Saturday, July 30, 2011
GRANDMA DON'T MAKE MARMALADE
Round, plump, fragrant - begging to be squeezed and prodded... the market stalls beckon. I'm taken back.
The stove has been burning for some time. There's a kettle to the side, ever ready and bubbling. It will be needed often today, for there are many hours to go.
Buckets and boxes of plump red tomatoes await. Knives are sharpened, cutting boards scrubbed. The jars and bottles are sterilized, onions are peeled, as is the garlic. Small, white earthenware dishes hold the spices and all is ready - it's salsa day. My Aunt and my Grandmother work as a well organized team - no directions needed. They've done this many times before.
I watch - waiting and learning. My job is to clear up after them, though I'm too small to go near the knives. Today, my Aunt has given me my favourite job. I get to strip the leaves from the basil that we picked fresh, earlier this morning. I love the clean fragrance that it allows to linger on my fingers. My Grandmother uses the same recipe that she and her mother used when she was a young girl on Kythera, passed from mother to daughter for generations. I can't help but wonder if each cook has added her own special touch or whether the recipe has actually changed over the years, for it remains unwritten, "kept in the heart" as my Aunt would say. My Grandmother doesn't talk as much about Kythera as my Grandfather did, but there's something about the routine of preparing food that encourages her to share. I'm like a little sponge, soaking up every word.
I start to ask questions, I always have questions, but my Aunt shakes her head slightly, as if to say "just let her talk". My Grandmother's broken English fascinates me and I hang on every word as it follows it's own rhythm. She doesn't say much, just how important it is to use the freshest of ingredients. She is chopping and cutting, "just so, Crissouli" and every piece is the same size as the last. She tells us that her mother would have all pieces the same, so that the salsa would cook evenly. She says something in Greek which I don't understand and she and my Aunt laugh. No one explains, but I don't mind, for I know they are happy. The rhythm of the cutting occupies them both now, so much to do, and they are all but silent, just the continual soft chop of the knives against the boards and the kettle, bubbling and beckoning as it awaits it's call.
The kitchen is large, far larger than ours, but there has been a big family growing up here, and they needed the room. It's spring time and a gentle breeze is playing with the white lace curtain, daring it to come out the window to play. The room is filled with all the promise of great meals ahead. As I watch the white lace, it reminds me of the copious amounts of icing sugar that the kourabiethes are drenched with. I can't decide whether that's my favourite cooking day, baking so many varieties of biscuits or whether I like it best when my Grandmother bakes baklava. To this day, my favourite spice is cinnamon... I use it in so many dishes. There was no bought pastry, my Grandmother made her own. I was allowed to help crush the nuts and sometimes to brush melted butter over the pastry sheets, urged to work quickly so the pastry wouldn't dry out. The sheets we weren't using were kept moist under a damp towel, " not too damp, just so " The crowning glory as it were, was to listen carefully as the hot syrup was poured over the crisp pastry... if you were very quiet, you could hear a gentle crackle. That was the sign of a good baklava. I could barely wait for it to cool.
My Grandmother and my Aunts, also my Mother, made almost everything themselves, as many others did. There were shelves laden with homemade sauces, and pickles and chutneys. Olives were resting in brine and fruit was in tall jars, carefully sealed and looking so inviting. But it was the jams that always caught my eye, jars and jars of so many varieties, nearly all of the fruit was home grown, or from a relative's or friend's garden. Each of the jars proudly displayed their contents, the fruit within looked as if had been carefully arranged, piece by piece. There were silky smooth jams, but the most majestic were always the marmalades. Some had whole slices pressed up against the sides of the jars. Others had the peel in fine, long strips. They had all been cooked "just so", so the colours remained vibrant and tempting.
As I wandered between the rows of heavily laden market stalls, revelling in the pleasure of choosing from the wonderful displays of fresh produce, my eye is taken by a snowy white cloth, stacked with jars of jams. It's a long time since I made jams...I'm easily tempted, as these days,
"Grandma don't make marmalade".
Crissouli (c) 2007