My Milopita fresh from the oven - Click Image to Enlarge
Apples are among the earliest fruits known to Europeans. The ancient Greeks have left us numerous references to the apple both in literary and philosophical sources. According to a couple of accounts, it was the god Dionysus who first introduced the apple to mortals. The apples from a town called Sidus, near the ancient city of Corinth were among the most prized of antiquity.
Today, Greek apple farming takes place largely in central and northern Greece, especially around the village of Zagora on the slopes of Mt. Pelion, and in the vicinity of the city of Kastoria in Macedonia. Some apple farming also takes place near Tripolis, a city in the central part of the Peloponnese. The apples of all three areas are registered as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) / Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) products of Greece by the European Union. “Apples Kastoria” (Μήλο Καστοριάς) are especially prized for their flavour. Greece produces nearly double the amount of apples per capita (33.4 kg.) than the United States (18.4 kg.)¹, so there are more than enough apples to go around and Greeks consume them liberally.
In my family, apples are enjoyed raw as well as cooked in various manners. Baked apples with a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon were my favourite fruit dish as a child. However, as I grew older –though perhaps not wiser– my tastes grew ever more sophisticated and I sought different variations on an already good thing. I bounced around for a while between American style apple pies and German apple strudels (Canada is a very multicultural place). But it was not until my cousin, Eleni, went to work at a bakery near her home in Athens (Greece) that I finally discovered what I still consider to be the ultimate apple pie; even though it is more like a tart than a pie, strictly speaking. A good part of my summer vacation in Greece that year was spent in the kitchen of my cousin’s home making this pie with her, so she gets all the credit. However, pie recipes were not all I picked up from Eleni that summer. Her parting gift to me at the airport was a two volume compendium of Greek Mythology that has seen good use over the intervening years. As a result, my cousin Eleni, this apple pie recipe, and Greek Mythology are all inextricably linked within my memory. So, in honour of my dear cousin, I present three ancient apple tales and a recipe involving three apples, to titillate the imagination and tantalize the palate...
Atalanta and Hippomenes, by: Guido Reni c.1612.
When it came time for the beautiful huntress Atalanta to marry -a prospect she did not relish- she was persuaded to accept as her husband the man who could best her in a footrace. (Atalanta’s fleetness of foot was legendary.) Her only condition for the contest was that anyone who took up the challenge and lost would be put to death. Despite these terrible terms, the beauty of the maiden was such that many suitors presented themselves for the challenge, but all of them were defeated by her in the race and summarily executed. Then one day, along came a clever fellow by the name of Hippomenes and he had a plan… Once the race was underway, he jumped into the lead and strategically dropped three golden apples at intervals behind him along the course, right in Atalanta’s path before she could overtake him. As she had never seen such striking baubles before, Atalanta paused long enough to pick each one up. This distraction proved enough to grant Hippomenes the victory. Moral of the story: Savvy individuals use beautiful ornaments to distract the attention of the object(s) of their affection(s) in order to get their way. [Grin.]
The Judgement of Paris, by Peter Paul Rubens, ca 1636
A veritable orchard of discord was sown by Priam’s son, Paris, who granted a golden apple to Aphrodite in the first beauty contest on record. Zeus had appointed Paris as the judge for a beauty pageant between three goddesses: Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera; and instructed him to choose the fairest by awarding the aforementioned apple. As a reward for his choosing her, Aphrodite promised Paris the most beautiful woman in the world (who also happened to be another man’s wife): Helen of Sparta. It was this event which ultimately launched a thousand ships to reduce the city of Troy. This is also the origin of the phrase “Apple of Discord” (μήλο της Έριδος) which is a euphemism that is used to refer to the root or crux of an argument or dispute. Moral of the story: It is generally not a good idea to make too public a declaration of your preference for one form of beauty over another. After all, who wants another Trojan War?!
Greek postage stamp commemorating the Athens Olympic Games of 1906 depicting Hercules (left) and Atlas (right).
