The Delicious Legacy


The Culinary Treasures of the Byzantine Empire

Season 1, Ep. 12

The most comprehensive archaeological excavation in Istanbul’s history, took place very recently in the 21st century; a 58.000 square meter area in Yenikapi region. Here was revealed one of the biggest harbours known in the ancient world dating back to the Byzantine Era, the Theodosius Harbour. Amongst the group of findings there were 36 shipwrecks dating between 5th and 10th century which is the biggest collection of Early and Middle Byzantine Period shipwrecks. These shipwrecks are important because of their very well preserved state. Several of them had been very spectacular, with a large number of amphorae still in position when they sank in the harbour. Their discovery, brings into light fascinating clues of the life in the late ancient city (and early medieval period) and offers some direct evidence of the foods and trading goods of the Byzantine Empire.

Where do I begin with the cuisine and food of the Byzantine Empire? This is a daunting task as this was an Empire stretching 3 continents at its peak and with over 1100 years history!

The Mediterranean trilogy of wine, oil and bread meets the flavours of the Orient and in turn this mingles with the gastronomic staples of the Roman Empire thousand years before, and thus creates the unique characteristics of the Constantinople's food character that made it to a de facto gastronomic space, having created its own culinary propositions and became established as the Christian capital of wine and gastronomic delights in the medieval world.

Find out more, and everything you need to know of the Empire that would make the "Game of Thrones" books blush, with the feasts and murders and plots of their emperors and nobility here!

Ancient & Byzantine music composed and played by Pavlos Kapralos:

Traditional Cretan Music by Cretan Brioche

Music theme"Indu" in the History Hound ad by Aris Lanaridis:

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Grandma Ntinas Food Memories

