Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Apples (Μήλα)

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Apples are full of vitamins, they are light in calories, they have beneficial effects on the digestive system; if fruits can be classified in the same way as colours, then apples must be one of the primary fruits. My earliest apple memories are those I lived in Wellington: the Tory St fruit and vegetable market, truckloads of red and green apples, rolling off the carriage, being weighed on the largest scale I've ever seen, then sorted and packed into plastic bags each containing five kilos of apples. The Tory St market is probably more mechanised now and the sorting process isn't as romantic, but such nostalgic memories cannot be erased from my memory. The deplorable state of market apples in Hania has stamped my mind forever with images of firm juicy apples beyond my present reach.

Most apples sold in Crete are invariably imported from other areas in the country, mainly from the region of Zagora in Mount Pelion of Central Greece, one of the most beautiful forested areas in the country. Many of the buildings located in Pelion are perched on mountain sides with panoramic views of the peninsula. Apples do grow in Hania (mainly the firiki variety), but only in the more mountainous (ie colder) regions of the island, and their bounty (or taste) does not fulfil the demand in the local market.

apple trees central greece apple tree therissos hania chania
An apple orchard in northern Greece; an apple tree in Therisso, Crete, fenced off by its owner to keep away passersby; an apple orchard in the winter in the Omalos region of Hania, Crete.
apple trees omalos hania chania

Zagora apples are often picked before they are ripe at the end of summer; apples ripen off the trees and store better, away from insects and diseases due to temperature variations and climatic conditions. They are then kept in cold storage (ie refrigerators) and transported around the country. The longest journey a Greek apple makes is, of course, to Crete. The apples are then distributed in the market and onto the shelves of the groceries and supermarkets - away from cold storage, where they ripen more quickly, not being able to make the adjustment required when changing environments. The result: softened fruit, lack of crispiness, sour taste, excessive browning, in combination with bruising; in effect, bad apples.

apples from volos
Apples sold at a roadside market in Pelion, Central Greece; 5 euro per 3-kilo bag.

During our summer holiday this year, we were lucky to spend a night in the Pelion region as we made our way further north.

The Pelion region of Central Greece offers amazing views, ranging from seaside towns to islands to forests. It is a favorite Christmas resort with a ski-field located nearby. The closest Greek town to Pelion is Volos.
mount pelion central greece mount pelion central greece

You can only understand our excitement after biting into our first apple for the season if you know how many bad apples we've eaten over the last few years; Crete is not an apple lover's paradise. We bought a three-kilo pack of both red and green apples, topping up our supplies at the central market in Athens before we left the mainland.

snacking after visiting the new acropolis museum apple pie
How much apple can you see in the cafe and kiosk versions of apple pie?
apple pie CIMG8723
My apple pie is based on Sam's recipe, a self-crusting pie that doesn't involve making dough and rolling out pastry.
My apple pie is based on Sam's recipe, something in between a cake and a self-crusting pie that doesn't involve pastry rolling. The same recipe can be turned into muffin-sized cakes.
apple pie muffins

Talking about apples makes me think of apple cake and apple pie, especially now that it's autumn. Apple pie is symbolic of American cuisine, and I still believe that the best apple pies are made outside Greece. It is amazing that, despite our ancient history being laden with apple stories, we are not well known for our apple pie making skills. Milopita (apple pie) is a popular bakery snack in Greece, but it is usually made badly, using more puff pastry than apple, which is usually stewed into a mushy syrupy mess. Apple pie connoisseurs will surely be be up in arms at the desecration of their beloved dish.

vegetable market thessaloniki
Baby potatoes and white beans? Never seen these before in Crete!

I mustn't forget to thank the lovely grocery store owner in Thessaloniki who presented me with an apple as a present after my husband chatted with her about the different fruits and vegetables available between northern and southern Greece - there are quite a few items of fresh produce that never make it down to the south, white beans and baby potatoes, to name two. Her generosity was very representative of the city as a whole, as we had many instances of such kindness right throughout our stay in the north of Greece.

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