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Get a Preview of Springtime Riches with a Rhubarb Cherry Pie

Get a Preview of Springtime Riches with a Rhubarb Cherry Pie

Rhubarb Cherry Pie right out of the oven

I’ve been hankering for some “pieplant pie” ever since I came across the term while reading Della T. Lutes’ 1935 food memoir, “The Country Kitchen.”

“Pieplant” is apparently a late 19th century term for rhubarb, which is one of the first things to grow up north in the spring.

“Slender, almost translucent pipes of rose color blanching to snowy white where stem meets the parent root; mere rods of tart juiciness held upright by a deeper fibrous body that melts to pulp at the mere hint of heat,” Lutes writes.

I remember that sight oh so well when I lived in upstate New York, where rhubarb would grow for more than six months each year. And that flavor could hardly be bettered, especially when baked in a pie.

Our rhubarb in San Antonio isn’t always fresh, especially this time of year. But you can find it in the freezer section. I went to pick up some and was surprised to find tart cherries next to it. I grabbed a bag of each and set out to make my own version of pieplant pie, which I hope you enjoy.

Rhubarb Cherry Pie

Rhubarb Cherry Pie filling

2 pie crusts, unbaked, separate use

1 (16-ounce) package frozen rhubarb, thawed
1 (12-ounce) package tart cherries, thawed
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces

1 egg white
Sugar

Roll out one of the pie crusts and line a 9-inch pie pan. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine rhubarb, cherries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Stir until sugar and starch are thoroughly incorporated. Let sit at least 5 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Make a lattice crust.

When rhubarb-cherry mixture is ready, pour into pie pan. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the top.

Roll out the second pie crust and cut into strips about 1/2-inch. You can use a knife, if you don’t have a pastry stamp cutter wheel. Create a lattice over the top.

Mix an egg white with a splash of warm water. Brush over the lattice crust. Sprinkle with a light amount of sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes or until crust is a deep golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

Makes 1 pie.

Adapted from Michael Symon

 

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It’s Time to Go Cajun for a Good Cause, Ma Cher

It’s Time to Go Cajun for a Good Cause, Ma Cher

ARTS San Antonio is having its annual spring gala at 6:30 p.m. March 2. The Cajun-themed dinner, “Deep in the Arts of Texas,” will feature a multi-course dinner at Boudro’s Texas Bistro, 209 N. Presa St., along with special guest, two-time Grammy-award winning BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet.

The event is a major fundraising benefit for ARTS San Antonio’s education initiative ARtsTEach.

Chef Robbie Nowlin is preparing feast that will include stations offering Cajun Fried Turkey with a Rosemary Biscuit, Jambalaya with Roasted Chicken and Adouille Sausage, Crawfish Effouffee, Fried Catfish, Blackened Drum Pontchartrain, Shrimp and Stone Ground Grits, Fried Oyster Po-Boys, Roasted Quail and Baked Oysters Rockefeller, among other dishes. 

BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet is regarded as “the best Cajun band in world”, according to Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion. It takes the rich Cajun traditions of Louisiana and artfully blends elements of zydeco, New Orleans jazz, Tex-Mex, country, blues into satisfying music. BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet was featured on “Austin City Limits,” HBO’s “Treme” and on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” In 2005, BeauSoleil founder Doucet was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Each year, the ARTS San Antonio Board of Directors honors a person or group with its Lifetime Service to Community Cultural Enrichment Award. This year, it is going to Capital Group. The award recognizes and honors significant leadership, support and impact in improving the quality of cultural life and the performing arts in the community.

“ARTS San Antonio is thrilled to recognize Capital Group for its support. Capital Group has been a consistent and generous supporter of the arts and arts education in our community for many years,” said John Toohey, president and executive director of ARTS San Antonio. “A number of Capital Group associates have served in active volunteer leadership roles in nonprofit community service and arts organizations.”

