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.