There are Grapes at the Bottom of My Garden

grapes

In Cyprus it is the grape harvesting season and even here in the UK near where I live we have vineyards. Just in the next village there is a vineyard, Tinwood, producing sparkling white wine and delicious it is too. I even have a vine at the bottom of my garden which this year is laden with ripened grapes. Last year, I guess because of the awful weather the winter before, I got very few but this year they are back to abundance. Because we had a lot of sunshine this summer, a phrase I’m sure you who live in Cyprus will puzzle over – summer surely that is always sunny? – the grapes are nearly sweet, that is to say they are certainly edible without having to screw your face up into a grimace.

grapes

So this year I have been juicing them to make a delicious drink which I am sure must be packed with goodness. In past years when they didn’t achieve optimum ripeness I used them by crushing and then cooking and straining out  the juice  then adding a little sugar and lots of garlic to make a thick sauce I could keep and use to add to stews for extra richness. I have also made chutney with them, I have used a pear and grape recipe which was very good.I always leave some for the birds as I so enjoy watching the starlings descend in a squaky,, noisy raid to gobble them up.

grapes3

In Cyprus however there is far more choice as there is a positive cornucopia of grapes and not just wine is made from them. My favourite product is soujouko or shoushouko, that strange looking string of knobbly sausage that hangs on a washing line all over the island this time of year. Do not be fooled by its appearance it doesn’t look like it but it is a delicate morsel fit for any a gourmet. When bitten into it reveals a delicate sweet fragrance with that nutty centre. In it’s purest form it has no sugar added and is as healthy a food as you could wish for. The ingredients are pure grape juice with a little added flour to thicken the juice and make it more manageable. It is my favourite sweet better than chocolate. In Omodos on my last trip, Androula took me to a shop filled with local yummy delights and there were small packets of two types of shoushouko, one was made with pomegranate juice and the other traditional grape and they were both a delight.Watch out for it next time you go.

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Soushouko

It’s that time of year again when my favourite product is available in Cyprus- soushouko. Oh how I wish I could be there to sample it! For those of the uninitiated  out there, soushouko is the sheer delight of pure grape juice turned into a confection that looks a bit like a rubbery twig when finished. Doesn’t sound promising? well when you taste it the ugly duckling turns out to be a swan full of sweet – scented delicacy.

To make soushouko, a little of the grape juice is added to a small amount of flour and mixed to a paste then the rest of the juice is added and cooked over a low flame, stirred until it thickens. Nothing else is added. Nuts, usually almonds but sometimes walnuts are threaded onto a string at even intervals then dipped into the liquid and hung up to dry. This process is repeated many times until the required thickness is achieved usually about an inch thick. A time consuming operation. This produces a sweet that can be kept all winter which is full of goodness with a delicate scent of grapes.

When I was a child in London, my father would receive a parcel from Cyprus, every year about Christmas time with some soushouko included. I used to love it and still do. My Grandmother owned a big vineyard near Yerolakkos, unusual for that area, and she would make soushouko from some of the grapes. You will find it sold at Panagyris (religious festivals) about this time of year, also outside churches or large monasteries, where there are usually stalls selling nuts and dried fruits. But be careful because there are imitations that are made mostly with sugared water.

Sometimes the cooked mixture is left to dry in shallow pans,which are left to set then cut into squares and dried in the sun, this is called kefteri. A much less time consuming product. Try soushouko, or shoushouko as it is also called, next time you see it, I’m sure the stall-holder will let you sample some before you buy.

Read more about the Food culture of Cyprus in my book “Androula’s Kitchen-Cyprus on a Plate” available from this site, Amazon or any independent bookseller in the UK and Cyprus.

More Greedy Italians

Amalfi Coast Italy 6

Image via Wikipedia

I of course had to see what those cheeky Greedy Italians were up to this week after last week’s pursuit of the traditional Italian woman. This week they ventured to the Amalfi coast, with those breathtaking views of verdant hillside precipitously running down to meet the glittering azure blue sea. This is where Gennaro grew up and he showed he hadn’t forgotten the skills he used as a boy for diving for fish from the sea bed, from which Antonio conjured up a quick and tasty shellfish linguini.

What struck me with this episode is how closely it resembled my sentiments about my journey to Cyprus in search of their culinary heritage. The bounty of nature is the same as in Cyprus, Antonio and Gennaro revelling in the freshness of juicy peaches and apricots just picked from the tree and not even bothering to pick the grapes off the vine before gorging on their black lusciousness. Lemons hanging profusely from the tree hanging over their terrace where Antonio rustled up a mouth – watering  lemon tart, if only I could have passed my hand through the telly and taken a slice, it looked so good.

In the 1950’s this area as with Cyprus, was very poor and they made do with whatever nature provided and wasted nothing. Necessity is ever the mother of invention and that certainly goes as far as inventing delicious food out of simple ingredients. These families, as with Cypriot villagers, kept, chickens, pigeons, goats and pigs to fatten up and eat. Pasta was eaten at the beginning of the meal to fill hungry bellies when there was possibly very little meat to go round in the second course if any at all. They ventured even further south to Naples,this is the birthplace of the pizza the now famous fast food. These regions ate what was known as”poor man’s food”  and the irony is that today this food is popular the world over and indeed turned into a cuisine that is served in  5 star restaurants. But as Gennaro says, when the ingredients are this fresh and eaten in these surroundings you couldn’t wish for anything more.