Greek Easter, picking horta, chickens that don’t lay eggs and husbands that can’t sing.

Greek Easter, picking horta, chickens that don’t lay eggs and husbands that can’t sing.

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.

My little one-eyed helper…Nancy-floss.

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.

Picking horta…

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.

Greek 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…

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.

Reflection…

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.

Some of the gifts we received…

Summary…

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.

Our four chickens…

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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38 thoughts on “Greek Easter, picking horta, chickens that don’t lay eggs and husbands that can’t sing.

  1. It brings back lovely memories of Easter in Plaka, near to Almyrida. Everyone standing in the church grounds and the square holding lighted candles. People handing out food to anyone who wanted it. A lovely atmosphere. Thanks for your blog. I love reading it.

    1. That sounds so wonderful. We’re looking forward to next Easter, as we didn’t get to experience the church part (due to the virus.)

      There are so many traditions and customs here, I really hope they continue to pass them through the future generations.

  2. What a wonderful look into your latest adventures, we are so pleased that you have made some good friends, hope the chicken start to,produce soon, although don’t you need a cockerel to get them going ???.?

    1. Thanks Jan😃 Contrary to common belief, you don’t need a cockerel to produce eggs, the hens will lay them regardless. I think ours are younger than first thought. When we bought them, they told us that we should get eggs within a month, but a friend told us yesterday, that they still look too young to be laying. When that first egg appears, we’ll be over the moon!

    1. It’s my pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to comment, it really keeps me going, knowing that people are enjoying it😀

    1. Yea sou!

      When we bought the chickens, we were told that they were four months old, and that we would get eggs in a months time. However yesterday, Anna (from the story) told me that they look too small and that they still need a couple of months before they will lay eggs.

      She also mentioned that she can get me some hens that are ready to lay, from a friend in the village, so the next step is for Mr SN to up grade the chicken house from a dog crate to a hotel, and then I think we might get a couple of older ones as well😃

  3. Keep up the good work, consolidating the Anglo/Greek relationship is very important, especially to those of us who would like to rent you cottage next year.in the meantime can’t wait for you next update, stay safe and well both of you.

    1. Thank you! It means so much to find comments left here.

      We better get that cottage ready for your visit next year😀

  4. You have a lovely life very peaceful and I love your animals. I always wondered where Horta comes from and how to cook it. We’re looking forward to coming back to Crete at the end of this year

    1. Thank you, anyone that loves our animals must be really lovely. I was talking to my mum yesterday, and we agreed that there’s nothing more enjoyable than exchanging the funny little stories and habits of our pets. Similarly, Mr SN and I spend such a lot of our day: laughing at their antics, doing funny voice-overs, cuddling and kissing them, watching them etc. They bring us so much happiness.

      I’m so glad you have a trip to Crete to look forward to😃

  5. Good to hear you’re keeping well. Easter is just the best time to be in Crete and you’re post has evoked it perfectly! Made me realise I’m missing Horta as much as anything….well, maybe the orchids, Mythos, raki, lygnarakia from Perama bakery and Meli ice cream in Rethymno first, if I’m honest, but I love the green stuff too!
    Cretan generosity knows no bounds and you reminded me of an Easter Sunday in Panormo a few years ago….we walked into the village with an English friend and bumped into a Greek friend who insisted I join him for a ‘quick drink’. I told my wife and friend I’d join them at Vinci for a coffee in half an hour…..4 hours later they came back to find me full of lamb, potatoes, horiatiki and Easter bread and we then spent another 2 hours enjoying Cretan hospitality, both liquid and solid. On getting home I slept for quite a while…only to find 3 bags full of Easter food left for us to continue enjoying.
    Good to hear than the virus isn’t rife in Crete…I’d love to think that we’ll be able to come back later this year, but would hate to think that opening up travel would introduce it back into Crete. Guess we’ll just need to take the governments advice…..though I think I’ve got more trust in the Greek government than the UK ! Stay safe.

    1. All the food here is amazing, it’s so hard to pick a favourite. I agree, a cold Mythos, or a naughty treat from the bakery go down a treat!

      Wow, what generosity! It’s amazing how much they give. It sounds like a perfect Easter Day to me😀

      Fingers crossed you’ll get an injection of Crete towards the end of the summer.

  6. I crave your life and was preparing to do the same but this virus has halted my plans so I read your blog and only dream for now.
    Enjoy and I wish you, hubby & pets well xxx

    1. Hello! Until you can make your dreams come true, it’s a pleasure to give you a fix of our life here. Fingers crossed you can make your dreams a reality soon😃

  7. Brought all memories, as we are in Scotland waiting for flight to Greece. Dakos is our favorite for summer and I use Katiki domokou instead of feta. It’s much milder.

    1. Ah that’s interesting, I’ll have to give that a try too.
      I’m up for any excuse for dakos! I can’t wait to pick our homegrown tomatoes during the summer.

