Some time ago, I wrote regular articles for kythera-family.net under the title of DOLMADES FOR LUNCH
The following are some of those articles… I hope you enjoy them.
It was just a little cardboard star. It fell out of a box when I was putting away the Christmas decorations. Nothing too remarkable, silver one side, plain cardboard the other, or at least it was, until my children wrote xxx’s and ooo’s for kisses and hugs on the back of it.
You see, that was for the Christmas Angel to take back to baby Jesus for his birthday. I had told them the story of Jesus and that we celebrated His birthday on Christmas Day. They were so upset that we didn’t have a birthday cake and presents for Jesus. So they decided that they would send him hugs and kisses instead and of course, if we had an angel at the top of the tree, then that angel would certainly know Jesus. So ever after, that little star has been near the Christmas angel, even though the angel is worn and now a large star tops the Christmas tree. The little star wasn’t used this year as we had no room for a tree this time.
I began to remember Christmases past… back when I was a child. Back on my grandparent’s verandah. No matter how many people were there, there always seemed to be room. I recall all the gifts from the various families being put into baskets or a large tea chest, well labelled, so that when my Papauli handed out the gifts, it was easy to tell which was for whom. There were no decorations as we have now, nothing like the Christmas Wonderland I try to create normally. Instead, I remember the smell of gum leaves from the branches tied to the verandah posts. I recall the tantalising promises of roast chicken coming from the kitchen, the allure of roast vegetables, hot custard and Christmas pudding…and, what seemed to me, a giant Christmas fruit cake beckoning on the sideboard. There were piles of nuts and dried fruits, stone fruits and of course, boxes and plates of kourabiethes, baklava and liqueur figs.
We would gather in the morning, each finding a place to sit and then the excitement would be almost unbearable for us children. Papauli would start calling out the names…maybe one of my cousins, or a friend, or an Aunt, perhaps an Uncle… then, unbelievably, Crissouli… I’d hold my breath, but it’s not mine… my cousin. More names, then Theo… but not my brother, rather our grandfather… then Crissouli… maybe, maybe… it’s small, with a ribbon… is it for me? He hands it to my grandmother… she grins and then it comes to me… I can hardly open it. It seems everyone is waiting, and looking. The paper is soft and tears easily… I’m not yet five and I drop the small box that is held within. My older cousin lets out a deep sigh. I pick it up and open it quickly. Then I see the most beautiful bluebird necklace… my cousin is smiling… I can’t believe it. She has a bracelet just like it and I’ve often admired it. Then I see the card… it’s from my cousin. I’ve completely forgotten to listen for the other names and my grandfather is standing, smiling at me, with a few things in his hand…”for you, little one”. That Christmas I also got a pocket dictionary, which I still have and use, from my cousin’s sister, and a lovely doll dressed in red and white gingham for me by my Aunt. I wish my memory was better, as I can’t recall what my grandparents gave to me… how I wish I could, as that was to be the last Christmas with my much loved grandfather. He passed away the next year.
When my Dad was young, Christmases were the same in some ways… a large gathering of family and friends, on the very same verandah. My grandparents were the hub of a growing Greek community from nearby towns, called Auntie and Uncle by many, as a sign of respect for the elders of the community. They welcomed all with open arms. Presents then were mainly clothing, always needed in a large family of nine children, and sometimes a wooden toy made by my grandfather. Dad recalls getting the old fashioned Christmas stockings a few times… that is the ones with a cardboard backing and a Santa mask on top, with little trinkets in them, sometimes lollies, and covered with red netting, similar to onion bags. I asked him what he remembered getting in them… he recalls what we called blowouts… a whistle with a tube of paper attached, that you blew out and it recoiled. Then they had a feather attached to the end. There would always be a small toy, maybe a plastic car or a tiny baby doll, a colouring book and either crayons or pencils. The lollies were usually little musks or hard ‘candy’. There were metal clickers in some stockings.
Dad’s memories are that the emphasis was on gathering around the kitchen table, or on the verandah with family and friends, and the food and the company being the main attraction of the day. There were no large Santa sacks put out, but a pillowcase at the end of the bed. Somewhere or other, he learnt to make Chinese lanterns out of Christmas cards as he and Mum taught us to do when we were children. I also asked him what he would wish for at Christmas… did he ask for anything. He smiled and said “You didn’t ask, ever, you were always happy with whatever you got.”
Next year, I will find a place to put a Christmas tree, no matter how crowded our place is, and pride of place will be given to that little silver star, as a reminder.
Crissouli (c) 2007
Recently I was tidying up some old cupboards and came across a very tattered, thinly covered pink rabbit.Tears overwhelmed me, and I sat there, cuddling that rabbit from long ago, while memories flooded back.
That well worn rabbit was my companion for so many years… she knew all my childhood secrets, heard all my frustrations, consoled me when I was sad, rejoiced with me when I was happy. I don’t know who gave me my dear friend, I just know that as a little girl, I loved her so.
This made me wonder about the toys, if any, that my Kytherian grandparents had. Did they do as my parents mostly did, making their own, with whatever was available? Life was so different then, and both were from larger families – was there little time for play, so little need for toys? I recall my aunt saying that she never had a doll, but she did have a wooden dolly peg, wrapped in cloth, that she carried around in her pocket. No hula hoops and spinning tops for them. No china dolls, nor fancy trikes.
I decided to research the toys that may have been available to my grandparents, other than the sticks or pebbles that all children have imagined into leagues of soldiers or tiny dolls.
