“I don’t know why… I do it because my mother did”.
Observing the preparation of food, ingredients and methods are powerful ways to explore human behaviour, to reveal moments in time, and understand the past. Ingredients of a dish specific to a geographic region can provide hints of tradition, history, identity, the social, and cultural landscape of an area. The use of fresh produce, whether in scarcity or abundance can signify the agricultural offerings of a place, and when environmental changes occur, sourcing and cooking adapts too. A recipe that has existed in a family for generations has the capability to immortalise a deceased person through a continuation of their habits; paying tribute to their memory. Migration and travel experiences dynamically influence our cooking and eating practices; sharing knowledge can offer us an understanding of where we came from, where we are going and who is with us.
Mrs Kira Evangelia, is like many of the women I met in Kos (and around the world), who nominate their mother as an important influence and teacher in the kitchen. Mrs Kira developed many rituals from her mother which she continues today without question. When the Pligouri was ready, Mrs Kira removed the saucepan from the heat, leaving it to the rest on the bench, before placing a tea towel on top of the lid. When queried about this action, Mrs Kira smiled and explained there was no particular reason for this, but she did it because her mother did it. Mrs Kira’s continuation of this habit, although unsure of the benefit, suggests she is both channeling and preserving the influence of her mother.
Katimeria, which was also taught to Mrs Kira by her mother, plays a significant role in some traditional Greek festivities. Mrs Kira explained two of these while kneading and rolling the pastry for the cheese pie. As a wedding custom, prior to the celebration, the parents of the bride make Katimeria as an offering to the groom and his family. Katimeria is also eaten during Apokries, a carnival celebrated 40 days before Easter (just before the fast which precedes it), where people dress in costumes “so they don’t recognise each other”; allowing participants to feel liberated and freely express themselves.
In addition to the traditional employment of this cheese pie, the word ‘Katimeria’ itself ignited a conversation about the history of the island. Discussing the origin of the world at the lunch table resulted in various phone calls to family friends, one of which explained that ‘Katmer’ is Turkish and a similar form of pie (which I later discovered usually consists of Tahini and pistachios rather than cheese). Kos was under Turkish rule for 400 years until 1912 and Mrs Kira explained there are many people of Turkish descent living in Kos particularly in Kefalos, and her mother used to say she knew a Turkish woman who made a similar Katimeria. Physical symbols of Kos’s history under Turkish rule are commonly observed through the continuing existence of mosques and minarets in Kos Town, however, in this cooking session, an acknowledgement of Kos’ past is subtly materialised through the cheese pie.
Katimeria (Twisted Cheese Pies)*
1 kilogram of all purpose flour (In Greece they use Village flour)
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon
Handful of olive oil
Salt to taste
Water – as needed
Mixed together with 3-4 eggs
In a large bowl, mix together all the pastry ingredients using your hands. Knead the dough firmly for 10 minutes
While kneading, if the flour is too dry, add small quantities of water as needed
At this point, you can allow the dough to rest for an hour in a cool place, with the bowl covered with a tea towel
Once the dough has rested, roll out a section of dough, on a floured surface, until it is very thin
To make parcel shaped Katimeria, slice a rectangle of thin pastry – place cheese mixture in the centre and fold each side in to resemble a square shape
To make the spiral, slice a strip of pastry about 5cm wide, spread cheese mixture on one half of the dough, fold the other side in and fashion into a spiral shape
Fry in oil – and serve hot, drizzled with honey
Pligouri with Pork
1 kilogram of pork with bone and fat
Salt and pepper to taste
Pligouri – also known as Bulgur (used 3 cups for this occasion)
Cook the pork slowly in water, salt and pepper (Approximately one hour)
Once the pork is ready, boil a pot of water on the stove
Add the pligouri
Traditionally, the juice from the pork is added to cook the pligouri – bring to the boil and remove from heat – allow to rest (it is better to undercook the pligouri on the stove as it will continue to cook in the saucepan)
Serve with the pork
*Please note; ingredient measurements and method is approximate – Mrs Kira explained “I do everything with my eyes”.