olive tree and olives

the minoans

The cultivation of olive tree in Greece, is a story that still flourishes after at least 5.000 years.​ There are findings proving that the olive tree has been well cultivated in Crete since at least 3.000 BC (early Minoan period). During an excavation in the area of Zakros (Eastern Crete), Olives were found in a water tank which were still holding part of their flesh incredibly well, due to the good storage conditions. There are various pieces of art together with fragments of frescoes found in the palace of Knossos and other areas of Crete, at which the olive tree is the main theme.

The 'Sacred Grove and Dance', found in Knossos Palace

classical antiquity and mythology

There are too many references in the Ancient Greek literature concerning the ‘sacred olive tree’ which was highly linked to the people’s health, cultural and religious activities. The olive tree was also a symbol of wisdom, strength and peace. The winners of the ancient Olympic Games were crowned with an olive wreath, the well-known ‘kotinos’.

Nike, the Goddess of Victory, crowning an Olympic Winner

A well-known ancient myth, is the rivalry between Goddess Athena (Goddess of wisdom and strategy) and God Poseidon (God of the sea) about who would name and protect the city of Athens. Both Gods went to the sacred rock of the Acropolis, with all Gods of Olympus being present and witnesses. The winner would be the one who would have offered to the city of Athens the most valuable gift. Poseidon first stood in the middle of the rock and nailed it hard with his trident until sea water gushed out forming a lake. Then, Athena gently touched her spear on the ground until an olive tree appeared which immediately grew and fructified. This was the first olive tree grown in the whole country and everybody appreciated its sacred value. Therefore, the city of ‘Athens’ was named after the goddess Athena and the olive tree became an element of reference for the city.

A reconstruction of Parthenon's West Pediment, which depicts Athena and Poseidon fighting over the rule of Athens

 

olive oil

ancient era

The cultivation of olive tree in Greece, is a story that still flourishes after at least 5.000 years.​ There are findings proving that the olive tree has been well cultivated in Crete since at least 3.000 BC (early Minoan period). During an excavation in the area of Zakros (Eastern Crete), Olives were found in a water tank which were still holding part of their flesh incredibly well, due to the good storage conditions. There are various pieces of art together with fragments of frescoes found in the palace of Knossos and other areas of Crete, at which the olive tree is the main theme.

Jars for food and olive oil storage, found in the basement of Knossos Palace

Hippocrates, ancient Greek physician (460-370 BC)

The ancient Greeks owe a lot to olive oil as it played a fundamental role in the edge of their civilization and their wealth. The uses of olive oil were numerous in the ancient times. As an element of their diet, Olive Oil was the choice of the richest people since its nutritional value had been since then highly reputed. In addition, it was used as a natural cosmetic to smear their bodies due to its cosmetic and therapeutic properties in relation to skin diseases. Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician of the classic ancient times (460 B.C. – 370 B.C.), makes an extensive reference to olive oil as a multi-purpose medicine.

nutritional value

The nutritional value of olive oil has been confirmed several times in past, further to studies that were mainly focused to the Mediterranean model of diet, as the one that is possibly the healthiest among other dietary models worldwide. It has been proved, that the consumption of olive oil is related with relatively low rates of cardiovascular diseases and a lower risk of cancer. A diet model that includes a daily consumption of 30-60 grams of olive oil per day, reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks by almost 30 %, compared with the average rates in vulnerable groups of people.
The excellence of Olive Oil among other fatty foods, is mainly related with its high content of good “unsaturated’’ against the bad “saturated” fatty acids in combination with its high content of Vitamin E and other antioxidants such as Polyphenols. Because of all above, it is believed that Olive Oil prevents many diseases to such an extent that it is considered nowadays as a Functional Food.

 

honey

Honey is the first sweetener people ever used. It was added to their foods and beverages and they still do so nowadays. Greece is where the art of beekeeping (apiculture) started in early prehistoric times. A honeybees pendant was discovered in the Necropolis of the Minoan Palace of Malia in Crete, and is thought to date to 1.800 B.C. The pendant itself is made from gold and comprises two bees with their bodies curved towards each other and their wings outstretched, clasping a honeycomb into which they are placing a small drop of honey.

Gold Minoan pendant depicting two bees clutching a honeycomb (1800-1700 BC)

Bees also played a central role in Minoan and Mycenaean daily life. Beekeeping was a Minoan craft, which produced the fermented honey drink mead, older even than wine. The 'Queen Bee' was also the symbol of the Minoan-Mycenaean goddess Potnia, meaning 'mistress', who was also referred to as 'The Pure Mother Bee'. Her priestesses, were given the name Melissa, meaning 'bee'.

