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Stirring up memories


Delighting Kallipateria
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 own city—Athens.

          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 got stronger.

          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.  Everyone knew.

          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 the television.

          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 Greek olives

1/2  scallions, thinly sliced

1 small cucumber, diced

juice of 1/2 lemon

olive oil

          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.

Tantalizing ambrosia

(fit for a goddess)

1 cup fresh orange juice

3 medium oranges, peeled and sectioned

(or substitute 4 clementines or tangerines)

1 8-ounce can undrained pineapple chunks

1/2 cup halved seedless red grapes

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

          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.

Basic baklava

1 pakage filo

12 ounces unsalted, sweet butter

2 tablespoons Crisco

1 pound finely chopped or ground walnuts

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 in foil.


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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