“We are truly honored to be the 2017 award recipient,” said Erika Ivanyi, senior vice president, Capital Group and general manager of the San Antonio Service Center. “We value art, art education and everything it represents in the community. Art must live on in all forms. Serving others in this way means there’s a future in art,” said Ivanyi.

Tickets and sponsorships for the gala can be purchased online at www.artssa.org or by calling (210) 226-2891. Seating is limited.

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There’s No Denying It: We Love Our Margaritas

There’s No Denying It: We Love Our Margaritas

The rest of the county is like San Antonio in one way: Americans, no matter where they’re from, want a margarita when they go out to dinner.

The Boiler House Margarita

That’s accord to Restaurant Hospitality, which reports that, in the past three months, tequila was the most popular drink base for folks when eating out.

That’s why so many people are looking forward to Feb. 22, National Margarita Day. According to pollsters at National Today, here are a few facts about about this tangy cocktail and people’s preferences. According to a survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted Jan. 29,

–1 in 50 Americans own a margarita machine. That’s right: 2 percent of Americans own an electric margarita maker.

–19 percent of Americans say they love margaritas, while only 10 percent are not fans of the citrus-y cocktail.

–Margaritas are more popular with women than men: 20 percent of women say they love margaritas, compared to 15 percent of men who say the same.

–11 percent of Americans like to lick the salt off their margarita glass. Women (12 percent) are slightly bigger fans of licking the salt than men (11 percent). While 8 percent of Americans prefer margaritas on the rocks, 14 percent favor frozen margaritas.

Here are a few variations on the cocktail to show you how versatile the drink can be.

Ostra’s Alta Belleza Margarita

Ostra’s Alta Belleza Margarita

This margarita at Ostra in the Mokara Hotel & Spa is made with the rare Casa Noble Alta Belleza Extra Anejo. It’s so rare that only 10 bottles made it to Texas at a retail price of $2,900 a bottle, and only 19 of these margaritas will be sold at Ostra and its sister restaurant, Las Canarias.

Each is served in a hand-blown glass made by San Antonio’s Garcia Art Glass.

No price was given on the drink. I guess if you have to ask …

1 1/2 ounces Casa Noble Alta Belleza Extra Anejo
1 ounce Grand Mariner 150
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce agave nectar
1/4 ounce vanilla sorghum

Mix the ingredients with ice in a shaker.

Pour into a margarita glass rimmed with salt if desired.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Ostra and Casa Noble Belleza Extra Anejo

Dirty Mextini

Dirty Mextini

3 ounces anejo tequila
1/2 ounce olive brine
1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
1 1/2 ounces Cointreau
Splash of orange juice
TwangARita Gold Salt or salt, for rimming glass

Add ice to cocktail shaker.

Add in tequila, olive brine, lime juice, and Cointreau. Shake vigorously for several seconds.

Moisten rim of glass with lime wedge. Turn glass rim a few times in TwangARita Gold Salt.

Strain martini into rimmed glass.

Top with a splash of orange juice. Garnish with olives, lime or orange slice.

Makes 12 cocktail.

From Twang

Burro Borracho

Burro Borracho

TwangARita Paloma Salt, optional
1 ounce grapefruit juice
1 ounce orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier or Triple Sec)
2 ounces tequila
2 ounces ginger beer

Rim a copper cocktail cup with TwangARita Paloma Salt, if desired.

In a shaker filled with ice, add lime juice, grapefruit juice, orange liqueur and tequila. Shake. Pour into cup. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Makes 1 cocktail.

Adapted from Twang

 

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Harken Back to an Old School Chardonnay

Harken Back to an Old School Chardonnay

Remember those buttery, over-oaked California chardonnays that were so woody you felt at risk of getting splinters with each sip?

