The Minoans had the largest fleet at the time so they could acquire a big number of raw ingredients for the island. However, Crete never imported great quantities of food, almost none, as the Cretans had faith for superior quality from their own produce.
Even today Crete exports some of the best quality products. Because of this quality and the strategic position of the island, it was sought by many conquerors.
What is the famous "Cretan cuisine"? And "not the" Mediterranean cuisine "as some like to call it for commercial purposes. So what is the "Cretan diet" which classifies the Cretans in scale with less heart disease and carcinogenesis worldwide? (2nd is Japan and 3rd the island of Corfu). The Cretan cuisine includes almost everything: fish, legumes, grains, many fruits, honey, wild greens, herbs, olives and olive oil, cheese and traditional preserved meats.
The authentic Cretan cuisine has survived because of the quality of natural produce. For this reason it has been researched for years. The simple recipes are thousands of years old and have withstood countless historical attacks. However, every time locals followed for years some other dietary pattern, they showed organic dysfunctions resulting a return slowly to the original diet.
We could say that the diet of the Cretans was always related to the needs of their daily life, and their hard work. Specifically they were all farmers or livestock keepers, so their nutritional needs increased due to long hours of manual labor. This fact alone led them to cultivate or seek foods with high protein content without overloading their stomach. For example, before going to work they sprinkled with water a barley rusk, some olives and garlic and had that for breakfast. This would provide the energy required to work in the fields or in the farm.
At lunch the Cretan table was usually simple and fragrant: boiled vegetables or legumes, wild greens, salad with plenty of extra virgin olive oil, cottage or gruyere cheese drizzled with a little honey, fried “skaltsounia” with cheese and mint, baked potatoes "oftes" in hot ash or even fried in olive oil… those dishes from their daily diet, are followed even today. A favorite dish was “skioufichta” handmade pasta made with semolina flour, topped with grated “mizithra” cheese (a dish that today is served in some parts of Crete as a main dish at weddings). The bread was made with wholegrain, wheat or barley, or sometimes a combination of all. Still most prefer the rusks instead of bread, which still exist today. Finally, a natural supplement to their diet was the homemade wine.
They only drank raki when they had visitors. And if the visitor won their sympathy then he was offered the best raki hidden in the cellar of the house. This is one of the hallmarks of the Cretan hospitality. The hospitality of Crete is specifically linked with the Cretan diet. They will offer to the “stranger” the best of their land.
At the same time, working with the needs of the land determined the ideology of the Cretan cuisine. Specifically in the fields they cultivated mainly cereals and vegetables and from November to January gathered the olives and made the oil of the year. Gradually the spring brought fruits and aromas.
During summer, was used to plow the fields and plant the next crop’s seeds, depending on the particular circumstances of each village and according to the water availability. The end of summer was the time to harvest, to thresh, and gather up the crop to store for winter. Depending upon the type of grain that had been planted the harvest was done periodically. Beginning of September, and if there was not much rain they Cretans worked in the vineyards. Only natural fertilizers where used. The most common was the sheep manure because the sheep where fed only with the remnants of the summer crops. In doing so, they achieved an excellent quality of milk, enough to produce the famous and renowned Cretan cheeses.
So, winter arrived, and because it was especially heavy on the mountain villages of Crete, there were not many options of work to be done. They were busy with some basic agricultural and livestock activities such as, preparing the oil production and for those who owned black pigs, slaughtering them to make the salted meats for the whole year. “Siglino” was kept in clay pots called “pitharakia” or when stood in salt and spices leaving it for a long time in dry storages called “apaki”.
Cretans were naturally active and loved traveling. So having the use of their fleet they managed to export their nutritional culture to all the coast of the Mediterranean, exchanging their agricultural products for metals and artwork. Today you can find these similarities, in various cuisines of the Mediterranean and beyond. The Cretan diet is not only a model diet, it is a lifestyle. A life that is associated with the return to nature and a better relationship with what our land has to offer!
By: Evangeline Koumentaki – Diktamo Grocery Shop