Honey history and use in ancient Greece is really impressive. It is often referred as the "nectar of the Gods", or alternatively known as "Ambrosia". Also, the Greek myth tells us that Zeus, was raised on honey. Bees were also called 'Birds of the Muses' because of their connection to the Muses, who were first nymphs of inspiring springs and then goddesses of poetry, arts and science.

Another myth, tells us that Aristaeus, the son of Apollo and the nymph Cyrene, is the one who invited people in the art of beekeeping.

nutritional value

Honey bee was a sacred symbol of Artemis and an important design on Ephesian coins for almost 6 centuries. As the owl was the emblem of the Goddess Athena in Athens, so the bee was the emblem of the Goddess Artemis at Ephesus.

Honey is a healthy natural sweetener. Pure honey offers many nutritional benefits without chemicals that can be found in other forms of sweeteners. A 2001 University of Memphis study reported that raw honey is an effective carbohydrate for boosting endurance during exercise.

Each tablespoon of raw honey contains 64 calories and is fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free. Pure honey is high in carbohydrates. Each tablespoon contains 17 grams of carbohydrates, 16 of which are sugars. Raw honey is also rich in vitamins and minerals. Vitamin B6, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid are common vitamins found in raw honey. Calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc are abundant minerals in raw honey. Raw honey also contains antioxidants, present in the form of polyphenols, which help fight off free radicals that contribute to many serious diseases.

Since ancient times, honey has been used both as a food and a source of medicinal therapy. The Greek Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, wrote, “Honey and pollen cause warmth, clean sores and ulcers, soften hard ulcers of lips, heal carbuncles and running sores”. Aristotle, philosopher and student of Socrates, believed that honey prolonged life. Honey therapy was also offered at the most famed health spa in ancient times, the Asklepieion.

nowadays

Greece has more bee hives ‘per acre’ than any other country in Europe. Many Greek beekeepers harvest by hand using the ancient traditional methods from late spring until late autumn. The honey is extracted cold and is unfiltered to ensure the many health beneficial properties of the nectar.

Possibly, the best Greek honey nowadays comes from thyme (in Greek 'thymari') and it is by far the most favorite for honey connoisseurs. The Pure Cretan Thyme Honey is considered to be one of the finest honeys in the world.  Earth scientists and botanists consider Crete as an island with the richest flora in the Mediterranean basin. The unlimited summer sun, the biodiversity of the Cretan landscape, plus the rich variety of the Cretan flora which includes over 130 endemic species, are factors that contribute to an excellent honey!

You may see raw, pure Greek unprocessed honey 'crystallise' (becomes solid). This is natural with raw unfiltered honey. Simply place the jar in a bowl of warm water and the crystals will melt into the golden liquid you associate with honey.

And yes, the following fact is true: One teaspoon of honey is worth of 12 bees' lifetime work...

 

herbs and spices

Cretan herbs and Spices are part of the Island’s tradition, diet and history. Crete has one of the richest and most interesting ecosystems in Europe. There are about 130 species of wild flowers and herbs exclusively grown in Crete, such as 'Dittany' and 'Malotira' (mountain tea). In Crete today, there are plenty of herbs and spices that are well known and reputed since antiquity as medicinal plants.

There are various references in ancient Greek texts, about Herbs and their therapeutic properties.

Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC) is considered to be the father of Herbal Medicine, since he was the first to formulate and rationalize a system of medicine based upon the sciences of observation and classification.

Hippocrates says:

'If people lived and eat properly there would be no disease'

'Let your food be your medicine and your medicine your food'

'It is better to know what person the disease has, rather than what disease the person has'

Pedanius Dioscorides (40 – 90 AD), a Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, and author, wrote his 5-volume encyclopedia about herbal medicine, titled 'De Materia Medica' which became a medical reference guide till the late middle ages, while still remains a valuable reference text.

nowadays

High quality Cretan Herbs still grow on the mountains of Crete or in coastal and farming areas. They shall be meticulously collected and dried under natural conditions, before packed under modern quality standards, without any chemical or other treatment.

They can be used either as spices for flavoring foods (Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary), or as fragrant and tasty tea Herbs. Don’t forget that the exquisite taste of many Greek dishes is owing to the use of aromatic herbs and spices.

an introduction to major cretan herbs and spices

Dittany (Greek: Diktamos) or 'Origanum dictamnus', is one of the best-known ancient mountain Cretan herbs, which cannot grow anywhere else in the world. It is reputed as antioxidant and digestive, with antimicrobial action, fighting gastrointestinal disorders, while producing a unique, pleasant flavour.

