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)

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Taste of the Past: Pastirma

A large number of the refugees from the 1922 Greek - Turkish population exchange were Karamanlides, Cappadocian Greeks who only spoke the Turkish language but wrote it in Greek characters. They left what had be their home for thousands of years and were  relocated into the Northern  Greece. The resettlement was very hard for them as they had different traditions and they didn't understand the Greek language. Most of refugees saw a huge drop in their standard of living. However, Karamanlides brought with them the art of pastirma, hence a serious income for some families came from its production and sale. 

Pastirma or basturma (Gr. pastourmas), the wind-dried meat has been made in Anatolia for hundreds of years. Apoktin, the Byzantine air -dried salted meat, was one of its forerunners. Apoktin  could come from various meats, including pig, goat, wild goat, sheep, billy goat, even fish or cuttlefish but pastourmas comes mainly from beef or camel meat. In a culture that rarely eats beef pastirma is an exception. 

We are introduced to the word pastirma no earlier than 1624 (Narh Defteri). 38 years later the pastirma from a  pregnant cow's tender meat was counted among the luxuries of Sultan's banquets. (Baudier, 1662, p. 65)  

As Patric Leigh Fermor writes, a Greek refugee tavern- keeper from Iconium described how his pastourma was made "Υου get a camel or an ox, but a camel's best', he said with elliptic urgency, 'then you put it in an olive press, and you tighten it up till ecery drop of moisture has been squeezed out. Every  drop! Then cut it up in strips and salt it, then lay it in the sun for a month or two - best of all, in the branches of a tree, so that the wind cures it as well - but in a cage, of course, so the crows can't get at it.' Then it is taken down and embedded in a paste of poached garlic and the hottest paprika you can find on the market, reinforced by whatever spices of the Orient are handy. When this has again been dried to a hard crust, it has the consistency of wood: it keeps for years. Thin slices, cut off with a razor-sharp knife, are normally eten raw; occasionally it is cooked, when the aroma, aways unmanning to the uninitiated, becomes explosive. The taste is terrific and marvellous, but anathema to many because not only is the ordinary smell of garlic squared or cubed in strenght- breath emerges with the violence of a blowlamp- but a baleful redolence of great range and power surfaces at every pore; people reel backwards and leave an empty ring around dinner, as though one were whirling in incendiary parabolas. (The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos) 

The layer of tsemeni is an innovation of the past 150 years, however the simply salted pastourma (without tsemeni) is still found, under the name Roumeli pastirmasi. 

Recently, Phanis Theodoropoulos, owner of the famous pastourma and soutzouki charcuterie 'Arapian'  and Paraskevas Sarimpoyias, a descendant of a Karamanli family and owner of 'Sary' company (a fourth generation workshop for the production of cold cuts based in Drama)  joined forces to open 'Karamanlidika of Phanis',  a charcuterie & fromagerie with a smattering of tables. 

Pastirma with bulgur

Here you can find a great selection of aged cheese, cold-cuts, gourmet products and a small menu of some of the most characteristic Karamanlidika dishes. The menu is based on suggestions made by Paraskevas Sarimpoyias and Stella Spanou, a chef, cookbook author and photographer from Thrace. Small menu, great taste!

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