“For some reason the bus had stopped short of her house today and so, hungry as she was, she found herself traipsing down the very steep hill that was (still is) Douglas Avenue. She could see the cosy house nestled in the elbow of the two roads as it bobbed up and down in tandem with her step. In spite of her impractical (yet incredibly stylish) stilettos, the expectation of her mother’s culinary delights caused her step to quicken. She was still some way off and the ambiance of her mother’s cooking was already threading its way through the summer sounds and smells of Greenwood Road - drawing her closer to home with the tug of some invisible umbilical cord. She was nearer now and the fierce aroma of cracked coriander seeds, seared pork and wine vinegar tormented her appetite, making her stomach grumble with delighted anticipation.”
On that particular occasion sometime during the late 1970s mum was cooking Aphelia and pilafe (cracked wheat cooked a bit like you’d cook rice) – it could just as easily have been moussaka, or vazania (aubergines cooked with garlic, onions and tomatoes), or bamyias (okra with onions and tomatoes) or dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) or..., or ..., or … I think you get my drift.
For those of you who believe your mum to be the best cook in the world, you should know that my mum was a previous holder of that particular accolade; my daughter Marina is a serious future contender. Some years ago, a Cypriot visitor to my daughter’s home remarked that she prepared a remarkable “Kormakiti table”, so I guess the skill passes down the line. Let me explain… After my parents got married they lived in Kormakiti (the village of my father’s birth and the subject of an earlier post – see part 21). It’s a well known “fact” that the best Cypriot cooks come from Kormakiti – unless, of course, they happen to come from Agia Marina (my mum’s village, also the subject of earlier postings – see parts 6 and 16).
Food is probably THE most important part of Cypriot culture (along with family and religion and football and money and hunting – in no particular order of preference) and my fondest memories are mostly related to family gatherings around a splendid Kormakiti or Agia Marina table. However, as a child being raised in the UK in the 50s and 60s (when the English thought that spaghetti came in tins with sugary tomato sauce and that garlic was purely used for warding off Dracula) Greek food at home was sometimes the cause of acute childhood embarrassment. Friends that came to my yard to play would be terrified to discover dead animals on the kitchen slab; sometimes rabbits or chickens or worse still, blackbirds. I am loathed to admit this but my dad never really lost his “hunting” passion and perhaps the less said about this the better other than to add that any curtain twitching in our house was usually my dad with his air pistol aimed towards the apple trees in our garden! I must add that it WAS a very long time ago, and I’d like to think that if he were alive today he’d probably be just as mortified.
Eventually my mum did learn to do the Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney Pie thing… served absolutely only when English friends came to Tea. It was usually accompanied with mashed potatoes and her piece de resistance…steamed cabbage – which was a sight to behold; presented like an upside down pudding, having been drained of the water, compressed into a bowl and then upturned on to a plate and sectioned like a pie – terrific!