Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A snake on your pie

Greek Christmas breads and New Year pies have often  impressive decorations such as serpentine figures made of dough. The serpent is  a survival of the doctrine for the oikouros ofis*, the ancient home-protecting serpent, which believed to be an incarnation of Erechtheus
Of course, not only Erechtheus was depicted as a snake but also Ζeus Ktesios (the Acquirer), the protector of the storehouse, was represented as such. The Minoan snake-goddess was a house goddess too.  
The cult of the house snake still survives in parts of  Greece. Among farmers, we find the snake as a spirit of the earth, a spirit who possesses life-giving powers and ensues health and good fortune.  

New Year Pie. Bread Museum, Amfikleia

So, don't forget to decorate your New Year pie with a dough- snake. 
May it bring you health, happiness and prosperity. 

Oikouros: the word is a compound of oikos= “house” and ouros = “a watcher”.
Ofis: snake

You might also be interested in: Vasilopita, the New Year Pie
                                                   Happy New Year Bread

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Byzantine dreams and white bread.

....Getting or eating or merely seeing a loaf of white bread signifies harshness and strife for any dreamer.
....If someone dreams of eating  white bread he will get profit sufficient for life's sustenance. But if the bread is hot, he will fall ill
(Dreambooks in Byzantium: Six Oneirocritica in Translation, with Commentary and Introduction, Steven M. Oberhelman,  p. 114,198, 2008)

Dreambooks are one of the oldest forms of practical literature. Of course, same dreams may not get the same interpretation in different books.  

Beside its meaning in the dreams, white bread  was considered the best in quality  among the Byzantines. 
Highly milled white bread is less nutritious than wholemeal  bread, but this was not understood either in Byzantium or in antiquity. Actually it was not understood until few decades ago. Throughout history white bread has been preferred to wholemeal bread because there are clear links between it and social prestige. The best-quality white bread was consumed by well -fed wealthy people and affluent bakers.

The compiler of  De Cibis, an early Byzantine Greek book of foods,  give us directions for  how to make good white bread:   

''White Bread made from wheat is the best and most nutritious of all foods. Particularly if white, with a moderate use of yeast and salt, the dough kneaded midway between dryness and rawness, and with a little anise, fennel seed and mastic, it is very fine indeed. One with a hot constitution should include sesame in the dough. If wishing to add more moistness to the bread, knead in some almond oil.''*

Τhe fine white bread is the best because of the superior quality of wheat, the eleventh-century physician Simeon Seth says. The reason is the raw grain can scarcely be broken by the teeth.** 

*Dalby, Andrew, Flavours of Byzantium, 2003.
**Syntagma de alimentorum facultatibus (On the properties of foods)

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