      I hope you can get our here for a dakos fix soon😃

    1. Thank you😀

      We definitely will. Our friend Anna (from the story) has told us that our chickens are still very young and need another couple of months yet! She told us that she can get a couple of hens that are ready to lay, so we’re tempted to get a couple so that we have eggs immediately. Mr SN just needs to upgrade the dog crate into a proper chicken hotel!

  8. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful stories. We live in Australia and were booked to travel to greece in July, but due to corona virus we are not able to travel their. We are planning on doing the same thing as you, and so thoroughly enjoy your wonderful stories, and good and trying times.
    Good luck,, and keep posting, it is keeping us sane at this crazy time.

    1. Thank you😀 I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog, I sometimes forget that people are reading what I’m writing😂 I’ll continue to post what we’re up to.

      I’m sorry you aren’t able to get to Greece this year, but I’m so excited that you’re going to do something similar – keep me posted on your plans.

  9. Hello, just wanted to say how much I am enjoying your writings.
    We have visited Rethymno for holidays many times (17) and were hoping to be there again this year but being from the UK we’ll have to wait and see. We think of it as our Summer Home, try to go three seperate weeks a year and we dream of eventually living there, right in the centre.
    I wouldn’t be able to live as you are doing but I really admire what you are doing and find it all so interesting so thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you so much, the thought that people are getting enjoyment from my writing really spurs me on.

      Wow, you must know Rethymno like the back of your hand. We love that city so much, it’s not far from where we live. It’s got such a great vibe and we love the little backstreets. I can’t wait to be able to go there again soon.

      I hope you can get out to Crete somewhen this year, in the meantime, I’ll try to give you a fix of Greece😃

      1. It is lovely to be able to read your blogs, knowing you are so close to our ‘summer home’ makes it all the more interesting for us. The people of the town are the sweetest! We are lucky enough to have been to many countries but never have we had such a love for a place and I truly think the people make it.

        1. P.s – It really is a special place, I’ve never known such generosity. I’m glad I can give you a little fix of Crete!

  10. Thank you for this blog. I am from Australia and hoping to spend a few months on Crete at some stage soon with my 14 year old son, who has a mild intellectual disability. It is so difficult to know which part of Crete might have the right mix of ‘ingredients’ for us. If you can point me to any resources that might help us to understand the different parts of Crete and what they have to offer, I would be most grateful.
    We love our horta here too. Friends and family think we are mad to eat the ‘weeds’ that grow in our garden! I actually just found a little book at the post office shop called ‘Foraging for Wild Foods’ by David Squire describing all the different kinds of horta with pictures for identification, when you’ll find it, how to pick it etc. Not as wonderful as learning from a local, who has had this knowledge handed down from a rich ancestry, but still useful!
    I was surprised to see that you seemed to be preparing to freeze some of your horta without first blanching it. I would have thought blanching in boiling salted water, then running under cold water and then draining a bit before freezing would have been the way to go. Did your locals recommend you freeze it raw?
    I’m sure the chickens will be laying soon. I think it is pretty common for people to sell chickens as ‘point of lay’ when in fact they are several weeks off that. No-one really wants to buy chickens and feed them for months before they lay — except perhaps you guys who seem very content with your menagerie.
    Till next time …

    1. Hi there,

      I can recommend a forum on the internet called ‘Living in Crete.’ They have lots of useful information, and you can ask questions and receive answers from people who have run into similar issues and have the answers.

      I was probably a bit vague in the blog post, but I did blanch the horta. It’s frozen very well, and we still have a couple of portions left 😀

      Our chickens are now all laying. It all happened very quickly and after one started, they all followed suit!

      All the best with your plans, keep in touch 😊

  11. Years ago in Kos our landlords had a lovely garden and gave us many gifts – amazing tiny sweet grapes – which they protected from wasps with muslin bags. They also had something that I thought was cultivated horta – it was and about a baby bath full appeared on our doorstep the next day! I thought you might be interested to know it was amaranth and the Real Seed company in UK sell seeds.

    1. It’s so funny that you mentioned the real seed company selling amaranth. In December when we were in the UK for Christmas, I bought seeds from them, including amaranth. It’s growing in the garden at the moment. I didn’t realise at the time, but this is what the Greeks call vlita. My neighbour is also growing it, in hindsight he would have given me seeds!

      I’m also growing tree cabbages, which I’m very excited about!

  12. That is a coincidence – I bought some horta in the wonderful greengrocers in Paleochora a couple of years ago and asked the assistant, who thank fully spoke very good English how much would I need for 2 people – she asked a gentleman who told her and then another lady showed me how to prepare it – you have to pull off any of the slightly spikey flower buds. By the way ‘enough for two’ was plenty for the two of us for about 2 days! (my partner is not quite so obsessed with it as I am)
    And please post a picture of a tree cabbage!! My mind is boggled!

    1. The tree cabbages are finally picking up after being devoured by caterpillars. When I do an update on the garden, I’ll post a picture of them. I found them on the Real Seeds website. They are called Paul and Becky’s Austurian tree cabbage.

      I’m obsessed with horta too – Greek servings are always generous 🤣

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