Since ancient times the Greeks have been experts in fruit preservation, developing and gradually refining techniques and recipes that constitute an essential part of traditional cuisine. THE spoon desserts (glyko tou koutaliou), very popular and widespread throughout the country, they are made with a wide range of fruit which, in addition to seasonal and local fruit, can be enriched and flavored with other ingredients such as honey, flowers, spices, herbs and dried fruit during preparation. There are also special recipes that Greek families pass on from generation to generation. So let's go find out characteristics and varieties of traditional Greek spoon desserts, including recipes typical of some areas and islands of Greece.
Preparation, characteristics and varieties
The so-called spoon desserts are therefore a preparation in which the fruit, left whole or cut, is boiled in the sugar syrup with a zest or lemon juice and a possible addition of flavorings, spices or other ingredients, and then poured into jars of sterilized glass, such as jam. A good spoon dessert requires that the fruit be solid and juicy and the syrup in which it is immersed clear, dense and very aromatic.
The procedure differs slightly depending on the main ingredient, since some fruits may require different quantities of sugar and water as well as different cooking times. The fresh fruit used can differ from season to season, but in general there are some of the most used bitter oranges, grapes, figs, black cherries, cherries and quinces, while among the aromas used in the boiling phase and then removed we have herbs such as mint and marjoram, various spices including cinnamon and cloves, or even flowers and plants that can include rose, jasmine, lemon flowers and vanilla. Also during the boiling, a small amount of blanched dried fruit is poured in flakes or whole, generally nuts or almonds, so as to add flavor and crunchiness to the final product.
In short, preparing spoon desserts is an art and the variations can be many, as the many typical specialties scattered throughout the country. Among these the best known are the one made with unripe pistachios from the island of Aegina, the one with pumpkin and almonds from the island of Milo, the one with unripe whole nuts, honey and cloves from the island of Andros, the flavored one basil from the island of Naxos, the one made with black cherries and walnuts on the island of Icaria and, finally, the preserved unripe citrus fruits from the Peloponnese. The specialty made with rose petals is also much loved by the Greeks (a traditional ingredient often used also for loukoumi sweets), of which the one produced by the monastery of Taxiarchon in Lakonia in the Peloponnese is particularly well known.
History and evolution of a dessert with ancient origins
Spoon desserts have always been synonymous with tradition, hospitality and welcome, all concepts historically rooted in the culture of Greece. In fact, these desserts have their roots in antiquity, an era in which a type of healthy and balanced diet gradually took shape, today known as the Mediterranean diet, characterized among other things by a large use of fruit and dried fruit, but also of herbs aromatic, spices and various seasonings. Not surprisingly, it turned out that the ancient Greeks invented various forms of fruit preservation, including the boiling followed by storage in honey or grape molasses and only later in the sugar syrup. One of the oldest recipes for spoon desserts was called melimilon and consisted of quinces boiled in wine and then placed in jars full of honey. Historically, the golden age of these desserts was in the 50s, when the jar in which it was kept was a source of pride for the housewives and eating these homemade desserts, served to guests on crystal saucers accompanied by tea spoons and a glass of cold water was an important ritual.
If, in the 1960s, thanks to the introduction of the electric refrigerator, their fame declined sharply, they gradually returned to being rediscovered and appreciated, along with many other home cooking preparations that were decidedly healthier and less caloric than those that had spread. It was then that great-grandmothers and grandmothers of our times resumed this tradition, experimenting more and more and using fruits and vegetables produced in different places and in different seasons, including figs, quinces, watermelons, but also zucchini, aubergines, tomatoes.
Nowadays this homemade practice is less widespread than before, but still present and there are many spoon desserts produced in Greece, with every type of ingredient and characteristics.
To taste this specialty, in addition to buying artisanal ones, you can find spoon desserts on the menu of some restaurants and cafes, in general served in summer as a garnish for cups of fresh creamy yogurt or Chios mastic flavored ice cream.
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