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Monday, July 25, 2011

Beat the Heat, Greek Food Style!

The husbandman is always a better Greek than the scholar is prepared to appreciate, and the old custom still survives, while antiquarians and scholars grow gray in commemorating it.
- Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), U.S. philosopher, author, naturalist.


My son demonstrates our method for beating summer heat, click to enlarge

My paternal grandfather was the quintessential husbandman. His day consisted entirely of tending to the fields and groves. Whether it was the wheat or olive, almond or chestnut harvest; whether it was the planting, trimming or the watering, he was forever to be found out in the open air, toiling to feed and provide for his family. My grandmother tended the home and the animals- the chickens, goats and sheep. The pig largely looked after itself. ;-)

In my early teens, I was fortunate enough to spend entire summers at our ancestral home in rural Arcadia. I had the opportunity to experience an agrarian lifestyle which is quickly vanishing from today’s Greek countryside. Indeed, it is all but gone.

One sweltering July day has remained vividly etched in my memory. For, it was during the midday meal that my grandfather taught me a trick to beat the summer heat, one that had been taught to him by his father, whose father had taught him; and so on back in a long line of fathers and sons…

I marvelled at my grandfather’s towering figure wielding the long-bladed scythe as he cut down the wheat stalks in great sweeping swathes in the dry hot air of summer. Now and again he would pause to wipe his brow with the red kerchief stuffed in his pocket, and then continue reaping in a steady methodical manner. Though the heat was oppressive, he moved with definite purpose and paused only to call me to bring him a drink from his wineskin.

At his signal, I fetched the afternoon repast from the mule’s pack. It was tied in a large chequered cloth napkin by my grandmother who had prepared it with care that morning. The simple meal consisted of some Kaseri cheese, a couple pieces of homemade sourdough bread, a few olives and a tomato or two, along with a smallish cucumber.

As we sat in the shade of the tree, eating lunch, he cut up the cucumber with his pocket knife and offered me a few pieces of the cool fruit.

“Want to learn a trick that will keep you cool in the afternoon heat?” he asked, smiling. I nodded enthusiastically as I chewed the mouthful of bread, cheese and cucumber I’d stuffed in my mouth.

In answer, he reached down and picked up one of the two discarded ends of the cucumber he’d sliced up for us and stuck it, cut-end flush on my forehead. And there it stayed. Best of all, it was cool and refreshing. So much so, that I felt immediate relief from the afternoon heat extending from my forehead like tendrils down through the rest of my body. It was foodie magic!

My grandfather proceeded to pick up the other end of the now disappeared cucumber and stuck it with a soft splat on his own forehead. Then he smiled and I laughed at the apparition of my grandfather with a single green nub of a horn affixed to his forehead. “You think I look silly?” he asked. “You ought to take a look in the mirror!” he laughed as we both found amusement in the aspect of each other’s cucumber-horned visages.

I never forgot that afternoon meal in the shade by the freshly mowed field. Every summer, when the heat gets to me, I make a beeline for the nearest market or the fridge, where I pick out a cucumber to serve as my personal refrigeration unit. It works, and best of all, it’s good for the environment and our skin!

This summer, I passed this old family custom on to my own son. In doing so, I thought it might be beneficial to others to learn of such an easy way to find immediate relief from the heat. I hope this old cucumber end on the forehead trick works as well for you as it does for us. If nothing else, it will put a smile on your face and make the day’s heat a bit more bearable. But, trust me, it really does work. Give it a try...

Greeks are famous for wearing flora of all kinds. From the laurel wreaths that crowned ancient Olympic victors, to the basil sprig my father tucks behind his ear, we wear our plants and eat them too. Try our cucumber-on-the-forehead trick and beat the heat this summer!

P.S. I’ll explain the significance of the basil sprig behind the ear some other time. :-)

Stay Cool,

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.




7 comments:

Stamatia said...

I remember my Yiayia teaching me that trick when she and my Papou came to visit us in Canada when I was six, even though we didn't speak the same language. Although I think she had me put a strip of cucumber peel on my forehead, rather than an end. I'd forgotten all about it! Thanks!

Maria Bell said...

Thanks for reminding me. Na zisis Ellada.

Rebecca from Chow and Chatter said...

oh thats so sweet :-) will do it with my toddler, I made your milk pie and am mentioning it in my next post :-)

Rebecca

xsclean said...

Πολύ ωραιές οι συνταγες σας..... σημείωσα μερικες και θα τις δοκιμάσω!

Random Mama said...

Is the basil to keep away the mosquitoes? :)

MulberryPomegranate said...

Lovely post, such a gorgeous story Sam.

Michael Shepherd said...

Yes, we learn a lot from those who live close to nature.
Thanks for your well written post.