It started the ABC — anything but chardonnay — movement, which drove American chardonnay makers to using stainless steel barrels instead of oak. The resulting wines may have been crisp, with no hint of oak or malolactic fermentation, but what were they really? Too many weren’t rich like chardonnays of old, they weren’t as clean on the palate as sauvignon blanc, and they weren’t very attractive in their indecisiveness. They also weren’t Chablis, either, but that’s another matter.

For every reaction, there’s a counter-reaction, right? Remember all those bad pinot noirs that appeared in the wake of “Sideways” and the forced improvement in some merlots?

Well, the folks at Harken Wines in Parlier, California, certainly remember why people loved barrel-fermented chardonnay, and they’re leading the drive for its resurgence. Their 2015 Harken Chardonnay is purely old school, rich with flavors of buttered toast and ripe pear leading to even more butter on the finish. And it’s priced at an attractive $11 to $13 a bottle.

Harken succeeds because it manages to do what the mass producers of chardonnay forgot. There’s enough balance in the wine, so the oak and malolactic flavors work well with an enjoyable acidity, making for a wine that you can drink by itself or pair with food. It’s a great partner for something as fancy as crab cakes with avocado or as casual as hot buttered popcorn.

So, if you missed an old-fashioned California chardonnay, given Harken a try and welcome a taste of the past brought into the present.

 

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Feasting on Chinese New Year in Austin

Feasting on Chinese New Year in Austin

MT Supermarket

If you’ve ever shopped Buford Highway in Atlanta, you’ve likely wandered wide-eyed through one or two of the mammoth Asian markets that sell every imaginable food stuff from the Far East, from fresh bitter melon in the produce market to your choice of canned squid bites and shrimp-flavored potato chips.

The choices are vast.

Although I enjoy San Antonio’s growing host of ethnic markets, I missed the scale of those storehouses and the sight of an entire aisle devoted to more varieties of ramen noodles than I would ever know what to do with. But I did find one in Austin, MT Supermarket, which is located in the Chinatown Center, 10901 N. Lamar Blvd. 

The market bills itself as the largest Asian market in central Texas, and it’s certainly the largest I’ve come across. When we entered it recently, we were greeted with a massive Happy New Year banner, welcoming the Year of the Rooster, as well as an array of treats to help your celebration. 

On the right end of the store is a massive produce section, rich with the latest offerings of the harvest, including daikon radishes, Japanese eggplant, gargantuan jackfruit, chestnuts, various styles of cabbage, bundles of herbs and items you may not even know how to use. 

At the back is a fresh seafood area with tanks filled with tilapia and catfish while the display cases were packed with numerous fishes on ice. An online poster complained of a “funky” smell to the place, but I would counter that by saying the seafood area had the fresh, briny aroma of a bustling seafood market. People not used to where their food comes from may not recognize that, which only makes me hope they never encounter a market that truly smells funky. 

The meat market is similarly massive, as is the frozen food section with everything from whole crabs and mussels to an oddity called vegetarian ham. But we didn’t have a cooler with us, so we kept our attention to the aisles filled with Indonesian, Korean and Japanese favorites in addition to Chinese staples. 

Vegetarian ham, anyone?

It was interesting to discover that food trends we’re used to have gone beyond our borders, such as gluten-free panko-style crumbs. And there were a few American foods that made it to an end cap, because, let’s face it, Heinz ketchup and mustard, not to mention Carnation canned milk, are consumed internationally.

Check MT Supermarket out for yourself the next time you’re in Austin. Carve out some time for the rest of the Chinatown Center as well, and a make a pig of yourself. At the First Chinese BBQ, you can get a pig’s head for $10 or you can find pig’s head cakes at the nearby Texas Bakery.

MT Supermarket, 10901 N. Lamar Blvd., (512) 454-4804. mtsupermarket.com

Step aside, Kitty. Say, “Hello Panda.”

Even Asian goods are becoming gluten free.

Or you can have your gluten fried and fixed with peanuts.

While you’re in the plaza, stop by the Texas Bakery for pig’s head cakes.