As part of his Twelve Labours, the demi-god Hercules was charged by King Eurystheus with the task of stealing the golden apples that grew at the western edge of the world in the orchard of the goddess Hera; which was tended by the nymphs known as the Hesperides. The golden apples were guarded by a hundred-headed serpent named Ladon who never slept and lay with his body curled about the tree upon which they grew. The Titan known as Atlas was also stationed nearby, straining under the burden of the earth and sky which he bore upon his shoulders as eternal punishment for waging a war (known as the Titanomachy) against the twelve Olympian gods.
After a number of memorable adventures and a journey of a couple months, Hercules made it to the garden of the Hesperides and slew Ladon with an arrow. Whereupon, he enlisted the aid of Atlas to retrieve the golden apples for him, as he did not want to offend Hera directly by picking them himself. Atlas was only too happy to oblige, provided that Hercules agreed to shoulder the weight of the earth and sky in order to free him up for the caper. Hercules accepted the deal and took up the load while Atlas skipped off to pluck the golden apples. The deed accomplished, Atlas returned to smugly inform Hercules that he had decided to deliver the apples himself to King Eurystheus, leaving the hero to continue bearing his enormous encumbrance in the meantime. Suffice it to say, this development did not please Hercules who was already straining under the unaccustomed load of the Titan’s crushing burden. Begging Atlas’ assistance to rearrange the load on his shoulders and to cushion it with some padding, Hercules managed to fool him and slipped the giant load back onto the shoulders of the Titan. Whereupon, he picked up the apples along with his gear, bade Atlas adieu, and set off for the court of King Eurystheus to deliver the rare fruits. Moral of the story: Sam should not take it upon himself to write lengthy blog posts while his wife is packed and waiting for him to leave for a week’s much deserved vacation in Muskoka(!).
With that, I bid you all a wonderful summer vacation period. If you are traveling, be safe and beware of making deals with Titans who are bearing loads you do not want to end up holding yourself, or at least, not for very long…
Oh, and I almost forgot the recipe! Clever fellow that I am, I made this ornamental dessert as an offering for my wife’s birthday; it was an unforced labour of love in the interest of ongoing harmonious relations. [Grin.] Needless to say, my skill as a cook was likely one the reasons my wife even considered marrying me in the first place. Sigh… Oh well, we all have our burdens to bear! Isn’t that right, dear? When all is said and done, my wife is the apple in my pie. Happy Birthday Sweetie! (She hates it when I call her that.) LOL!
3 medium sized apples (I used the Granny Smith variety as they are tart as opposed to sweet, and excellent for baking.)
1 ½ cups (375 ml.) of self-rising flour (regular flour with 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder will do in a pinch)
1 cup (250 ml.) of white sugar
3/4 of a cup (125 ml.) of butter
1⁄3 cup (60 ml.) of milk
¼ cup (60 ml.) of brown sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml.) grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon (15 ml.) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml.) ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt
1. Peel and core the apples and slice them into sixteenths and set them aside in bowl of water with some lemon juice squeezed into it to keep the apple slices from browning.
2. Sift flour with salt (and the baking powder if required).
3. Using a mixer, cream a ½ cup (125 ml.) of the butter and the 1 cup (250 ml.) of white sugar until smooth.
4. While continually mixing, add the egg yolks one at a time alternating with a tablespoonful (15 ml.) of flour in between yolks to achieve a smooth and creamy consistency in the mix.
5. Add the rest of the flour in stages, alternately adding the milk in stages as well. Then add the vanilla extract and lemon rind and mix until the batter is smooth.
6. In a separate mixing bowl, whip the egg whites into stiff peaks and then using a spatula, carefully fold them into the batter.
7. Butter the sides of a pie baking dish and pour in the finished batter.
8. Arrange the apple slices in a perpendicular fashion overtop of the batter in a circular pattern to form an outer ring of apple slices (as pictured in the first photo above). Fill the center of the ring with any remaining slices.
9. Melt the remaining ¼ cup of butter along with the ¼ cup of brown sugar, mix in the cinnamon and pour the mixture over the apple slices in a circular fashion, making sure to distribute it evenly in a long even stream.
10. Place baking dish in an oven pre-heated to 350° F. (180° C.) and bake for approximately 60 minutes.
Let the Milopita stand to cool for at least a couple hours before serving.
Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.
¹The Mediterranean Diet: Constituents and Health Promotion