My neighbour Christa is a unique sort of person. She’s in her sixties, works full time in her own business, and still finds time to create a constant stream of delights in her tiny kitchen.
I knew she’d had a sore back recently, so yesterday I went over to her house to see if she needed anything. And instead of finding her with her feet up, of course I found her in the kitchen.
Her excuse? “Ah, but this is such a special weekend, I had to make something!”
Her kitchen table was spread with flour and dough and bowls of stuffing and trays of pasty parcels. What were they? They can’t be bourekia, I thought, it’s the wrong time of year for those and I know that Christa always follows traditions. Nor were they kolokotes (Cypriot pumpkin pies), or kaltsounia (Cretan pies) – even though the little pasty parcels had the same half-moon shape...
She was rolling out flat round pieces of dough on her floured worktop, and placing spoonfuls of stuffing in the middle. She folded half of the pastry over the stuffing, then pressed the two edges together with a fork.
She must have realised I was confused as she took a spoonful of stuffing and gave it to me to taste. And what a taste! There were finely chopped pieces of glyko tou koutaliou (preserved fruit in syrup), including bitter orange, bergamot and grape fruit, as well as almonds and walnuts.
“I seal in all the flavours of spring,” she told me with a smile.
I could also taste a hint of grated orange peel, and a touch of cinnamon. And to blend all the ingredients together, Christa had used orange liqueur and honey. In the dough she’d added tahini (sesame seed paste), rose water, honey, freshly squeezed orange juice and cinnamon.
These delights were not only spring in pastry parcels, they were also nistisima, meaning they can be eaten during the fasting period.
The occasion for making these pies was, as Christa said, a “special weekend”. This was the only weekend in the fifty-day fasting period where we can celebrate whatever we want together with the knowledge that it was Angel Gabriel who appeared to the Virgin Mary telling her that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. The celebration is always turned into a feast as this is also the only weekend that we are allowed to eat fish.
This feast is just one more way in which we share things with people around us, with food traditionally being something that Greeks and Cypriots have always bonded over. With a tray full of these nistisima spring pies, Christa will be treating all her friends, relatives and neighbours, this weekend and all next week.
It’s a simple, low-cost gesture of generosity, hospitality and sharing; it’s a way to keep relationships going, a good excuse to chat and catch up.
A very special weekend indeed!