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Leave the Potato Out of the Potato Salad

Leave the Potato Out of the Potato Salad

Let’s face it, diabetics love potatoes like everybody else, but potatoes love our blood sugar levels way too much for our good. Mashed cauliflower has proven effective as a low-carbohydrate substitute for mashed potatoes, but would the same substitute work in potato salad?

The answer is a solid yes.

This No Potato Salad recipe mixes the best of cold potato salad — celery, onion, hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise and mustard — but uses steamed cauliflower instead of boiled potatoes. The idea came from Elena Amsterdam’s Paleo-friendly website, Elena’s Pantry, with a few adjustments for my tastes. You can adapt the recipe how you’d like, using dill pickles or leaving out the parsley. Just watch the added sugar, which is why I use Duke’s mayonnaise.

I took this to an office potluck, and it was a winner. The co-worker sitting next to me didn’t even notice that there were no potatoes in the mix. You can’t ask for a better compliment than that.

No Potato Salad

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/4 cup minced onion
1 generous tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more more garnish
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped, divided use
1/8 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons yellow or Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

You can make most of this salad ahead of time.

Steam the cauliflower florets for 7 minutes or until just tender. Shock in ice water and let dry.

Mix the cauliflower, celery, onion, 1 chopped egg and parsley. If making this salad in advance, cover this mixture and refrigerate until ready.

You can also make the dressing advance. Just refrigerate it until about 20 minutes before serving.

For the dressing, mix together the remaining 2 eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, salt and black pepper until everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Spoon half over the salad. Taste. Add the rest as needed and adjust seasonings. Garnish with more chopped parsley. 

Adapted from Elena Amsterdam/Elena’s Pantry

 

 

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Who Can Resist Some Liquid High-Jinx?

Who Can Resist Some Liquid High-Jinx?

If you’re throwing a cocktail party, don’t forget the High-Jinx.

High-Jinx

That’s the special cocktail created for this year’s San Antonio Cocktail Conference, which continues through Sunday.

In a sea of cocktails, why does this potent potable stand out? Imagine the smooth, silky nature of Monkey Shoulder Scotch mixed with the brightness of Solerno blood orange liqueur, lemon juice and grenadine balanced with sweet orgeat before being finished off with a fresh slice of orange. 

The cocktail is a bright pinkish orange that glows when served on the rocks.

You can make the High-Jinx as a punch to serve your party. Just remember to vary the proportion of the ingredients you use. A little orgeat goes a long way, and you may want to hold off on the club soda until you ladle up each serving.

High-Jinx

1 1/2 ounces Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky
1/2 ounce Solerno
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce pomegranate grenadine
3/4 ounce orgeat
Club soda

Stir together and pour over ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with orange.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From the San Antonio Cocktail Conference

You can make High-Jinx as a punch.

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Cocktails and Cookies, Oh My!

Cocktails and Cookies, Oh My!

Viva Villa Taqueria serves up chicken mole.

The San Antonio Cocktail Conference’s Wednesday opener took advantage of the perfect weather by hosting a party outdoors in La Villita’s Plaza Juarez.

Heather Nanez of Peggy’s on the Green serves up foie gras s’mores at Women Shaking It Up.

But the evening was special for more reasons than a warmer-than-usual January night. It was a chance to be among the first to sample the Girl Scouts new S’mores cookie, a sandwich cookie filled with chocolate and marshmallow cream.

The Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas were the beneficiaries of the event, the annual Women Shake It Up, an event that toasts women chefs, women bartenders and women throughout the food industry.

A variety of sweet and tangy cocktails air paired with Girl Scout cookies.

So, in addition to being able to place orders for Samoas or Thin Mints, the guests were able to sample the cookies alongside snacks and cocktails that had been paired with each beloved cookie. They were also given Girl Scout-style green sashes that they could wear and collect badges from each food or cocktail station, a touch that appealed to more than one inner child at the event.