Season 1, Ep. 13
Back in 2009 I had the idea to record some of my grandmother's old stories. For posterity reasons, but mainly for me to document some of the so many different stories that she used to tell us since we were kids, and over the years, during the family gatherings, be it Christmas, Easter or other holidays and celebrations. She was a natural story teller, and she was from an interesting family that lived during interesting times. ( to say the least!) Her name was Evangelia Ntina (taking the surname of my pappous {grandfather}) her family name was "Karali" -I should spell it Kar-a-lee perhaps to make sense phonetically? Ntinas by the way is pronounced "Deenas" as the letters N+T make the sound D in the Greek language.Anyway, she told us so many stories over the years; of course some of her opinions in actual historical facts contradicted what I was aware as real history, or even her stories were often confusing. I needed to have a definite record of her own words and her own world, even if it wasn't exactly absolute and real, at least it was her own reality! In any case having everything documented, forever, would have meant I 'd have the opportunity to examine her stories at a later date, share them with my uncles, aunties and cousins, and keep some family history alive, and not lost in the midst of time, and in the mouths and words of different people with different agendas!So when I had the opportunity for a short visit back home in Greece and my home town of Veria, I brought my laptop, an audio interface and a microphone with me from my studio in London and off I went to my grandmother's house! She was at that time nearly 85, so time was of the essence, I didn't know how many opportunities I'd had later on, and what would her mind be in the future, for her to give me her stories as she remembered them. And it was lucky that I did this when I did, as she sadly passed away in 2013, and the last couple of years of her life she was mostly bedridden.The whole aural documentary with my grandmother lasted about 4 hours, and I edited several bits to their own individual stories, one about her parents and grandparents, one about the second world war and civil war that followed and of course one about the diet, the foods, the cooking and eating back in the frugal pastoral daily lives of families in the mountainous central north west Greece somewhere between the prefectures of Grevena, Kozani and Trikala...So a bit of a context here: My grandma's father (from my dad's side) so my great-grandfather -which I met many times in the first 8 years of my life- was born in 1893, in what was back then the Ottoman Empire. His name was Dimitris Karalis. He subsequently became a teacher at a very young age in the local school, of the small villages in the area, age 16 (!!!), and then, later on, a priest. They lived in a village called Katakali, with the extended family his brothers and sisters and led a pastoral life mainly with sheep, pigs and some cattle, and of course cultivating the land too. No electricity, no petrol powered vehicles just donkeys, bandits roaming the mountains kidnapping people for ransom and so on...The area became part of Greece after the Balkan Wars in 1913. But, life for the peasants, the poor and the farmers didn't change significantly, nor the day to day toil...My grandmother had in total 8 siblings, some of whom died in childhood of course. As I was growing up I think I met 4 or 5 who survived to an old age.So to our story:...And what did you eat in the big Lent periods of the year? Easter and Christmas grandma?We didn't eat oil , only on Saturdays and Sundays. In the winter we did not have vegetables such as peppers and aubergines that we have now. If we had pickled veg, like cabbage and peppers and so on, would eat these veg straight out of the jar, or we would fry them for a more tasty and salty snack. But mainly cabbages, endives, and leeks, with some wild poppies if the weather was good, which we would find growing in the fields... Chickpeas, peas and beans alongside with lentils that we used to grow, some yellow peas, and some other types of legumes ( called them "fakos" which I can't really decipher what she meant by this) we had a decent size croft/allotment around 500 square metres and we would sow one line with one type of legume, one line of another one and so on...we would not eat olive oil for the whole Lenten period... (alongside with any animal fat)-What type of oils did you use, that were common back then? Did you have olive oil?ah of course we had and used olive oil, we had always olive oil coming from south, Kalamata, Crete and so on...No bottles of course, glass bottles weren't common back then, but big tins, 16 okka in weight (this wasan ottoman measurement equivalent to 400 dirhems per okka which was used by grandmothers well after WWII) This means that the16 okka tin weights 20 litres today! A considerable size tin then, and one that had to feed a family of 7-8 for the whole yearFor the Christmas lent, we were eating fish a lot, as this was allowed. (it is not as strict lent as the 'Big Lent'; the Easter lent, which we used to only eat fish on two occasions, two big Christian celebrations that would fall in the early spring pre-Easter Sunday. This is Palm Sunday, and Annunciation of the Virgin) but of course back then especially in the mountain villages that my ancestors inhabited would have much fish to eat.Did you had rivers and did you eat sweet water fishes up there back then?"We had some small fish, from creeks and streams, but the main big river Aliakmonas was a little further away and the people back then they would throw a dynamite piece or some short of hand grenades (!!!)the fish would be stunned and they would be able to gather many with ease. One year my young brother Lambros went there to get fishes and it brought some big fishes with him which we roasted in a huge round oven dish the big ones we used to make pies in it. My mother would ask "where did you find these massive fishes then?" and Lambros answer was "we gathered them in Aliakmonas river"! It transpired though there was a family friend from a village near there, a hunter of rabbits, who had lost one hand from a previous dangerous fishing activity; He had thrown some explosive of sorts into the river and the boys went and gathered the fishes afterwards! From the shore of course, from the riverbank, whatever was coming towards them! The hunter used to bring some rabbits to our father (My great-grandfather the village priest) occasionally as a present.Our father used to bring us some small fry from the local rivulet or streams. Small but sweet fishes!Did you used to make pies?Yeah of course lots cabbage pies, cheese pies, with corn and cheese and pork fat/lard and "koolouropites" aka pies with milk eggs and butter and flour of course.We used to slaughter 100 okka pork and has 2-3 tins of fat and used it to cook with it over the summer. It was great to use, and tasty, and kept well, and preserved, as it was salted and when it was rendering in the pot over the fire... at the end when was nearly ready wealso used to add a chopped onion, the onion was absorbing all the foul smells and thus it was good to use all summer long!...Now we are afraid to eat lard ...I have a tin of it in the fridge...-Why?she laughs...Until a few years ago i used to put some in the was good!