Maybe you read this blog for a) A fix of Greece, b) An appreciation of the simple life, c) An interest in all things eco, or d) Listening to our life filled with many mistakes and plenty of animals. If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above then it’s your lucky day, as this blog post is all about Greek Easter, picking horta (χόρτα), chickens that don’t lay eggs and husbands that can’t sing. I think I’ve ticked all the boxes with this one. Let’s delve in.
It t’was the day before Easter and there still wasn’t a chicken egg in sight. Every morning, we hopefully anticipate our first chicken egg, but just like our electricity connection to Walnut Cottage, we’re still waiting. We’ve supplied everything they need, they have a house (albeit a makeshift dog crate, but it’s very cosy with plenty of wood shavings for bedding) plenty of food, we talk to them, sit with them, Mr Sidestepping-normal even sings to them…actually, that may be the problem. My beloved husband is very clever at lots of things, but singing isn’t one of them. But don’t worry, I’ve solved the problem by leading him to believe that he can whistle beautifully. It’s better than having to endure the singing, plus I don’t look like the bad guy.
In-between serenading the chooks with a whistled rendition of Star Wars, Mr Sidestepping-normal warns the girls that he expects at least one egg for Easter Sunday…or else. The problem is that it’s an empty threat, and I’m sure they know it. Or else what? They cluck. No more tuneless Glen Campbell hits?
The day before Easter…
The day before Easter was fairly quiet, except for the late afternoon invitation to learn about horta (wild greens) from a lady in the village. I jumped at the chance to join her and her two daughters, and so at 5 o’clock, I hopped on the back of Mr SN’s motorbike and he dropped me into the village.
Anna is married to Nikos and they run the village shop. I take a seat opposite the till as Anna gets ready. “Μισό λεπτό” she calls – (just a minute)
Nikos is watching a tv positioned above my head, the news is jabbering at an indecipherable speed. A motorbike pulls up outside the shop and a young guy without a helmet dismounts. He’s after παξιμάδια (barley rusks.) It’s commonly eaten here and there are many different varieties. I love the traditional ντάκος (dakos) when the barley rusks are topped with grated fresh tomatoes, olive oil, feta and olives. I could subsist on just that and watermelon throughout the summer. Nikos points to the top shelf where the barley rusks are displayed. The young guy pays, and zooms off with his carrier bag hanging off the handlebar. Sitting in the shop observing the people and listening to the language is fascinating. After a few minutes, Anna is ready and we set off.
Learning about Horta…
Learning about χόρτα horta has been high on my list of things to do, but without the knowledge of someone that knows what they’re doing, it’s like playing Russian Roulette…not that I’ve ever played that game. After worrying that I’d accidentally poisoned Mr SN with what I thought was Chamomile, I’m a little more hesitant these days. Luckily Anna is a fountain of knowledge on local edible plants.
What is horta?…
So what exactly is χόρτα horta? I hear you ask. Well it’s a general term used for wild greens. There are many different kinds, and throughout the winter it’s very common to see ladies with a knife and bag collecting them. They can be eaten on their own, cooked into pies or cooked into dishes. Most of them are lightly boiled and served with olive oil, salt and lemon juice or vinegar, but some can be eaten as salad. Crete has an abundance of horta, but most of it is found behind fenced bits of land where the passing sheep haven’t been able to help themselves.
They take me to their χωράφι (land) where they impart wisdom passed down from one generation to the next. The sun is still warm, and as we wade through the greenery, Anna shows me which plants to look for and what they are called. Ladybirds that look like gleaming rubies and baby snails no bigger than pin heads cling to the leaves. As I repeat the names of the plants we’ve found, their boisterous dog bounds ahead of us gleefully.
Picking wild orchids…
With a bag full of greens, and Greek words swirling around my head, we head to another piece of land they own. This time we’re searching for flowers. As the day fades into evening, we crouch down to admire orchid flowers that look like bees and tall stems, spiked with mauve scented blooms. Some of the flowers have already been and gone, but a few still stand proudly. Anna picks me a bunch. Some have the bulbs still attached and they tell me to plant them in my garden. I reply:
“Θα φυτέψω αύριο” – I’ll plant them tomorrow.
The conversation soon turns to Easter and the traditions leading up to the celebrations. They explain about the forty days of lent, where they eat a basic diet free of meat and dairy, and the week before Easter when they visit the church every day. Easter Sunday marks the resurrection of Jesus, and in celebration, people feast and rejoice. By the end of our outing, I’ve gained lots of knowledge on horta and religion, a bunch of flowers and some homemade Easter biscuits.
On arrival back at Villa Theodora, I search for Mr SN, who I can hear whistling in his workshop. After making us both a cup of tea, I sit in a chair watching him potter.
“I might not be good a singing, but at least I can whistle in tune.” He grins.
I give him a thumbs up in-between sipping hot tea.
Easter Sunday is spent preparing the horta for freezing (as we have so much) finding no chicken eggs and consoling Dora-dog as she trembles from the celebratory gun shots in the distance. We join Anna and her family for a delicious traditional Easter lunch, and leave with full tummy’s, orchids and two turkey eggs. Afterwards, we spend a couple of hours with the lovely Greek family up our lane who ply us with coffee, τσουρέκι (sweet Easter bread) and cooked chicken eggs painted red. They explain the traditional Easter game, which involves hitting the red eggs against each other. The winner is the person who’s egg is free of cracks. We arrive home just before dark, but in the distance, the Easter celebrations carry on well into the night with traditional music playing until midnight.
But what about the coronavirus?…
Things are gradually returning to normality here. Although the lockdown hasn’t been lifted, we’ve had no new cases of the virus for over two weeks now. People are beginning to meet in small groups, and the older people have pulled up old vegetable crates to sit on outside the Kafenion, despite it being closed. We live in a very small village and now that Crete seems to have eradicated it, people are slowly getting back to their routines. Normality is a long way off, and whether the tourist season will get up and running is questionable.
Another Easter has come and gone. Looking around our house, we are overwhelmed by the amount of gifts we’ve received. Over the last few days, we’ve had a stream of neighbours and friends giving us bottles of homemade olive oil and wine, Easter biscuits, vegetables, flowers, eggs and plates of food. The people here are so generous.
It’s dusk, we’re sitting down with the chickens, with a glass of wine and some salted peanuts. Nancy-floss and Ruby are rubbing around our legs and Dora-dog is waiting behind the gate, staring at her tennis ball. The chickens make funny little squawking noises, and the bravest sits on our shoulders. We spend many evenings like this, chatting, surrounded by our growing menagerie. The chickens may not have laid an egg, but on the up side, we acquired two turkey eggs and two red eggs, from neighbours and friends. “Maybe we should show the chickens what real eggs look like.” Mr SN jokes.
Sitting here with our dog, cats and chickens, I feel very grateful for the kind, generous people that we’re getting to know. Over the last week I’ve learnt that: homemade products taste far superior to anything bought from the shop, our animals give us hours of pleasure, and I’m grateful for such a lovely husband, even if he can’t sing in tune.
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