Dolls have been discovered in the ruins of Ancient Greece that were made of clay and some of wax… bows and arrows and yo-yos have survived for centuries. According to stories, the time of abandoning one’s toys was around fourteen years old, the then coming of age. Often on the eve of their wedding, girls would present their toys as a temple offering, a symbol of leaving behind their childhood.
Perhaps the forerunner of the Rubix Cube was around as early as the third century BC, when the first mechanical puzzle appeared in Greece.This game consisted of 14 parts that formed a square and could be reassembled into different shapes. And what inspired Heron from Alexandria to come up with the first steam engine?
It was in the first century BC that he invented the “aeolipile”, meaning “wind ball”. This was actually a toy he designed.“The steam was supplied by a sealed pot filled with water and placed over a fire.Two tubes came up from the pot, letting the steam flow into a spherical ball of metal.The metallic sphere had two curved outlet tubes, which
vented steam. As the steam went through the series of tubes, the metal sphere rotated. The aeolipile is the first known device to transform steam power into rotary motion.The Greeks never used this remarkable device for anything but a novelty.” Once again the Greeks led the way. It helped no doubt that Heron was a geometer and engineer.
As with everything else, as civilisation changed, so did toys and the materials they were made of. I remember my mother talking about a little rag doll, the only doll she ever had. My father recalls playing with jacks made of knuckle bones, also marbles – no manufactured toys. He and his brothers did make billy carts, with whatever scraps they could find, complete with old wheels scrounged from the local tip, or dump. It was his father who taught him to polish the knuckles to make them easier to flip, just as he had done as a boy on Kythera.
As I see the enormous number of toys that my grandchildren have – and yes, I did give them many of them – I cannot help but wonder how they would feel about no electronic toys and no, or very few, soft toys.
Children don’t really change. If their imagination was fostered and nurtured as ours certainly was, I’m sure they would have been very happy playing with my dress- up box, which I kept under the tank-stand. Scraps of fabric, old clothes, feathers taken from uncomplaining hens, broken beads – anything and everything that took my eye became the adornment of princesses. Or creating fairy wings or the clothes of a pirate on the high seas… all of these wonderful items, stirred in with a good dollop of imagination and a small girl could be transported wherever she dreamed.
For my grandchildren, it is my large collection of buttons, all sizes, colours, shapes, made of everything imaginable, that has kept them occupied for years, along with their craft box. This I’ve filled with the usual pencils, paints, crayons, glue, scissors and so on, but also with scraps of fabric, waste paper, old cards and lots of different textured items. Like children gone before, foster the imagination and develop the child.
Crissouli ©2007 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dolls, mechanical toys/puzzles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toy
Steam engine: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/inventors/1300.shtml
Growing up in a small, country, seaside town in NSW, Australia, was a wonderful experience.
We, my younger brother and I, were well aware that we were a bit different. After all, didn’t we have Greek grandparents, an Australian born, Greek father, and an Australian-Irish mother?
We went through various stages of total acceptance , and others where we were constantly asked simple questions, such as what did we eat…After being expected to have dolmades for lunch, (maybe followed by ouzo?), we decided that we may as well get some benefit from our difference. Remember that this was a small town in the 1950’s…
So the two of us decided on a money making venture. After all, if our friends were always so full of questions, why shouldn’t we give them some answers? We talked about it at length and eventually the day came. We had told everyone that we would put on a Greek concert for them. The fact that we had little knowledge of Greek or Greek dancing wasn’t going to stop us, after all, neither did anyone else.
Of course, we weren’t going to do it for free. A penny for just songs and threepence if they wanted song and dance. Of course, everyone wanted both. Our dreams of financial independence grew bigger by the day.
We organised for someone else to collect the money for us, after all, we were busy getting ready. This friend was paid in baklava that our Nona had made, for us.
Lunch time saw groups of children all gathering on one of the side verandahs of our old wooden school; the side furtherest from the headmaster’s room, of course. Let the concert begin. You would never have seen anything like it…or for that matter, heard such interesting songs…there never got to be a repeat performance. Not because no one liked it, but because so many did. They went home and asked their parents for money, pity one of them was the headmaster’s daughter! Oh, well, our fame was short lived, but the memory lingers on..
Crissouli (c) 2006
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
We were talking about old style jaffle irons.. and that led to this..
” Bet that tasted better as well! I still miss the rice puddings my Mum used to make in the bread oven of our black-leaded fireplace…”
In our house, that was the epitome of slow cooking… when the oven was finished churning out those magical breads, scones, cakes or roasts, then the baked bread and butter puddings, and the rice puddings, would go in, so as not to waste the heat. Rice puddings, creamy and moist, fragrant with cinnamon, or sometimes a little marmalade and a sprinkle of nutmeg… and whomever set the table without complaint, got the skin off the top… remember that… and remember setting the table for EVERY meal?
It was also when the apples went in to soften for apple pie on the ‘next bake’ if they lasted that long… Mum would slice some for the pies and bake some whole, the core scooped out and a knob of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon in the centre… we kids would stand before the stove, drawing in as much of the fragrance as we could, with great deep sighs, till Mum laughed and said we had just drawn all the flavour through our noses. We had little idea of what flavour meant I guess, as there were cries of ”yuukkk!!” and we would race outside and wash our noses under the tap from the tank…
As well as using the jaffle iron, I loved our toaster, a large, long handled, three pronged fork that Dad had made, which we would hold over the fire… and try not to burn the bread, or, worse still, drop it…
Lots of lovely memories…
© Crissouli 2011