Friday, 30 December 2011

To market to market to buy a fat pig.....

Celery for sale - Tripoli market

On Wednesday and Saturday mornings in the towns of Tripoli and Sparti, which are each about 35 kilometres from us, there is a market. We have tried all the time periods and we prefer the Wednesday market in Sparti. While it does not have fish or a drapery stall, it does have wonderfully fresh produce and seems to us to be a little more genteel than Tripoli.

Get your tomatoes from the pretty lady in the Tripoli market
These are not the markets of the south of France   where cheeses, meats, olives and soaps are on offer alongside the farm fresh vegetables, but, as in France, we're beginning to have our favourite vendors.

Of course the season lasts longer here and we have fresh-from-the-ground vegetables that are long finished in Canada.We find the produce tastes terrific and tomatoes are one of the foods we enjoy the most. Not since my grandfather's green-house have I tasted such flavour. It is only this week that the neighbours in Karyes are pulling their plants out of the ground and our main vendor in Sparti prides himself in telling us that his tomatoes are not grown in a green-house but by the sea.

Greens for you? the Tripoli market

The greens are delicious and while we have been buying spinach that is tougher and older than what we pick from the garden in the summer or buy in the winter in the supermarket cello paks, we find it very tasty in a salad, sauteed in an omelette or stirred into a pasta. The cabbage is huge and seems to be less densely packed one leaf to another than ours. The other day while having lunch with very kindly people in our village, I watched her make a cole slaw. She cut the cabbage in half and then turned it on its non-flat side before shearing off the slivers on the diagonal with a bread knife. It was so tasty and so delicately presented that I tried it the next day and it worked beautifully - no Cuisinart needed.

Three generations of women sell  'horta' in the Tripoli market
Interestingly enough, Minas is enamoured with the greens called "horta" which are loosely translated as grasses. Basically they are dandelion greens of a variety of sorts and while the premium ones are collected from the wild, many farmers grow them as a cash crop. Antonia from Alaska told me that her grandmother grew them in her veggie patch in Arizona. And they are delicious. So watch out, neighbours. I may be on the prowl next summer for your dandelions. We have bought them every week in the market since we got here. Boiled up and served with olive oil and lemon, they are quite delicious. However this week we have our own 'agrio horta' - 'wild horta' - because our friend, Yota, 
Horta on Minas' plate at lunch
who took us on a walk, showed us where they grow and helped us collect a whole bag full from the mountain side. They are now washed and ready for cooking and eating. We have them in our outdoor fridge, also known as the balcony.  And the learning here is to never go for a walk along the mountain paths from the village without a plastic bag and a knife. Now, instead of just looking for decorative elements for the house, I am also foraging for food.

Oranges in the Sparti market
And then there is the fruit. The apples for my breakfast compote are 50 centimes a kilo and the old gent is finally smiling at me after 4 weeks of patronage. He really took offense when I brought my own plastic bag for the apples rather than take a new one from him. They use far too many plastic bags here and no one takes cloth bags to the market. The old lady who grows the tiny green grapes laughed when I asked her what the name of a bag was in Greek and then all kinds of women around the stall wanted to help me practice the word "sacula".

But it is the oranges at this time of the year that hang over the fences by the road-side that show up in the markets in all manner of sizes. I never tire of driving by the orchards and I am always astonished at how densely packed the trees are one to the other. So far, it is the tiny tangerines of the old gent in Sparti that I love the best.. There will be no need for boxes of imported mandarins for our Christmas celebrations. They will come fresh -picked from the local market.

We have been spoiled with eggs from our friends, Richard and Lynda, in Durham all summer long. Here again we were spoiled when our landlady gave us a gift of eggs from a friend but we have been unable to find a village source that will sell them to us. The chickens who live next door, apparently aren't producing enough.

We did buy eggs from this lady but she charged so much (tourist prices) that we did not return

 eggs for sale in the market in Aghios Petras
One old lady in the market had great looking eggs so we took our carton to buy six and were astonished that the price was 3 euros ---  here in a market where I can buy fruit and veg so much cheaper than at home. Her 75 cent eggs were good; but now we have found a nearby village  where one of the stores sells fresh local eggs. It always interests me that, unlike in Canada, eggs here are not refrigerated but they do look pretty in the basket.

And the potatoes in this area are exceptional. The local ones around our village are all spoken for as there is so little of the rich red earth to grow them and we have no "in" with a farmer. However, there are lots in the market from Sparti and from Tripoli. They are delicious cooked in the oven in olive oil and sprinkled with garlic and oregano, which also grows wild around here. The other day after our hike, Panayota and her husband, Vassily, invited us for lunch and what a feast it was.  Vassily has an enormous vegetable garden and was telling Minas that he was preparing for the "ekonomiko crisi".  Vassily's potatoes were so tasty, as was his wine, and the other day Yota showed up at the door with a gift of eggs, wine and potatoes. Now we, too, have Karyes potatoes and a lot more.

shopping in the sunshine in Sparti

We are waiting for the olive harvest because although we received a gift of 10 litres of olive oil from our landlady when we arrived (her family has trees not far from here), we have not yet found those kalamata olives we find so yummy back home. All that is for sale in the market are the fresh ones just off the tree. I think here they brine and prepare their olives at home; but I want mine already done and ready to pop into my mouth.

Not a week goes by without me buying eggplant, not the dark purple variety that we buy at home, but the delicately striped mauve and white variety . I just can't get enough of it, while Minas can't get enough of the small crisp cucumbers that are also on our weekly list.

But we cook very little in the way of meat. We save that part of our diet for our meals out except for one very special kind of pork. Across from the market in Tripoli is a restaurant that has a large glass case outside under which sits a whole side of pork.

Anyone for pork tonight?

You can buy pieces of this pork to take home and we have done just that on a few occasions. The outside fat, what my mother called "the crackling",  is so crisp and delicious, you have to ration yourself to stave off a sudden heart infarction that would be of your own making. The village cats love the leftovers.
So it really is .... to market to market, ... to buy lots of fresh veggies and just a little bit of that fat pig!

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