Among the treats of the evening were lamb snacks from Lisa Vatel’s Bite and two delicious variations on chicken with a spicy mole from Los Barrios and Viva Villa Taquieria. Heather Nanez from Peggy’s on the Green in Boerne offered foie gras s’mores while Brooke Smith of the Esquire Tavern dished up a tangy Sopa de Limon. And if the cookies weren’t enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, Two Bros. BBQ Market fed your cravings with their creamy banana pudding.

Look for the new Girl Scouts S’mores cookie.

In the meantime, the cocktails offered a variety of flavors, from the spiky Little Devil (Reyka Vodka with lemon juice, maple syrup and Ancho Reyes with sparkling water) to the smooth as silk, horchata-like Mantecado (1921 Reposado Tequila and 1921 Creme Tequila mixed with syrup, vanilla and cinnamon.) The Vivrant Thing had layers of flavor provided by El Dorado Rum, Chareau Liqueur, Fernet Branca, Cream, simple syrup, sparkling water and Clement Mahina (a type of coconut rum — and yes, I had to look it up).

Margarita fans had a choice of two variations. The Arandas Crusta was a sweeter confection that mixed Altos Anejo Tequila and Cognac with lime juice, maraschino syrup, dry curacao and City Acres Pecan Bitters. The refreshing Troop Counselor Nasty blended Corralejo Silver Tequila and lime juice with pineapple syrup over ice with a spritz of Sorghetti Sambuca. 

The San Antonio Cocktail Conference continues through Sunday. For more, click here.

Patrons enjoy the opener of the 2017b San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

Mole de Pollo from Los Barrios works surprisingly well with Girl Scouts Samoas.

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A Slice of Pie from the Past

A Slice of Pie from the Past

Last month, I was reading through the 1945 “Fireside Book of Christmas Stories” and came across a reference to a “Grandma Nadeli’s famed onion custard” pie in Jake Falstaff’s nostalgic “Merry Christmas.”

Onion Custard Pie

What exactly is that, I wondered.

The internet, of course, offered the answer. It was once an American winter favorite that predated the introduction of quiche to our culinary vocabulary. Softened onions were loaded into a prebaked pie crust and then topped with a delicious mixture of eggs, cheese and cream.

I wasn’t able to try the recipe until this week, but the end result was a rich treat, substantial enough to be a main dish, if you’re looking for a meatless alternative, one that’s perfect with a garden salad on the side. Or it could be a warming side dish with almost everything, including steak, chicken, fish and pork chops.    

I did have one problem with this recipe, which I found on Serious Eats, and it was a good reminder that recipes are guidelines, not written in stone. The original called for 4 onions without mentioning size. I somehow knew that those gargantuan yellow onions in the supermarket were too big, so I only softened three. Even that was way too much. So was the egg filling, which I made with Swiss cheese instead of Gruyere. I had enough of both left over from a deep dish pie to make a second pie.

A slice of crustless Onion Custard Pie

I did make one modification for the second pie. I omitted the pie crust and baked the remainder in a 7-by-11-inch casserole dish for a lower-carbohydrate alternative. It worked perfectly.   

What the internet did not have was a wealth of information on the author, Jake Falstaff. It seems that Falstaff was the pen name of Herman Fetzer, a Cleveland newspaperman who died in 1935. Yet the story, “Merry Christmas,” wasn’t published until 1941 as part of “The Big Snow: Christmas at Jacoby’s Corner.”

Fetzer, or Falstaff, if you will, never knew what that mere mention of Grandma Nadeli’s famed onion custard pie would result in 75 years later.