-How do you make the lard then?Look the pork meat is separated in two parts one white fat and one red the meat. the white would be separated and made in big cubes and in a pot with some salt over the fire and let it there to boil for hours until it became a golden liquid i'll saw you i'll bring you some your dad brought some here last year, look and try and smell it doesn't smell at all...!-And why you are not using it anymore?i have gall stones and getting older and all..{Sniffing the jar with the home made, well preserved lard}-Yeah it doesn't smell at all.if you take a kilo of olive oil and a kilo of this homemade lard will be in a similar texture and manner of the readymade spreads you get nowadays from the supermarkets and it's so fluffy and light in texture it feels like a feather! It's good ...Haven't used this unfortunately.(she laughs)-But the pure one you talking about rendered with salt and onion, it keeps and it doesn't go off as you say, for a year right? Then but know we have fridges...yeah of with the fridges you can keep it there and it would be ok for longer. just add a little bit of that in the pies and the taste will be explosive!she laughsinstead of using spreads and margarine this...people would find a way to preserve and eat everything from the animal.In the big can of this fat, we would cook big pieces of meat would be inside this fat and were kept in there throughout the winter months and during the summer time after a day in the fields would pick some and eat to give us a boost and stop the hunger. as we didn't have fridges the houses had a larder, usually cold, dark and dumb, generally underground, especially in not so warm summers, with no windows and thick stone walls, fat in these tins of preserved meat was still solid! we would take out as i said 2-3 big pieces of meat out, we were also adding salt, coarse salt, and we would cook it with wild greens and other summer greens...or make a batter or a mush with flour...Do you remember Filimon and Vavkida a myth from ancient greece.... Baucis and Philemon were an old married couple in the region of Tyana, in Phrygia, and the only ones in their town to welcome disguised gods Zeus and Hermes ), thus embodying the pious exercise of hospitality, the ritualized guest-friendship termed Xenia, or theoxenia when a god was involved.The old married couple were supposedly served them some smoked meat with bitter greens as this was the only food they had and whenever i used to eat this dish as a girl i always remembered this story...for years now i couldn't remember the names of the couple and now that i'm telling you the story their names finally felled into my lips!-And how do you make 'koolouropita' yiayia? what is it?you make dough, classic fylo, wet it with a bit of fat and spread crumbled feta, you could add beaten egg but without is good and then you make it in a spiral in the round oven dish. My mother used a massive round pie baking dish and didn't made the pie as one big spiral but rather individual loooong sticks and we used to grab one each and eat it greedily...!laughs....usually they would make it with corn flour with a very fine sieve and and it was so so fine! and used this (she then goes on about some flour sieving techniques and number of pies which i have no clue how to translate )In essence there was a technique of making big quantities of fylo and have it ready made in the house to use when you need to make a pie and not make (or 'open' as is the grandma terminology in greek) every time from scratch seems they were cooked over a griddle...then they used to 'wet' them with a little water and cheese and melted fat and some wild greens if they had and were cooking it like this. and made pies likes this!-I remember you used to make nettle pie hey?I did and still do, i did this year as well. i have some in the freezer ready to use. although your aunties had a rummage in the larder and shuffled and jumbled up my system!-What do you do with the nettles before you freeze them? How cook them?I steam or boil them till soft and tender, usually the stems of the nettles are tough and need some time to boil. one day we didn't notice how hard the stem was , from an old big plant and it wouldn't cook!We do put some leeks and some spinach as well. and we make the pies with this mix, alongside with some crumbled feta and becomes toothsome and very appetizing. Your aunty Soula made it big and fat as we were many and we only had one piece of the pie each so the filling was very generous and thick thick pieces!If you eat it greedily, fast and while it's hot straight from the oven then it's not really good for the stomach, but you can't really help yourself!-How do you make your fylo for the pie?We make little 8 dough balls for the bottom of the pie . around 6-7 for the top of the pie. we spread with butter on every fylo then we layer each one of the 8 balls. On top we brush the last fylo with a bit of oil too. That's how we did it. stuffing either nettles or wild greensI used to have nettles in the back garden back in the day and i used to prune them regularly and this made the soft and tender for the pies.-When you say "tsouknidia" you mean the actual nettles that sting right? how di you collect them?By hand as usual. they are the normal stinging nettles, it was a little painful, my mother used to collect them with the newspaper, and she was squeezing them inside them newspaper till the stems and leaves were crushed and wouldn't sting anymore.In the time of the great hunger in 1941-42, we had a family from Deskati (a village in the cluster of villages in the area that my grandmother used to live with her family) their father was a craftsman but during the war and the Nazi occupation of course there wasn't any work. as with many others they were starving. we would see the poor kids were going under the bridge in the local stream, were a lot of nettles would grow, and they were cutting the stems of the nettles, simply crushing them between two rocks with some salt and would eat just this. Sometimes thankfully the local farmers would always something little to give them even it was a bit of flour to make some bread, and this is how they survived .-In the war, nettles and snails imagine was probably all you ate right?We didn't eat many snails to be honest, but we weren't used to them and didn't eat them to be honest.The refugees used to eat them after the rains used to collect them. (the Greeks from Minor Asia after the 1922 pogroms) they were cleaning them by putting them in oats so they were cleansed and they were sauteeing them with wild greensIn the old days the locals in the area used to collect them and sell them in the local markets.Your father and his siblings didn't use to eat the snails, i was collecting them every day from the garden patch and cooking them, but everyone was refusing to touch them. I was collecting them and I was eating them by myself! The kids would even get near to them!(then talks about how to cleanse the snails from their slime)My little girls (her daughters, my aunties) used to be friends with the girls from a lady from my village and they used to put the snails on the hot ashes and cooked them this way...Your aunty Tasoula sometimes keeps telling these stories.../ENDI hope you enjoyed this regardless of the fact that is in Greek -and old grandma Greek for that matter- and for the Greek speakers amongst you, if you think I've missed something interesting from my grandmothers story do let me know and I will add it!Thanks!

