Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The quince and the Greek honey melded into a translucent paste delight, freckled with slivered blanched almonds. Click to Enlarge Image.
This Greek dessert is a specialty of the island of Kefalonia. Long before chocolates and other modern sugar-based confections appeared on the scene in Greece, Greeks were fond of this autumn harvest sweet; one used to be able to find it everywhere from bakeries to street kiosks, wrapped in quaint little folded parchment paper packets. Alas, times have changed and it is no longer so widely available. If you do find it, it is usually made with sugar as using honey exclusively would make it prohibitively expensive to sell competitively in the agorá. But believe you me; one can taste the difference in the finished product. The sugar-based versions are far too sweet for my palate.
Greek honey is world renowned for its quality, flavours, and therapeutic benefits. Indeed, honey is a universal medicine in Greek households. As far back as I can remember, some thymarisio meli (thyme-honey) mixed with fresh lemon juice was a cure for symptoms ranging from the sniffles to full-blown bouts of congestion and coughing that accompany the common cold. My father even prescribed it as a preventative measure in the winter months. As a child, I had my daily dose before breakfast every wintry morning and liked it! My father used to tell me it would make me smart and strong, so I looked forward to each day’s spoonful, plus, it tasted good. Did it work? Well, let me just say that I did not come down with common seasonal ailments as often as most of my non-Greek friends; but when I did, I was not down for long. I say non-Greek friends because the other Greek kids (and there were many, as I grew up in a Greek ghetto here in Toronto) were likely undergoing the same regimen at home themselves.
There are exactly four ingredients and no more in the pomiferous preparation which is our original subject here: quince, a Greek honey, almonds, and a hint of cinnamon. This is a fast-friendly dessert as there are no dairy or animal products in it, and it is reputed to have a salutary effect in cases of chronic diarrhea. Which brings to mind Hippocrates’ counsel: “May food be your medicine, and may your medicine be food.” To which I reply, “It’s all Greek food to me Hippocrates!” :-)
When done properly, the dessert achieves a translucent yet dense gelatin-like consistency. It is served in slices and can be garnished with crumbled pistachio or other nuts. Of course, you can serve it simply on its own which is just how I like it, along with a cup of tsaï faskómilo (“wild sage tea”), or as it is more commonly known: Greek mountain tea.
Unfortunately, I will not be sharing the recipe for this amazing dessert today; I offer it only as a subject for reflection. After all, my blog is entitled Greek Food Recipes and Reflections. The recipe was a gift to me from a Kefalonian friend who has since passed on, yet her memory will endure in my heart forever. Who knows? Perhaps I will put it into a recipe book or something sometime in the future. Stay tuned. In the meantime, there are lots of other great traditional Greek food recipes on my blog for you to try, so have at it!
Pánta Kalá (Always Be Well),
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.
P.S. One thing I will say is that upon trying her first piece of this dessert, my wife, Sophia, urged me to turn the remaining fresh quince into more of this... I resisted, but half-heartedly.