Onion Custard Pie

10 ounces pie dough or 1 pie sheet
4 tablespoons butter
4 medium onions, peeled and sliced thin
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups half-and-half or heavy cream
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Roll the chilled pie dough into a 12-inch round. Line a 9-inch pie pan with the dough, folding the edges in to make double-thick sides. Press the sides in well and prick the bottom all over with a fork. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Crustless Onion Custard Pie

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To keep the dough from shrinking while it bakes, line the shell with a piece of foil or parchment paper, then fill the tart with a layer of dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edge. Take the tart out of the oven; remove the foil and the weights. Return to the oven and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the pastry is an even light golden brown.

In a heavy bottomed skillet, melt the butter over a medium flame. Then add the onions and cook until soft and golden, 20 to 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Taste to make sure the onions are already delicious by themselves. Cool.

Mix together the remaining ingredients. When the onions are cool, spread them in the baked tart shell, pour in the custard mixture, and bake at 375 for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is puffed and golden brown. Let the pie sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so to firm up before you cut into it.

Makes 1 or 2 pies.

Adapted from www.seriouseats.com

 

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Hospitality Adds the Right Seasoning

Hospitality Adds the Right Seasoning

Raise a toast to hospitality.

In looking back over the past year, I have found myself reliving more than a few outrageous food memories, which run the gamut from shucking oysters at a gin tasting party to standing in line with the guys from Naughty by Nature to get pulled pork sliders at Rachael Ray’s annual SXSW house party. If there’s a common thread running through all, it is that each involved sharing time with friends old and new.

The most spectacular event of all was one that I wasn’t originally supposed to be at.

Moutsounas Cafe in Zenia

I had been staying on Crete with my friend, Carol, at a resort high above the northern coastal town of Chersonissos. Every day we would hit the road, driving across the island, watching the landscape change every few moments as we passed olive orchards on one side of the road and vineyards on another with mountains stretching straight up from beaches. Windmills in the Lasithi Plateau made way for rockier climes echoing with the sound of goat bells. Oranges, apples, persimmons and walnuts all seemed to grow within reach of each other while wild herbs were easily scavenged if not trampled under foot.

Whenever we started to hanker for something to eat, we were suddenly on the lookout for an open taverna or cafe. We weren’t always in luck, as we were visiting in early November, which is after the tourist season has come to an end and many places were closed. But we knew this would be our largest meal of the day, and wherever we landed, we enjoyed sampling as much as we thought we could eat, which sometimes amounted to six or seven dishes.

Manolis Farsaris (front) and a friend tend to the annual raki making.

Early in our trip, we passed through the tiny village of Zenia, and we made a beeline for the Moutsounas Cafe, a massive tourist shop, restaurant and museum that was shaded with an arbor of grapevines extending the length of the building. We parked on the other side of the highway, in an area festooned with a lively assortment of signs and tableaux designed to catch your eye and invite you in. A small patio looked out over a dramatic gorge that swept between mountains on the way to the sea at the southern side of the island.  

Before we sat down, we met Manolis Farsaris, the owner and jack of all trades around the place, which seemed to become more baroque and diverse every moment. Every way you looked, there was something new to catch your eye. It could be a shelf of icons with a Pieta of Mary cradling the post-crucified body of Jesus, a naked Hercules or the mother goddess of Crete all occupying the same shelf. In the largest space, you could find olive wood dishes next to barrels of homemade wine and raki, the local firewater. 

At one of the few indoor tables, Carol and I found ourselves feasting on warm dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with rice, and tzaziki sauce, yogurt and cucumber with plenty of garlic, when Manolis returned to our table with a surprise, a dish of the eggplant and potato stew that his mother had brought to him for his lunch that day.

Making sure the barrels are clean

He didn’t seem to have time to eat with his family as a few other customers appeared on the scene, but he did take the time to explain one of the more intriguing signs in the room, which was taped to a barrel: “Raki with honey no doctor.” It seems that his grandfather lived to the ripe old age of 107 without having to see a doctor because, according to family legend, he drank his homemade raki mixed with honey every day of his life. (That honey, by the way, came from bees living in boxes on the mountainside above the cafe.)

