Stirring up memories
August 18, 2004
I’ve never set foot in Greece. Never climbed over the rocky ruins of the
Acropolis, never gazed into the legendary wine-dark sea under a star drenched
sky, never nibbled a stuffed grape leaf under a sun dappled arbor.
I hope someday I will.
I’ve dreamed about since I first studied the Greek myths when I was in
the eighth grade. I loved all the
stories, the Gods and Goddesses up on Mount Olympus and wandering around
playing havoc in the lives of mortals or rewarding them them as they did the
old couple, Baucis and Philemon, who offered a feast to wandering tramps
(naturally gods in disguise). One of the
dishes Baucis whipped up had lots of olives.
But then so many Greek dishes do have olives—they are a
favorite of Greeks—ancient and modern.
In fact, in the legendary day, it was often a crime to cut down an olive
tree. And Athene, my favorite goddess, she of wisdom
and war, but also of weaving and the arts brought the first olive tree to her
I may not have been to Greece, but I’m certainly thinking
about it this week—as is most of the world as we hit the remote and tune in the
Olympics. You are bound to have heard
that the first Olympics took place in 776 and the early competitions had very
few events, foot races and wrestling among them. One of the earliest Olympians we know of was
Milo of Croton who built his strength by lifting his pet calf every morning. As the calf grew bigger, Milo
Today’s Olympics, back in Athens for the first time since 1896
twenty-eight sports and more than 10,000 competitors. This very day, for example, you can kick back
and watch women’s beach volleyball, or women’s basketball along with track and
field events. Not so in ancient Greece.
Women could not compete. Young women were permitted to attend the
festivities and competitions, and they could compete in their own games—the
Hera games. Married women could not
compete with the young women nor could they even attend the men’s game. The penalty, should they sneak in was death
by being tossed off a mountain side.
Think I’d stay home and bake baklava. I wonder—if the ancient Greeks had had
television—could the women have watched?
One woman didn’t pay a bit of attention to those silly
rules. Kallipateira came from a family
of male Olympic champions. She wanted
her son (some stories say sons) to excel and be a champion, but they had no
father to train him. He died when the
lad was a baby. So, Kallipateira trained
him as a boxer herself. When the day
came for him to compete, she could not bear to stay home and miss the
action. She tied up her hair, dressed in
her husband’s clothing and marched into the arena as his trainer. All was well.
The boy won his event. In her joy
she ran out to embrace him. Her clothing
snagged on the gate, her hair tumbled down.
She escaped the dreadful penalty because of her family’s
prestige as Olympic champions, and her memory lives in history. She may not have been an Olympic champion,
but she is most surely an Olympic heroine.
And she would probably be delighted to learn that in the
2004 Olympics held in her home town of Olympics
that women, for the first time in Olympic history—ancient or modern—will be
competing in that most classic of Olympic sports—wrestling.
Everyone, men and women, boys and girls, can catch it on
For our family watching pleasure I’m going to whip up some
cool Greek treats!
Baucis’s bean and olive salad
1 cup white lima beans
1/4 cup chopped pimentos
1/2 cup pitted and sliced
1/2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, diced
juice of 1/2 lemon
Rinse and drain the beans.
Add the pimento, olives, scallions and cucumber. Sprinkle with lemon juice, then toss with
oil. Served chilled on toasted pita
chips or crackers.
This may not be the authentic food of the gods, but it’s
mighty good on a hot summer afternoon.
(fit for a goddess)
1 cup fresh orange juice
3 medium oranges, peeled and
(or substitute 4 clementines
1 8-ounce can undrained
1/2 cup halved seedless red
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans or
Combine the orange juice, orange sections, pineapple and
grapes in a glass serving bowl.
Refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 2 hours. Gently stir in the coconut and nuts before
serving. Serve in chilled goblets.
`ou’ll have to turn the oven
on to make this Greek classic, but it’s worth it. I’ve made it for years at Christmas time,and
it’s always a delight. This recipe is
simpler than the classic one that builds up one layer of filo at a time. Once they’re baked, you can’t tell the
difference. Filo dough is available in
the freezer section at the supermarket.
1 pakage filo
12 ounces unsalted, sweet
2 tablespoons Crisco
1 pound finely chopped or
1 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Blend walnuts, sugar and cinnamon together. Cut filo to fit a 9x13x2 inch pan. Butter the pan well. Put 1/3 of the filo into the pan for the
first layer. Cover the dough with 1/2 of
the nut mixture. Add another 1/3 of the
filo and top with the remaining nut mixture.
Place the rest of the filo on top.
Cut into diamond shapes and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15
minutes. Melt the butter and Crisco
together; it should be boiling but not brown.
Pour over the baklava and cover loosely with foil. Reduce the oven to 225 degrees and bake for 1
hour and 15 minutes. Remove the foil and
pour the warm syrup over the hot baklava.
Let cool. To store, wrap tightly
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Bring the sugar and water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer
for 25 minutes, then add the lemon juice.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network