Glyko tou koutaliou (spoon sweets)
Dora Kitinas-Gogos looks at the historical side of the Greek delicacy spoon sweets, and gets us ready to create our own batch just in time for spring
According to legend, Alexander the Great first came across the sugar cane from India and his generals bought it back with them but it was not cultivated for use at the time. It is said that Nearchus, one of Alexander's admirals, reached for the cane and tasted it and exclaimed, "India has canes that make sugar without bees".
Alexander's triumphant progress was halted on the banks of the Indus River by the refusal of his troops to go further east. They saw people in the Indian subcontinent growing sugar and making granulated "salt like powder", locally called "Sarkara" (ζάκχαρι). On their return the Macedonian soldiers carried the "honey bearing reeds" home with them. Sugar remained an unknown crop in Europe for over a millennium. Eventually it came as a cultivated product by Christopher Columbus. Venice at the height of its financial power was the chief sugar-distributing centre of Europe, sugar was a rare commodity, and traders of sugar became very wealthy.
There has always been a need to preserve fruit and the ancients did it two ways, drying fruit in the sun and preserving them in honey. The ancient Greeks preserved quince in honey without having the knowledge of pectin, which is needed so as the preserved fruit does not go sugary, (ζαχάρομα). Quince has natural pectin. The pectin is found naturally in many fruits and the highest pectine contant is found in citrus, these days we know that if a fruit does not have enough pectin we add lemon juice. As everthing else the Romans adapted the fruit preservation and we find that spoon sweets were at their peak with the introduction of sugar in Byzantium and the book of ceremonies of Konstantine the Purpleborn 913 to 959 AD (Κωνσταντίνου του Πορφυρογένητου) recipes are mentioned of quince, lemon, date, and pear. Also they made a quince paste (very trendy today) that reached Portugal and England. It was a luxury product which was used as medicine as well as a food product.
Nearly all fruits can be preserved in this way today. For example the peel of bitter orange (νεράντζι), or whole grape, bergamot, orange, sour cherry (βύσσινο), apricot, lemon, quince, apple and fig. Then there are the very exotic which include rose petal, dates, lemon flowers, strawberry and watermelon peel, and vegetables like carrots, small green tomatoes (tomato being a fruit but always seems to be listed under vegetables), small eggplants, walnuts and chestnuts.
The most unusual one I have personally found and is not mentioned in any of my research was in Florina and the surrounding areas where they make a spoon sweet from giant dried beans (φασόλια γίγαντες) which tastes very much like chestnuts and are truly delicious.
On the island of Andros to this day a walnut spoon sweet is made with cloves and honey. Andros and Tinos are also the home of lemon flower spoon sweet. On Kos, Nisiros and Santorini we have come across the tomato spoon sweet that is filled with almonds and spiced with cloves.
These days the most popular ones are made by food companies and even exported but the best spoon sweet is made at home. Women's Co-operatives around Greece have been set up that make and distribute spoon sweets along with other traditional food products.
Spoon sweets are not just a Greek phenomena; they are made and consumed all over the Balkans, Cyprus, the Middle East, Russia and the Ukraine.
Traditionally spoon sweets were served by placing the jar of spoon sweets in a bowl in the centre of a tray surrounded by tiny plates and spoons as well as water filled glasses alongside, this way each person serves themselves instead of having to be served and it is said that is why it became known as 'spoon sweets' (Γλυκό του κουταλιού).
Which brings me to the tantalising reason why the sweet was served this way and not as we know it today where the sweet is spooned on to the small plate and served individually with a glass of water? The legend tells us that it was served from a communal bowl and everyone ate from the same bowl as it was a practise to prevent poisoning because as we know in the Byzantium era and before that nothing was certain in the upper and ruling classes for the fight to power. As gruesome as that sound I like this story as it somehow rings true.
Today, the spoon sweet is back in favour in Greece as we see professional Greek chefs that have encompassed the spoon sweet in their menus and in their creativity. There is a big push in Greece to promote Greek food products and traditions of the past are all the rage in modern ways. Spoon sweets are often on menus of very upmarket restaurants, sometimes served by putting a good helping of spoon sweet on yoghurt and on ice cream.
- Register Now
- More Greeks calling Australia home
- Paedophilia charge for Greek Australian
- Golden Dawn's Australian aspirations uncovered
- Greek Adelaide church in hot water again
- AFP show support for Cyprus
- Sixth place for Alcohol is Free
- Man sues Qatar over drinks car accident
- Do it like the Greeks says German consul
- Marxist reporter won praise for his work
- ND and SYRIZA in Golden Dawn row
- 8 May 2013 | 12 Votes
- 15 May 2013 | 9 Votes
- 8 May 2013 | 8 Votes
- 3 May 2013 | 8 Votes
- 13 May 2013 | 7 Votes
- 30 Apr 2013 | 6 Votes
Vettell leads at the top of the Formula 1 points table with an emphatic win in the Bahrain Grand Prix
Campaigner for the Cypriot community for years, Mr Toumbourou was beloved by many in the Greek and Cypriot community
Round seven of NSW League Two preview
The Cook Island-flagged Pirireis sank with 17 crew members on board
Sooner or later, community indifference and the plurality of other options will place our language's existence within the National Curriculum in jeopardy
Whatever the outcome, the AFL has only one chance to get it right with no room for sentiment.
Moyne mayor Jim Doukas says the State government has unfairly dumped permit approval on Councils
Greek Australian businessman Mark Voyage was one of the first Australians to crack the Chinese market and witnessed historic moments from a local perspective
Hitting the market around August this year, Holden will release the HSV Gen F
Greek Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) found that 25.6 percent of businesses and individuals whose books were checked for tax infringements were found to be in violation
The plight of migrants in the fields of Greece
Open to the general public, the lecture by professor Vrasidas Karalis is a highlight in the Brisbane lecture series
A rush of withdrawals would put additional strain on the banks that Cyprus can hardly afford at the moment
Is Greek Easter the only time young Greek Australians make it to church? Neos Kosmos investigates what draws young parishioners.
The third annual art exhibition: Antipodean Palette 2013
Former Defense Minsiter Akis Tsochatzopoulos is in court over laundering kickbacks from procurement contracts
The businessman hopes to bring international interest to the complex
Greek Australian director Alkinos Tsilimidos play Red recognised