Olive Oil & Olive Tree

Posted on Sep 26, 2012 in REGIONAL GREEK PRODUCTS & FOOD

Olive Oil & Olive Tree   In ancient times and continuing today, the olive tree has been among the most important in Greece. It has played an important role in the country’s economy and social development, but its greatest value is in Greek worship, beliefs, and customs.  The first written records refer to the name “ελια” (elia) – which means olive in the Greek language. These references are as old as the most ancient (so far) decrypted Greek writing dating back to 14th -13thcentury BC. In the archives of the Mycenaean palaces of Knossos and Pylos, archaeologists have discovered a large number of clay tablets in Linear B script. In these records, they find frequent mention of olives trees, olives, and olive oil. According to Greek mythology Athena, the goddess of Olympus, brought the olive tree to the Greeks. She also taught them its cultivation. This first sacred olive tree was on the Acropolis and is featured in the famous episode of Poseidon and Athena, for whom the city of Athens in named. An indication of the importance of the olive tree in ancient Athens is the fact that the Athenians depicted the goddess Athena on their coins. She is shown with a wreath made from olive leaves on her helmet and she holds an amphora containing olive oil or an olive tree branch. Another tradition says that Hercules (whose club was made from wild olive tree) brought olive saplings from the land of Hyperborean (a mythical land which was believed to be in the far north or to be the heavens). Hercules then planted it in ancient Olympia. That is why the Olympians were crowned with a wreath made from olive leaves. The gold and ivory statue of Olympian Zeus in Olympia, a work of Phidias, was also crowned with an olive wreath. Aristotle described the cultivation of olive trees as science. Platon taught under the shade of an olive tree. Finally, Hippocrates used olive oil as a medicine for 60 different conditions including wounds and burns, skin problems, gynecological issues, ear infections, etc. When olive oil failed to save the patient, it was used to anoint the body of the deceased. It was also offered along with wine, honey and other products at the grave. Olive oil has been one of the main ingredients in Greek cuisine over the years. In addition, there is a large socio-psychological matrix determinant in the consumption and use of olive oil. The production, preparation, and consumption of food are all a part of the circle of life (daily, weekly, annual, birth, marriage, death). All of these are combined with the interpersonal relationships and the structure of the community, as well as their performances – symbols we have for the world and for the worship. The humble word “culinary” is ultimately a code of communication, a language that expresses the structure as well as the contradictions of the community. From the field (production) to the mill (processing), to the storage, to the handling and distribution (trade), to the kitchen and finally to consumption (kitchen table) lies a network as dense as the...

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Wine history in Greece

Posted on Sep 26, 2012 in REGIONAL GREEK PRODUCTS & FOOD

Wine history in Greece   The ancient Greeks loved to drink wine. It is no coincidence that they were passionate about the god of wine, “Dionysus,” a smart, lively and erotic deity. The rich iconography of pottery found in the area of Attika indicates the breadth of the worship of Dionysus. Greek drama/tragedy competitions, the leading artistic expression of the time, were also born from the Dionysian dithyramb. Numerous celebrations took place and most were dedicated to the god of Dionysus. They included both small and large Dionysia, where theatrical events and competitions took place. Furthermore, the symposiums were an opportunity for intellectual discussions and the exchange of ideas, generated by the ceremoniously consumed wine. Greek viticulture has proud, ancient roots. It goes back to the Neolithic period; however, its greatest growth took place between the 13th and 11th century BC. The favorable soil and climate conditions of Greece allowed the widespread culture of the species “Vine or Oinoforos” (Latin Vitis vinifera, English grapevine). The ancient Greeks grew grapes and produced distinctive wines as noted by esteemed writers – from Homer in the “Iliad” and “Odyssey” to Platon and Xenophon in their “Symposium.” According to historians, some of the most famous areas for wines were Thyra and Crete, both known for their sweet and soft wines; Cyprus and Rhodes for their fine wines; the island of Lesvos for fragrant wines; Corfu for vintage wines; and the famous Arousios Chios. Those and many more were among the best-known wines, according to texts of that era. The mode of production of wine in ancient Greece did not differ significantly from current practices. It is noteworthy that texts of Theophrastus, which have survived, contain information about farming practices. The Greeks also understood the aging process of wines. They stored wines in large clay jars sealed with plaster and resin. The wines were then bottled in utricles or in sealed clay amphora smeared with tar to keep them airtight. They also had special receptacles for both mixing and for cooling wine. We know that the ancient Greeks were aware of the value of trade, and their exports were extremely well organized in those years. In exchange for wine and oil, they imported cereals and gold from Egypt and other areas of the Black Sea, copper from Cyprus and Syria, and ivory from Africa. Ancient Greeks drank their wine by mixing it with water. Usually the ratio was 1:3 (one part wine and three parts water). The Greek word “κρασι” (krasi), which means wine, indicates specifically that the wine is mixed with water. In contrast, they called unadulterated wine “άκρατος” (akratos). The wine that was not mixed with water (akratos) was considered harsh and was used as medicine or as a tonic. The average ancient Greek’s breakfast was bread soaked in “akratos.” However, this was the only time of the day that they drank wine without water. The consumption of wine mixed with honey or herbs was also widespread. Another well-known method also was the mixing of absinthe with wine (so-called “Hippocrates’s wine). Today, some Greek wines are still mixed with pine tree resin...

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