Saturday, 18 January 2014

Coffee, Kourabiedes & Olive Oil

That's a beautiful sight, I mean a really beautiful sight. After lamenting our dearth of fresh, pure olive oil this winter, we've finally come up trumps, thanks to our old friend Gilma down south.

If you've already read the preceding post, especially the second part, then you'll know that Gilma promised us that he did have some oil that we could purchase from him at a very good price, which was the reason we drove down there yesterday morning, since he'd called us the day before to tell us that our oil was ready to collect.

One thing (among many) you have to learn living here is that you have to roll with it, go with the flow, adjust to the pace at which things are done. It's no use thinking you'll just drop by to see someone, pick up (as in this case) your oil and be on your way. We'd left our plastic barrel with a rather disgusted Gilma, who's of the old school who think that you should never even put oil in these abominations in the first place, leave along transport it in one temporarily whilst promising faithfully that you'll decant it into either a metal or glass container henceforth, forthwith, or even sooner the moment you get home, and so we arrived at his modest little cottage in the middle of the back of beyond fully expecting to load the barrel into the boot of the car, hand over a couple of notes and drive off waving.

Hmm, well, it didn't quite pan out like that, but then, didn't we just know it wouldn't? As we drove into his yard he was sitting on an old chair by the fence awaiting our arrival, knowing of course that us Brits usually turn up either at the pre-arranged hour or sooner. I'd promised that we'd get there for about 11.30am and we drove up and parked next to his pick-up ten minutes before that. Old habits...

He leapt to his feet as we tumbled out of the car and we exchanged the usual two-cheeked kisses and a bear hug. No sign of our barrel anywhere. Oh, wait, yes, there it was just inside the door of his apothi'ki (shed). He didn't, however make a move in that direction, he first ushered us into his tiny living-cum-bedroom where we were expected to sit a while and have some pare'a. Once we'd done so our genial host suggested a Kafé Elleniko and so we agreed. He makes it the traditional way in a small briki, one cup at a time. So, after he'd heated the briki up twice on his tiny camping gas stove and poured our coffees, he then brought out a bottle of mineral water and poured us both a glass. This we heartily approve of and we get very irritated in kafeneions here when we order coffee and it doesn't come with a glass of water. That's a sure sign that the establishment caters mainly to tourists. No self-respecting Greek will take his or her coffee without a glass of water.

Once we were sipping what has to be said were delicious Greek coffees, Gilma disappeared into his modest "kitchen" through the doorway and came back with a huge piece of tissue paper, inside of which was wrapped something very nice and tasty. Unwrapping the tissue he proffered us a selection of home-made Kourabiedes, which are rather like a delicious shortbread, made with vanilla and usually containing whole almonds, then rolled in icing sugar. Quite a lot of tourists here have probably never seen them because they are usually baked traditionally around Christmas time, which is why we only buy them in the stores during January, when they're on offer!! They're actually quite expensive to buy in the run-up to the winter solstice festival, so we wait patiently!

Photo courtesy of © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
These, though, our host proudly explained, had been made by his daughter. The ones you buy are usually shaped like a quarter-moon (see photo, right). Home-made ones are often pressed into all kinds of shapes, like little fir trees, stars etc. Having helped ourselves to one each, he handed us both a paper serviette (essential when eating kourabiedes if you don't want icing sugar all over your nice jacket, skirt or trousers) and then insisted that we take more to bring home with us. Frankly, they're one of the most delicious things you can ever eat along with your cup of filter coffee on the terrace of a sunny winter morning.

So, Greek Coffee and kourabiedes out of the way, we were rather hoping that he'd lug our barrel out of the shed and we'd be on our way. Not so fast, Johnny-boy, not so fast. Yes, he did fetch the barrel, but he didn't need to lug it because it was still quite empty. Observing the mystified look on our faces as he brought it into the house, he said that the oil was "through here" as he beckoned us to take a peep through the kitchen door. There, standing on its little four-legged trolley, was a stainless steel urn (seen in photos above), in which, he explained was our oil. "NO," he said, "I wasn't going to pour such beautiful, fresh flavourful oil into that plastic thing until the very last minute! And you must promise me that you'll transfer it to something else as soon as you get it home! It's a travesty to even use the plastic for transporting it, but, well, not much I can do about that now," he adds. We pour our assurances that we'll comply all over him and he asks us to help him bring the urn into the other room, where it will need to be placed on a chair to give it sufficient height for the oil to pour from the urn's tap into our barrel.

