Olive Pies by the River Styx

25 Nov

Through the village of Akrata in the northern Peloponnese runs the River Styx, one of five waterways separating the living from the dead.  If you follow its many twists and turns, it will lead you straight to the entrance of Hades, its gates fiercely guarded by the many-headed hound Cerebrus.  The Olympian gods bowed before the river’s power, and the sea nymph Thetis dipped her baby Achilles in its sacred waters, so that he might become immortal.

A few years ago, the Styx exerted its power once again. This time it gave new life to a dying agricultural tradition, with the aid of two mortals, Christina and Dimitri Penteleimonitis.

Christina and Dimitri had discovered and slowly restored an old abandoned mill that had been  used for generations to grind small batches of flour from local wheat.  The modest building stood snugly in the shelter of Mount Helmos.  Water from the Styx flowed mightily down the mountain, forming a waterfall just a few feet behind the mill house, turning the heavy grinding stone. 

"Ta Mylelia," Christina and Dimitri's restored "little water mill" powered by the River Styx.

Today, the mill produces several grades of durum wheat flour, the finest being as soft as talcum powder. 

Adjusting the mill to grind the finest durum wheat flour.

Christina uses the flour in her workshop in the Agios Stefanos suburb of Athens where she employs a dozen or so women to make the tiny, square pastas known throughout Greece as hilopites.  They also make pastas flavored with squid ink and dried herbs, and my favorite, a pasta kneaded with feta cheese and ouzo, as well as jams, marinated cheeses, and spoon sweets, all of which they sell to small shops around the country.  They do not sell to supermarkets because Christina doesn’t want to have to meet such demand – or to create products made and preserved for shelf life rather than taste.

Pasta produced by Christina in her workshop.

The Akrata mill is the second one that the Penteleimonitis’s rescued.  Their first, a mill that is more than 300 years old, stands on the island of Lesvos, just a stone’s throw from Turkey’s western shore, where Christina grew up.  She loves her water-powered mills and the company she founded, “Ta Mylelia,” meaning “little water mills.”  Christina believes that small scale, sustainable agricultural production can be a viable source for emotional, physical, environmental,  and economic health, for herself and her husband, for the women she employs, for the farmers and shopkeepers she works with — and, most importantly, for her children who are on the brink of adulthood, and who are faced with an economically uncertain future.

Pies for the Lunchbox

When Christina’s children were young, she would often make and freeze big batches of savory pies that she would then have on hand to put in their lunch boxes.  Her youngest son, Nikolas, loved these treats, which no other kid had, but sometimes he craved food from the cafeteria.  Having inherited his mother and father’s entrepreneurial spirit, Nikolas set to work. He identified the most promising customers – two boys who were always throwing longing glances toward his lunchbox– and then drove a hard bargain.  In the end, he earned enough money to buy his cafeteria snack — and had ample change to spare.

 Here are recipes for Eliopsoma (olive breads) and Kourou Cheese Pies, two of the savory pies that contributed to Nikolas’ business acumen.  The recipes were generously provided by Christina.

Eliopsoma

Olive Pies. Photo courtesy of C. Penteleimonitis.

2 cups coarsely chopped pitted black olives, such as Kalamata

1 cup coarsely chopped green olives

3 cups finely chopped yellow onions

2 Tablespoons dry mint

1 teaspoon sugar

6 Tablespoons brandy

salt and pepper to taste

4 sheets frozen puff pastry (follow instructions on packet for thawing)

1 Tablespoon olive oil for the pan; more for brushing on top of the pies

3 Tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat a Tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add and saute the onions until they become translucent.

Add the black and green olives and saute for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the mint, sugar, brandy and a few fresh grounds of pepper.

When the liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat.

When the puff pastry sheets have thawed enough to handle, cut them into 3 x 4 inch squares. 

Place 1-1/2 teaspoons of the olive mixture on one corner of the pastry square.  Roll the pastry over the filling so that it looks like a croissant.

Place the pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden.

Makes about 35 pies.

 

Kourou Cheese Pies

Cheese Pies. Photo courtesy of C. Penteleimonitis.

For the dough:

7 oz.  plain whole milk yogurt

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 egg yolks

1-1/2 cup grated sharp cheese such as Graviera, Kasseri, or Gruyere

9 oz. butter

4 cups self-rising flour

For the filling:

14 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

2 egg yolks

freshly ground pepper

1 Tablespoon ground mint

Preheat the oven to 355 degrees F.

Make the dough.  Knead all the ingredients for the dough until a soft dough forms.  Allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.

Prepare the filling by lightly beating the egg yolks with a fork.  Add the feta, pepper, and mint.

Take a bit of dough about the size of a tangerine and pat it into a flat disk, about 1-1/2 centimeters thick.  In the center of the disk drop a Tablespoon of the filling. 

Fold the pastry in half to cover the filling, pressing the edges with the tines of a fork to seal.

Place the pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden.

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4 Responses to “Olive Pies by the River Styx”

  1. George Kutlenios November 25, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Can’t tell you how much I enjoy your blog. Will be chopping olives in the morning for the eliopsoma! Keep it up!

    • KuZina November 26, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

      Let me know how your pies turn out!

  2. S Cook November 27, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Thanks Kuzina. I enjoyed your article & I’m hoping to try the recipes – maybe when I get to Lesvos in a few weeks time & have a bit more time to spare and Christmas guests to cook for.
    I recognized the ‘Ta Mylelia’ logo immediately – but not from the River Styx. I was pleased to read later in the article that the ‘little water mill’ on our second home island of Lesvos was their first. We visited it a couple of years ago as we had seen the sign at a tiny turning off the road from Polichnitos to Mytilene which we travel to reach our Greek home. I don’t think many tourists find it. I was going to post a photo of the building here for you, but can’t see how to ‘insert picture’.
    Sylvia

    • KuZina November 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

      I am very glad you get to go to Lesvos in a few weeks, and only wish I could join you. The weather has taken a turn for the worse here, and I so miss the sea. Have a wonderful holiday and if you “discover” a particularly good recipe or hidden culinary corner of the island, I’m sure other visitors to this blog would love to hear about it! Kalo Taxithi!

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