Friday, 26 June 2009

Salt (Αλάτσι)

Once upon a time, there was a king who had four daughters. When his wife died, he wanted to make one of his daughters queen. Being a bit of a foodie, he asked them to go and search for an interesting edible item and bring it to him as a present. He would choose the most interesting food item, and bestow on the bearer of the gift the treasured title of queen.

His eldest daughter travelled to the northernmost parts of the country (it was a good chance to see her boyfriend who was stationed in the army at Kozani) and brought her father colourful crocus bulbs from which the most expensive spice in the world, saffron, was collected. Her father was delighted that his eldest daughter could combine food with luxury (he had no idea about the boyfriend); but saffran was an unusual spice, and the cook often forgot to add it to the foods he cooked for the royal family, simply because the local cuisine did not demand it. It had its own special range of herbs and spices in its repertoire.

koutroulis omalos saffron
Saffran is a specialty of Kozani, Northern Greece, although crocus flowers also grow in other parts of Greece (these were sighted at Omalos). The spice is sold in supermarkets - a little box like costs about 5 euro.

His second daughter travelled beyond the borders of the country (the jet-set had all booked holidays in Thailand that year) to an exotic land that produced equally exotic looking juicy fruits called pitahayia, very refreshing if you were stuck on a desert island. The king was delighted that his middle daughter could combine thirst with an aesthetically pleasing appearance in her food (he didn't know that she had picked up these fruits at Bangkok airport, as she remembered her father's request at the eleventh hour); despite the fruit's inherently unique appearance, he found the fruits quite tasteless.

pitahaya pitahaya
Pitahayia, imported from Vietnam, and sold in Hania supermarkets.

His third daughter considered herself as having very refined tastes. She wanted to buy something organic, green, ecologically sound, locally grown, and above all sustainable, so she set off to an high class supermarket to see what she could find. In the herb section, she came across something she had never heard of before, 'antrakla'. She liked the look of this healthy looking plant, and the sound of its name; it sounded so mannish. She brought it home to her father, who accepted with a smile. He knew his third daughter was a tad pretentious, and that she wasn't very clever; the purslane weed she had bought him was known in his kingdom as 'glistrida' and it was growing all over the garden in the summertime.

purslane glistrida watercress antrakla purslane glistrida
Purslane in my garden; purslane selling for more than 1 euro a bunch.

His youngest daughter didn't really care for holidays to exotic places and was quite content to stay put, taking walks by the sea in her shorts and T-shirt, talking to the locals who didn't realise who she was, and picking up bits and pieces of nature along the way. She wasn't interested in the crown either, but knew she had to play along to keep her dad happy and smiling now that mum was gone. On her walks, she liked to collect things she found in nature, but made sure she only gathered sustainable resources, to ensure that something could be left for the next wanderer to enjoy. She wasn't worried about the next generation, as in her opinion, they should learn to fend for themselves.

When she arrived home, without changing into clean clothes, she dragged in the big plastic bag she was carrying and announced to her father that she had finally found a interesting food item that she wanted to present to him. The king was very excited to hear as this, as he knew that of all his daughters, the youngest one was the most sensible one. He looked into the bag and found...

rock salt
Can you imagine being given five kilos of rock salt? This will last me until November, when I start salting black olives for preservation. It was given to us a gift by a family friend, who collected it from the beaches on the Akrotiri peninsula in northeast Hania.

... the clearest rock salt crystals he had ever seen. He didn't look down on his daughter because she had brought him something so common and coarse; he wasn't angry, and he did not banish her from the kingdom. The king was a wise man, and he knew that saffron and pitahayia, for all their unusual and interesting features, could not replace salt under any circumstances, and neither could you imagine a world where there is no salt for your meat, broth and bread, because salt is necessary for life. So of course he made her queen, and just as well, because her sisters ended up leaving home for other shores, as the grass always looks greener on the other side. The young queen married the gardener and they lived happily ever after.

And if this story reminds you of a fairy tale you've heard before, here's the original version.

"Αλάτσι" (alatsi) is the Cretan word for salt, which is "αλάτι" (alati) in Greek.

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