Before, though, the pouring can begin, there is the small matter of weighing it. Although what you buy in the stores is sold by the litre, fresh oil is always sold, nay measured, by the kilo. It's all done by weight. This was where we discovered that we weren't going to be paying as much for the oil as we'd thought. A kilo of oil is actually about 1.25 litres and, since Gilma had given us a price per kilo, we were going to be getting around 30 litres oil, which is somewhere around 25 kilos. Yippee. But how was he going to weigh it? Once again disappearing outside for a few moments, he returned carrying a contraption that I though resembled some of the tackle you might fit to a horse that was going to tow a plough! It consisted of a large metal weight, which slides along a hefty bar, at one end of which hang some chains, all of which have what looked to me like butcher's meat hooks at the ends of them.

"Gianni! fetch that wood!" Gilma said, pointing to what looked like a pickaxe handle resting against the inside of the door. Following his instructions, we slid the length through one of the "meathooks" on one of the chains and took the weight between us, holding the wood horizontally, all the while my better half remonstrating that I ought not to be doing this, what with the recent hernia op and all. I waved off her concerns with my hand. I had to keep saying "it's OK, it's not that heavy when w both take the weight." Meanwhile, Gilma was sliding a weight back and forth along the rigid metal arm attached to the chains until it hung horizontally. having satisfied himself what the whole thing weighed, he bade us lower the contraption so the urn rested on the floor, then he removed the scales and positioned the urn on the chair, placed our barrel underneath the tap and turned it on. Loosening the urn's lid to allow air to get in, we all watched for the first few moments as the glistening liquid began to flow, ever so slowly into our barrel.

Since the process was now going to take another twenty minutes, we had no option but to sit down again and chat. As usual our host fretted about the reduction in his and his family's income and the increase in their outgoings, things over which we certainly could sympathise with him about, which is why we wanted to pay him for the oil, of course. But we couldn't sit there without some refreshments of sorts and he was soon in and out of his kitchen, breaking out some fruit juice to offer us, which he was soon pouring into a couple of glasses. 

Of course, pouring complete, we had to go through the weighing process all over again to subtract the weight of the near-empty urn from that of the full one, to thus arrive at the weight of the oil we were buying.

By the time we had the barrel safely wedged into the boot of the car and were making our farewells, well over an hour had passed for what we'd vainly hoped would have been a brief "Hi, thanks, here's the cash, bye!"

We're weren't really complaining though. Gilma has orange and mandarin trees near the house and when we politely asked whether we might pick just a handful, his reply was, as we'd have expected really from him, "They are yours!" ...referring as he was to all the fruit on all the trees. When I returned to the car with four or five oranges he was insistent that I hadn't picked enough. We had to really insist that this quantity would do, since they'd last us a week and anyway the fresh fruit picked out here, without any fancy chemical treatments to keep them looking nice during long journeys for supermarket shelves, only lasts so long in your fruit bowl, but boy do they taste sweet.

I have to admit, but don't tell him now will you, that the oil is still in the plastic barrel out in our shed. I'm a bit loathe to lift the thing on my own to pour it into the glass bottles, still only weeks after the op and all. 

Still, never mind. What the eye doesn't see...


  1. John. A few weeks ago we met once again Lefty whos family we helped pick olives . Back in 2009 ,our first year here.We see him mostly in the winter as he has a taverna in Faliraki.So he is very busy in the summer. He asked if we had any oil & we said we would be buying some next time we went shopping.
    He asked if we had an empty container & said he bring us some.
    A few days later he came to our house to collect our empty container.
    Now our last oil we bought opposite the Ostrich Park & in came in a 5 litre tin.
    Needless to say Lefty approved of the tin.
    We were thrilled that he refused any payment & promised to visit his taverna again in the summer.

  2. On my next visit, if I bring one of my water butts, which look exactly like your plastic tub but larger, can I get it filled with olive oil please? Not sure if it would qualify for the under 100ml of liquid on the plane though!