Friday, April 13, 2007

Rising from Minoan Civilization (Part II)

Rarely is a social event conducted outside of a meal in Crete. Food is a tasty, central element in most family gatherings. And, the Cretans have a particular flair for preparing fresh, healthy foods gathered from the vast countryside. Already from the ancient times of the Minoan civilization, Cretans appear to have been aware of the value of food like olive oil, olives, green vegetables, herbs and many other products that are found in the Cretan soil in great abundance.
During their history of many centuries, it is obvious that Cretans based their diet on those products - with cooking recipes preserved to today. But, that doesn't mean that fermented beverages were overlooked. Grape-gathering, wine-making and tsikoudia-making are activities enjoyed in the autumn every year. Wine-making involves crushing the grapes in special stone constructions called "patitiria". This is done by several people taking turns, walking or running in place on top of the grapes. While recovering from their exercise or waiting for their turn, the people consume food and wine. Tsikoudia or "raki" is a strong local drink made from the remains in the patitiria, after most of the grape juice has been removed. This is allowed to ferment and then is distilled. Traditional methods and machinery are still used. The licensed owner of the still will often take time off his regular work to fulfil his function as village distiller in the autumn. Very often this still has been in his family for generations. People who come to make their raki often bring food to barbecue on the fire and the brew is sampled copiously.
The major celebration for the Orthodox Church is Pascha, the Greek Easter. This is celebrated normally after the Roman Easter, due to the use of different calendars for determining this feast's date. Nature is at its most verdant and the green fields, wild flowers, blue skies and sea, and snow-capped mountains all combine to present magnificent scenery. During Holy Week (Megali Evdomada) there are long evening church services attended by large crowds. Good Friday is especially colourful, since the Epitaphi, depicting the burial cloth of Christ, is carried through the streets around the parish boundaries. In the cathedrals of the cities this procession is accompanied by soldiers, priests and the bishop of the area.
On Holy Saturday night, there is the Liturgy of the Anastasi (Resurrection). Just before midnight the lights are extinguished and the people and the priests move outside to continue the liturgy. At the moment of the Resurrection, the Easter Candle is lit (representing Christ as the light of the world) and the flame is passed from person to person to light their individual candles. Each family takes the light back to the house, where a cross is then marked on the doorway with the flame and a feast is waiting. Two of the traditional foods eaten on this night are "magiritsa", a soup made from lamb liver, and hard-boiled eggs dyed red. On Easter Sunday there is another liturgy at noon, but many people have already started their "souvla", lamb barbecued on a spit, and all the sweets being offered now that Lent is over.