Cretan Mountain Tea (Greek: Malotira) or 'Sideritis syriaca', is also an endemic Herb of Crete, known at least since the age of Romans (1st Century AD). It is reputed by many to be generally good in combating colds and flu, respiratory problems, aiding digestion and boosting the immune system. It is also anti-oxidant and diuretic.

Sage (Greek: Faskomilia) or 'Salvia fruticosa', was considered a sacred herb in antiquity. Its name, Salvia, comes from the Latin 'salvare', to salvage, save. Sage has a peppery pleasant flavor. It is reputed for strengthening lungs and preventing coughs while relieving from infections and inflammations.

Chamomile or 'Matricaria chamomilla', is grown and used in Crete since Minoan times. Its name is derived from the Greek words for 'ground' and 'apple'. It is reputed for its many therapeutic properties ranging from headache cure, sleep aid, treating menstrual and gastrointestinal disorders.

Lemon verbena (Greek: Louisa) or 'Aloysia citrodora', is a native of Latin America, but it is also cultivated in Mediterranean climates. It is reputed by many for its aromatic, bactericidal, antiseptic, and anti-spasmodic properties. It also boosts the health of the nervous system, and fights fever and cold symptoms.

Rosemary (Greek: Dentrolivano or Arismari) or 'Rosmarinus officinalis', is a fragrant evergreen herb native to the Mediterranean. It is a good source of iron, calcium, and vitamin B6 and it is reputed as a good antioxidant that improves memory, therefore it has been used in past as a symbol for remembrance. Rosemary is recommended for fish, meat and also vegetables, while it is perfectly combined with Olive Oil.

Cretan Oregano (Greek: Rigani) or 'Origanum onites', is one of the most fragrant species of oregano, giving an extremely intense flavour. Its name comes from the Greek words, ‘’oros’’ and ‘’ganos’’ which mean mountain and shine.It can be used for seasoning meat or fish (grilled or cooked), and it is perfect for raw salads and vegetables being a main ingredient in almost any Greek salad. Furthermore, it has a great concentration of vitamin C.

Wild Thyme (Greek: Thymari) or 'Thymus capitatus', is one of the oldest herbal remedies grown in Crete. For some, it defines the smell of Crete. It grows from sea level all the way up to 2000m. It is the most important flower for honey production and many consider thyme honey to be the best. Thyme is often used to flavour meats, soups and stews. It is often used also as a primary flavour with lamb, tomatoes and eggs. It energises a tired mind and revives the senses.

rice

 

Despite the fact that rice is something relatively new in Greek cuisine and culture and its cultivation in Greece started only a few decades ago, there are written references to it in various ancient works. Undoubtfully, the first Greek who got in touch with it, was Alexander the Great, during his expeditions to Asia. Philosopher Theophrastus (371 – 287 BC) made extensive reference to rice in his work ‘’ Enquiry into Plants’’ describing is as a food with salutary properties, especially for the stomach disorders. Also, the famous physicians Dioscorides and Galenos (1st and 2nd century AD), wrote a lot about rice’s therapeutic properties.

The cultivation of rice started in Greece during 19th century in limited quantities. At that times, it was still considered as a luxury healthy food. In the middle of 20th century, Greeks started to cultivate rice extensively, especially in river delta cultivation zones. It was then, that rice replaced wheat (bulgur or trahana), barley or dried corn as a main ingredient for various traditional Greek dishes.

Nowadays, rice is highly reputed in Greece and it is present in various home-made cooks, such the famous Stuffed vegetables and the Dolomades, pilafs, lemon soups, rice puddings and several others. It is also served in special occasions like weddings, especially in Crete where the famous and tasty wedding pilaf (Gamo-pilafo) is served. There are several cultivation areas in Greece with unique privileges in terms of quality rice cultivation. Messolonghi and some other northern areas close to rivers with ample water, are ideal for the production of top-quality rice varieties.

nutritional value

Rice is a carbohydrate and as such, it is a source of energy for the human body. It has been proved that its consumption is related with lower cholesterol levels, as part of a balanced diet. Beyond that, it is a gluten-free antioxidant and anti-inflammatory food, therefore it is ideal for people with gluten insensitivities and for those who want to reduce their oxidative or inflammatory load. Rice, especially the brown is rich in fiber and research has found that diets which are highest in fiber content are associated with the lowest risk of cancer development. Rice supports the immune system, due to its high content of the mineral magnesium and it promotes the health of the nervous system due to its content of various B vitamins. Finally, rice as a source of vegan protein, is an ideal food for vegans with supplementary protein needs.

pulses

 

Pulses have been known since antiquity, at least from the time of Xenophon (4th century BC), due to their ability to replenish exhausted soil. They were among the first domesticated crops that were introduced to Greece, while Pulses were found at several archaeological sites since the paleolithic period. Traditionally, pulses occupied a special place in peoples’ diet. Meat was not in their daily menu, unless they were born in a wealthy family. Being considered as the food of the poor, pulses were rarely found in a rich household.

