ate north sea smokies for every meal. This is the local smoked haddock. I think I may have over-indulged: smoked haddock with poached eggs for breakfast, cullen skink (smoked haddock and potato soup) for lunch and a gratin of smoked haddock, salmon and potatoes topped with local Scottish cheddar for dinner. I didn’t spare the time to take photographs of my plate as I was too buy eating and talking. But, this lovely photo of the tide coming in of the North Sea at St Andrews is where the haddock are caught and then smoked right across the bay.
In the St Andrews’ cathedral museum I learned a tidbit of food related folklore – mortaria for pounding wheat with carved faces. The label says the face is a humorous reference to vomiting. However, it reminded me of the Tuscan scacciaguai. So, perhaps this mortar face is not a vomiting joke, but a protective talisman?
Back in my Athens kitchen for a while, assimilating (or do I mean digesting?) all these wonderful culinary experiences. We’ll be on the go again soon – more inspiration from travelling.