Thursday, 22 December 2016

Hosafi (Χοσάφι)

Here's an article I wrote last year for The Greek Vegan's Nisteia magazine

The Hellenic people, from which modern Greeks descend, were found throughout the ancient world, where they set up colonies due to their trading interests. The Hellenes settled in various regions east of modern-day Greece known as Asia Minor, areas which are now part of modern-day Turkey. But these places continue to be strongly linked to the spread and influence of Greek language and culture. Cappadocia in central Turkey is still known by its ancient name where many Greeks settled after Alexander the Great conquered the region, which had extended its borders by the time of the birth of Christ to include the coastal area of the Black Sea, named by the Greeks as Pontus Euxeinos ("the Hospitable Sea").


In 1922, the Exchange of Populations between Greece and Turkey forcibly repatriated approximately 1,000,000 Christian, Turkish-speaking Greeks from Asia Minor, their ancestors' homelands for many generations, to Greece. Greece was understandably unable to cope with such an increase in population and many of the refugees eventually left Greece for the New World. A great many made their permanent home in America and brought with them their language and proverbs, their myths and legends, their songs and music, and of course their foods, like this recipe for hosafi, offered as hospitality to guests.

Refugees form Asia Minor being houses in Athens at the National Theatre

Hosafi is a fruit compote still made in many parts of Greece and the Greek diaspora with significant numbers of descendants of refugees originating from the population exchange. The food customs of the Greek Pontian migrants were different from those of Greek people living in Greece. Apart from the use of what were then regarded as exotic spices in cooking, like cinnamon, cumin and nutmeg, the Asia Minor Greeks also brought urban culinary traditions to Greece, at a time when Greece was still very rural-based, and in these ways the population exchange instantly expanded and enriched Greek cuisine. 


Many of the recipes of the Asia Minor Greeks are of course based on the availability of ingredients in their former homelands. Hosafi, also known as housafi, cleverly embodies all these territorial and climatic limitations. It is made with fruits that are gathered in warm weather, dried during cool weather, and eaten in cold weather. Drying fresh products is one of the oldest methods of preserving known to man. Reconstituted with a little moisture, these products retain all their flavor and make nutritious meals. 

The simplicity of the dish - boiling together various dried fruits, sweetening them with sugar or honey and adding spices and/or wine for flavour - allowed it to be made any time of the year. The recipe’s ingredients are both meat and dairy free; hence hosafi was and still is made during lenten periods in the Greek Orthodox calendar, such as before Easter. But the different colors of the various fruit added to hosafi give it a rich appearance; it is this aspect that gives hosafi a place at the Christmas table, as a dessert served after the main meal. The leftover syrup from the making of hosafi is also very tasty as a between-meals palate cleanser; Greek Orthodox priests would imbibe it as a 'power drink', particularly useful when fasting rigorously for long periods. This is presumably where hosafi gets its name from: in Turkish, 'hoşaf', means 'stewed fruit', which comes from the Old Persian 'hoş ab', meaning 'pleasant water'. 

Image result for cappadocia clay pots
Clay pots used in traditional cooking, Cappadocia   

Cappadocia is a very mountainous area, which should make one wonder why early settlers chose to live there, rather than on lower ground which gives better access to food, water and transportation. In early civilizations, people felt safer in the mountains, as they were better protected against invaders. Hence, once the Hellenes converted to Christianity, they built their churches and monasteries safely within the confines of the rocky tops of the lunar-like landscape that makes up Cappadocia, while the people lived in the underground city of Anakou (known in modern Turkey as Derinkuyu), where they also kept their livestock and food stores. The region’s remoteness created a strong sense of spirituality within the community, which provides a great source of shared wealth for the Greeks with origins from the area. This idea gives a better understanding of why the Sumela Monastery, built within the cliffs of the Pontic Alps, still holds great significance for the Greeks whose ancestors lived in Asia Minor. The monastery is no longer in operation, but annual pilgrimages still take place.

Soumela Monastery

The Cappadocian Greeks in particular undoubtedly had to be very well prepared for food shortages during the colder months of the year, when fresh food would be harder to find at high altitudes where summers would be hot, winters cold and snowy, and rainfall sparse in this semi-arid region. A cellar full of supplies would be vital in such places during the winter, as access to more temperate zones would be difficult during snowfall, and a dish like hosafi, bringing the sunshine of summer days, would be a most welcome treat. 

Hosafi, by Kalofagas

The variety of the colours of the fruits in hosafi reminds me of the shiny balls on a Christmas tree, so having hosafi on the table would have once been seen as a comforting sight at this dark and climatically difficult period. We're all still searching for that sliver of light to get us through these darker times. May we all find it soon.

Season's Greetings!

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