Even in modern times, pulses and especially beans and lentils were essential to the Greek table. They constituted an easy, economical and nutritious way to feed body. Pulses were healthy, cheap, and in times of food shortage (wars etc.), they were sufficient to nourish a nation. Ironically, this turned out to be a health gain for poor people. And nowadays Pulses tend to be considered as superfoods, since they contain high quality protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals. They also constitute a healthy diet based on the triad: olive oil, wheat, and wine.

Although Greeks consume many different kinds of beans and pulses today, the oldest are no doubt the broad beans, the chickpeas and the lentils. However, what stands above all others, as an ambassador of the elegant simplicity of the Greek cooking, is the Greek giant bean, named "Gigantes" There are regions in Greece renowned for the cultivation of specific legumes of top-quality, while other parts of the country are known for specific pulse recipes. In parallel Chefs are rediscovering legumes today as a way to offer healthy menu items but also as a way to play with the textures, colours, and flavours.

nutritional value

Pulses today are symbols of a healthy diet, and they occupy a significant place in the Mediterranean dietary model. They contain high percentages of proteiniron, and fiber. They do not contain fat and they are cholesterol free. They are significant sources of minerals, such as potassium, zinc, and magnesium and they are also rich in calcium, especially the chickpeas.

pasta

 

Despite common beliefs, Pasta has its origins in ancient Greece. Hephaestus, god of fire and volcanoes, according to mythology had created a tool which made ribbons of pasta. Beyond that, ancient Greeks used to prepare a dish named "Laganon", which was Pasta made of flour and water, cut into long strips. Even Latin writers, such as Cicero, Horace and Apicius, verify that this dish probably transferred to Italy from the first Greek settlers around the 8th century BC, and was renamed “Laganum” in Latin. This word is the etymological root of what the Italians call lasagna in modern times.

"Macaroni" also is a name that derives from Ancient Greece and more specifically from the Greek word "Makaria" (blessing). The Greeks used to prepare dried foodstuffs made of flour which were left together with oil and wine on the graves of the dead (the blessed). Still today, the term Makaria refers to the meal that is offered as funerary dish – the ‘’mercy meal’’ according to the Greek Orthodox tradition. Another well-known tradition for Greeks, is to prepare Christmas honey cookies called “Melomakarona” (Honey-macaroni), as a Christmas dessert.

So, the common belief that Marco Polo was the first European that brought back Macaroni, upon his return from China in the 13th century, has been already rejected by the scholars.

nowadays

Before the advent of refrigeration and before large supermarkets and big pasta factories entered the country, home-made pasta was always a necessary part of the Greek larder. Usually pasta was made by Greek mothers at the end of the summer and dried, ensuring there was plenty of food to feed large Greek families throughout the winter. It was a way to ensure that there was always something, easy to prepare and simple, to eat.

Today, each region has its favorite pasta and there are many different traditional Greek pastas, and ways to cook or serve them with meat, vegetables, pulses, cheese etc. Undoubtfully, one of the most common and famous Greek pasta is Hilopites - a Greek egg pasta, shaped in small squares.

Despite being hard for them to be found, there are still today some few factories hold on to the traditional way of making traditional, pure Pasta. This is how a wonderful, old, Greek tradition is kept alive.

coffee

 

Traditionally, Greek coffee is very famous in Greece, and this is not only due to its strong flavor and aroma, but also due to its historical and cultural background. There is an old - endless debate between Turkey and Greece, about what is the origin of this coffee style. However, the truth is that this is an Arabic coffee which first came from Yemen. From there in the 16th century the coffee was introduced to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, by an Ottoman governor, to become by then so popular in Turkey, Greece and some other countries. So, similarly to the Greek and Turkish coffee, we have Armenian coffee, Cypriot coffee, Serbian coffee, and Bosnian coffee. Greek coffee is served with grounds in the cup and often a demitasse cup. The grounds are allowed to settle as the coffee is slowly sipped.

We pour cold water into a coffee pot (briki). To measure the water needed for each cup, we use a demi-tasse cup. We add one heaping teaspoon of coffee and sugar according to our taste and we turn on the heat to medium. We stir the coffee well until it dissolves and after that, we don't stir again. When foam starts to rise as it boils and before reaching the top, we remove the pot from the heat and we serve.

© 2019 Terpsi Goods

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon