“On Christmas Eve, the women who had lost loved ones made 3 breads, baked them and censed them on behalf of the soul of the dead. The same night they boiled beef and cooked rice pilav. Very early in the morning- the church still held a service- they knocked on their neighbours’ doors and offered them food.”
“Christmas. When the bell rang, my mother got up and placed a pot on the tandoor to make herse. She took a piece of cleaned meat and one or two bellies. She boiled them until tender, then she separated the fibers into very fine threads. She added korkot (unboiled, cracked wheat). She pounded and stirred the mixture with a wooden ladle. Then she added finely chopped onions. When herse was ready, she transfered it to plates and dressed it with browned pure butter. It was such a great food!
My mother put herse on seven plates and distributed them to seven houses. I don’t know the meaning of this number.
We called this custom Mary’s Logusalik (turk. post partum period), because this food was given to post partum Mary.
Besides bread, beef and rice we also distributed yogurt to seven houses. When we came home from church service, yogurt was the first thing we ate. Yogurt gives light, we said. After a 40 day fast we woke up on yoghurt… it was good for us.”
“On the night before Christmas Day, the women made ashure. Ashure is made with boiled wheat. They add spices. Ashure is not kollyva. It is watery, just like trahana soup. They add walnuts and sugar to it.
Ashure is made for Panayia (Virgin Mary). It is a gift to her for giving birth. Her special food. A gift like three wise men’s (Magi) gifts.
They make ashure and eat it. They distribute it to the poor as well. They also made small breads from fine white flour, similar to prosforo (blessed bread). We called them Panayia’s ekmek (Virgin Mary’s bread). We ate them along with ashure.
For making ashure, women should take bath and abstain from sex for 5-6 days. They cook ashure on the Christmas Eve. And we eat it on the night before Christmas.”
There are some books that we return to again and again. “Herse, Vasilopites kai alla”* is one such book. It is focused on the food customs of the 12 days of Christmas, as they were orally transmitted by Greek refugees from Asia Minor. A valuable material that describes the holiday’s customs during the peaceful pre-disaster period. Lots of informations about food symbols, an amalgam of ancient traditions arising from the desire for abundant crop, offerings to the dead, caring for poor and needy, gifts to post partum Mary and the beautiful engravings by Markos Kampanis make this book unique.
A great gift of love to those reading Greek.
“Herse,Vasilopites kai alla” is published by Babis Legas, bookbinder and president of the Hellenic Society for Bookbinding.
* Herse, New Year’s pies and more.