It’s a tradition on Crete to make guests feel at home by offering them a little something, like Manolis did with his mother’s stew. But he didn’t stop there. He also brought out the shot glasses and poured us a taste of his raki, which I discovered had nothing to do with the Turkish liqueur of the same name. The Turks make something that is akin to ouzo and is marked by its strong licorice flavor, while Cretan raki is more like vodka in that the clear liquid is flavorless but has a potent effect.

How does he make his own raki? When does he do this? How much of his honey does he use?

Rather than provide us with answers directly, Manolis simply invited us to join him the following week when he made his annual supply. He didn’t know the date, but he said we could always contact him to find out. So phone numbers were exchanged and a new friend was made on Facebook. We were all set. 

Coals go from the still to the grill.

Word came in the following week that the raki making was going to be held on Saturday at a house nearby. That was the day I was supposed to fly back home, leaving Carol and her friend, Clairy, visiting from Athens, with the chance to go to the party by themselves. Then my flight home got canceled. After days of wrangling with airlines and ticket companies that didn’t care where I was or when I was flying out — at least until I shelled out a few hundred more dollars — I finally got things worked out so I wouldn’t leave until Sunday. And that meant I could attend the raki making, too!

We returned to Zenia early Saturday afternoon and were directed to a house that sloped up the side of a mountain. We scaled the steep driveway to a patio entrance on the side that let us know we were in the right place, thanks to the sight of an enormous double-columned copper still with a raging fire underneath the larger unit. The still was so close to the steps that you had to watch your step climbing onto the patio.

The grill is perfect for lamb and potatoes.

But there was Manolis with a host of friends and family tending to the fire as the alcohol from the mash was apparently siphoned from the main chamber through an overhead coil into the neighboring column still, out of which came the raki. The precious liquid was filtered through a mass of cotton before ending in a pot below. Firewater, indeed.

The mash had been made using potatoes as well as the leftovers from the previous weeks’ wine-making efforts. Skins, seeds and stems hadn’t been wasted; they all made their way into the mash for the elixir. Who knows if they had another use for them after the raki making? They didn’t merely discard the used mash. It was tossed the back of a truck, possibly for use as compost. Nothing on the island went to waste.

Who can resist lamb, potatoes, olives and raki?

Whenever the fire burned down a little, one of Manolis’ friends would take a shovel and move the burning coals to one of several nearby grills where food was being prepared for all to enjoy while the hours passed. Marinated lamb, thin slabs of potatoes and thick cuts of bread all made it to the grill, where Manolis and his sister tended the food. When the potatoes were done, they were drizzled with the family’s own olive oil and lemon juice before being finished off with a sprinkling of salt. Other potatoes were buried whole in the coals to roast until they were finished.

Manolis’ father savors the lamb. (Photo courtesy Carol Yeager)

A plate of olives, picked from a nearby tree no doubt before brining, appeared. So did a basket of apples from the year’s harvest, which our host peeled and cut up into pieces that he handed out. Everyone was soon handed a shot glass so that we could toast this year’s raki with some of last year’s. Our glasses were refilled several more times, and I was glad I wasn’t driving.

Not much English was spoken, except by Manolis and a friend who had once lived in London. Clairy translated a few questions that we had, but even that wasn’t always necessary. The hospitality transcended language, so did the raki.

At last it came time to head back to reality and let these people continue their work, which would likely last into the night. We thanked them  for their hospitality, which had helped make the day perfect for three visiting food lovers. 

I had taken more than 150 photos over the two hours or so that we were there, images that captured the scope of the enterprise, the serious nature of their work and the joy they derived from it. I also brought back a bottle of that handmade raki, which I plan to share with friends in the same spirit that Manolis and his family showered on us during our visit.

The outdoor operation

The still in operation

The raki is filtered after leaving the still.

Carol takes a picture of our new friends, including Manolis, his daughter, his sister and his brother-in-law, plus Clairy on the right.

 

 

 

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