The Audacious Gourmand Archestratus

Season 1, Ep. 11
History's first ever gourmand, foodie, hipster of the Ancient Greco-Roman world!The question of Archestratus life story had me puzzled for ages! I wanted to write an episode for a while now, but the more I looked for information about his life and works the more unanswered questionsI have had! Admittedly, countless classicists, historians and food writers have been puzzled through the ages too, with the same burning questions.Imagine the worst foodie hipster (I zest here, I am one!) friend you have; The one that visits the local farmers market every weekend, goes to Borough Market as if on a religious pilgrimage at least once a month and also on top of that knows every single Vietnamese store in Hackney or the South-American food stall in Seven Sisters Indoor market. He also seem to know the food trends, the new ingredients and read the reviews on Eater for the cheapest eats at the outskirts of South-East London for some reason! (as if he or she will ever visit south east!)Well your friend doesn't compare to Archestratus little finger! If you thought your friend was bad for visiting the mercado de san martin in San Sebastian, mercado San Miguel in Madrid and La Boqueria market in Barcelona, mercato delle embre in Bologna, Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or Varvakios Market in Athens spending hours looking at fish that cannot know the friend who watched all the episodes of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" and can quote all his lines...Well, our dude Archestratus, was a lot worst!New tastes, the freshest ingredients, so local and seasonal and simple, that even the inhabitants of the nearest town wouldn't have heard them, well he would have been there first, straight to the local fishermen begging them for a fish. Well this is Archestratus! The tourist who went to every food market on every city he visited; only he accomplished your feat 2500 years ago and all by sail!In the interconnected world of the ancient Mediteranean we then find Archestratus, a Sicilian who circumnavigated the world to satisfy his hunger - and even lower appetites, as a Roman scholar said once quite disparagingly. He was though an inveterate traveller. How else could he have found out about the specialities of all these places, small seaside cities over 50 of them from Sicily to the Black Sea? Remarkably what he writes rings true, as sometimes their specialities are exactly the same now as they were 2400 years ago. Archestratus loved the taste of Lesbian wine but also praised the aroma of the Phoenician wine that came from Byblos. (Although he though it to go off quickly)"When a libation to the gods you make, Let your wine worthy be, and ripe and old; Whose hoary locks droop o'er his purple lake, Such as in Lesbos' sea-girt isle is sold. Phœnicia doth a generous liquor bear, But still the Lesbian I would rather quaff; For though through age the former rich appear, You'll find its fragrance will with use go off."We know almost nothing about him, apart that he was a Sicilian Greek from Gela (or Syracuse) and that he wrote a now lost, remarkable and unique poem "The Life of Luxury" (Hydipatheia). The poem is dated variously around 350BCE.What we know of the poem, is mostly from Athenaus from his work "Deipnosophistai" -Philosophers at Dinner- which was composed in about AD200. This, is our only source for Archestratus work, which is telling. Lost works of ancient literature - poetry, drama etc- are usually reference by multiple ancient authors; however this lack of interest demonstrates the status of food and recipe books. Not high literature and therefore not carefully preserved for posterity.What would I give for the chance to glance upon the book on bread-making by Chrysippus of Tyana or the book on salt fish by Euthydemus of Athens! Sadly both are lost completely and only know of their existence through second -hand passing accounts from other authors! Lost masterpieces!Archestratus cooks the fish simply, boiling roasting or grilling with light seasoning and oil added if its quality fish. Freshness and quality are his watchwords and these features mustn't be damaged by strong sauces based on cheese and pungent herbs. His favourite fish tend to have firm-textured and strongly flavoured meat; rather than mild tasting flesh like the white fish we are now used in French cooking as the vehicle for sauces. He also shows much interest in eels; common, conger, mooray. He emphasizes flavour and the oil/fat of the fish, where the taste and interest is to be found. There is much interest in texture of the fish, the different cuts and parts, from head meat, fin, tail, belly as well as in the varieties of fish.OK I will stop now and let the audio do the talking! Happy listening!Links, sources, further reading:Andrew Dalby, "Siren Feasts": Grainger, Andew Dalby : "The Classical Cookbook" : History Encyclopedia: of Naucratis: