10 DECEMBER, 2013

Vasilopita, for the grandest of loves

Grains of crystalized sugar, dated and grafted with the faint scent of vanilla and grated cloves, jumped out at me unexpectedly as I leafed through its pages. The pages had turned yellow with time, held together by a string that had kept it bound and safe against the scatter time often brings. There, amongst the scribbles written in dark blue ink by my Great Grandfather Basil, an array of dessert recipes. The recipes were full of life, just like he was; the man who “stole” my Great Grandmother Crystal. Her father was a brigadier and a prominent personality of Kefalonia. My Great Grandfather quit his job in the Grendarmerie and fled to Athens so they can build a life. Together.

My grandmother searched high and low to find this «book»: her polished old furniture were turned upside down during her search. At some point she resigned herself, disappointed in the thought that it was «probably lost during one of the moves.» The pages contained more than recipes. Within in one, the story of her parents great love unfolded – a love imbued with small shorts of aged cognac, orange zest and the discreet scent of cow’s butter: Each page presented one dessert – one for every heart beat that Crystal brought to Basil’s chest. Also, on the top was a date, and the recipes were in order – a makeshift calendar of their life together, a valuable mosaic of crystal moments and even more crystal emotions.

The modern «ping» that echoed from my cellphone distracted me from the pink part of my genealogical history and abruptly brought me back from an age of fairy-tale romances of the interwar period to today. I quickly got dressed, shoved the notebook in my bag and, a few minutes later, I was ringing my grandmother’s doorbell, with a supermarket bag in one hand and the recipes in the other. «Guess what,» I said, showing her the notebook. She touched it with her fingertips, gently, the way that we may touch a valuable object made of fragile material. Her eyes began to water and soon tears were flowing. «Come, come now, don’t get emotional. I found a great recipe for vasilopita. But we must first try it ourselves, so we can figure out what temperature to bake it in, for how long – it isn’t mentioned anywhere in the pages. We don’t want the vasilopita to fall flat and bring bad luck for the entire year! And since if left to my own devices, i’m going to mess it up. I bought the ingredients. Let’s make it together.»

She looked at me with warmth in her eyes, as if I had given her the greatest gift in the world. She rolled up her sleeves, wrapped her apron around her waste, spread the ingredients on the kitchen counter – flour, sugar, Horio cow butterfat, salt, eggs, cognac, orange juice and orange zest, vanilla, cloves and almonds. As she stirred and mixed them together in her glass bowl, she told me my Great Grandparent’s story from the beginning, like the stories she used to tell us when we were children everytime Christmas would near. When the white nights gave birth to magical tales that the world turned to reality. The thought left my mind as my grandmother loudly claimed, «It is for this reason that I tell you this today. We will always be surrounded by fairy tales – they always were and they always will exist. The issue is have people surrounding us to whom we give and from whom we receive love. And everything else will come…»

A bakes with her grandmother in Patissia

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