Sunday, 4 November 2012

Feast (Γιορτή)

The wedding feast in Crete consists of a standardised menu which is based on a display of wealth and prosperity. To have a full table was once a way of showing how wealthy you were. On a feast day, the same wedding feast is also prepared at home, in smaller quantities. Such feast days are mainly of the nameday type.

The most important part of the feast is the pilafi rice. Strong fatty stock is essential:

The chicken came from a coop in Apokoronas, while goat was reared on land near Sfakia. We don't really eat much meat these days, but when we do, we like to know where it's from.

Meat is boiled until all tender and the fat is left in the strained stock.

The boiled meat is often served as is, but this is getting increasingly unpopular in modern times. It doesn't not always get eaten. I par-boiled the meat instead, and turned it into two more dishes that are also seen at wedding feasts: the chicken became a roast:

The chicken was cooked in tomato, the potatoes in lemon. Most Greek meals can be based either on lemon or tomato: this goes for practically all bean, vegetable and meat dishes.

... while the goat became tsigariasto, a slow-cooked stew using just olive oil and wine. 

The pilafi is cooked in the stock just before the time of serving - always. This means that you must know that all your guests have arrived. Pilafi is served piping hot, slightly undercooked, and oily-creamy, so that the rice takes on a pearly effect.

At a wedding, the order of the food is pilafi rice and boiled meat first, then roast meat and potatoes, while tsigariasto may be served as an appetiser. Too much meat, you may be thinking, but a feast demands that you put on a good show; therefore you put out your 'best' food. One salad is also served with the whole meal - but its purpose is simply to make the table look full and perhaps to add some colour to the meal. I was recently given a few cucumbers which I turned into a tzatziki; this paired well with the pilafi. Yoghurt is often used as an accompaniment to rice. But salad (and beans, and vegetables, and other healthy foods) are generally regarded as foods for non-feast days, something you would eat more often on a daily basis. A feast in Crete demands meat.

Desert is not a necessary part of a meal, although in modern times, a wedding feast will also include a creamy wedding torte, an influence of global cuisine. Fruit is also very common. I decided to make a karidopita, to use up the last season's supply of walnuts and oranges (I had a hunch one of our guests would be bringing with her my new supply of walnuts). Karidopita goes well with ice-cream, another fridge clearance item: it's November, and rural Cretans rarely eat ice-cream at this time of year.

All the food can be cooked in stages. I boiled and strained the meat on Friday night, while watching Downton Abbey. as I was thinking that I could have used at least one servant myself). The next day, I prepared the cake and salads in the morning, and got the meat going at about midday. Apart from an hour spent par-boiling, the meat was cooked on the element or in the oven for another four hours, on very low heat. It did not require very much attention, I just needed to keep my mind on the job. The pilafi was the only dish that needed quick work. 

It goes without saying that wine is a very important part of a Cretan feast. Most rural folk like their rose-coloured home-brew. I've gotten a bit tired of this stuff as of late, as that is all I have been drinking for the last decade. I bought some light fruity bottled white wine which was highly appreciated by my guests, who left after midnight last night. I went to bed thinking about those servants I could use to help me clear up this morning, but when I awoke, I found the kids working together to clear up. Times are moving fast these days.   

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