Wednesday, 10 January 2018
Mortar and Pestle
A mortar and pestle are a necessity in any Greek kitchen. We have three as you can see.
The big wooden mortar is used to grind up walnuts or almonds and occasionally when our traditional person wants to mimic his mother he will make the garlic sauce or taramasalata in this bigger receptacle. In m-in-law's time there were no little electric hand mixers and anything that had to be mashed or pureed was pounded in a big wooden mortar, twice the size of this.
Slowly the wood matured, took on an oily sheen and a bouquet of garlic and salty fishiness. The metal mortar is ideal for crushing the tiny end pieces of nutmeg instead of shredding your fingers on a grater. I also pound machlepi and mastiha for the sweet loaves of bread at Easter and the memorial loaf.
Raw rice can be ground in them to clean out the surface and remove any tang left behind but that would remove the characteristic piquancy and je ne sais quoi of that big old wooden mortar
Machlepi is an aromatic spice found all over the Middle East, made from the ground up kernel of a certain type of cherry. The flavour is described as being similar to marzipan. I guess I would agree with that. I use it in the New Year and easter cake. It does come in powder form but for a stronger taste we buy small packets of the kernels and pound them into powder ourselves.
Sun dried pieces of resin from the mastic tree. The resin has a slightly piney/cedar flavour. Chios, an island in the Sporades group very close to Turkey, is known for its fine mastiha. Greeks have always used it as a flavouring in breads and cakes and mastiha liqueur is de rigeur at any funeral or memorial service. At 11 oclock in the morning a couple of shots of this liqueur can be quite lethal.
Mastic or mastiha as it is known here has always been used in medicine. Hippocrates used it for digestive problems and colds. Now it has become a superfood. We could always buy mastic chewing gum but now we can buy mastic flavoured water at a high price and Mastic Shops have sprung up in Athens.
A tear drop of mastic resin ready to be collected from the mastic tree