23 July '17


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they call her: Yiayia


Marinated Sea Bass on the Fire and Skordalia Dip

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"I’ve been cooking this dish for as long as I’ve known how to cook. It’s simple really, but the flavours remind me of my childhood and the process itself reminds me of my husband. When I was young, my sisters and I used to joke that skordalia isn’t for a young girl that wants to be kissed. I remember we would challenge each other to put more garlic in it every time we would make it for my brothers. The more garlic that was added, the more I would like it. Perhaps this is why I didn’t marry until I was 27.


I was one of ten children and we lost our father young, so we were put to work right away to be able to afford to get by. I never went to school because my mother needed me to go to work out in the fields. I still can’t read or even sign my name. My education was out farming and cultivating the land, which means I’ve always had a full stomach and an active life to go with it. I know which phase of the moon’s cycle to plant my crops for the very best harvest. I know which wild weeds are safe to digest and which herbs aid an upset stomach. I know precisely how much wood to leave on a fire and water to leave in the pan in order to slow cook a dish on an open flame while I’m out.

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The best thing my mother ever taught me was bravery. Aged 9, I was taught how to bake my own bread in the oven we shared with my aunts. It was a traditional stone bread oven and we would have to light a fire to use it. She taught me to put my hands right into the flames and be unafraid of the fire. There were no timers on the oven or temperature gauge, so even back then I would learn precisely how much wood was needed to heat the oven, and then maintain the heat while we waited for the bread to rise. I still cook in an out-house on an open flame.

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I’ve always been poor but I’ve never gone hungry. We only ate meat at Easter and Christmas but we were all still very healthy - even during the war years. Rationing was not a word we would use, because this island is plentiful. You don’t need to look far to find fresh fish here. My brothers would go line fishing with other boys from the village and often would come back with seabass for my mother to cook.

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We had lemon groves on the mountainside just outside our house and I would always be sent to pick lemons from the trees for the marinade. We would hang our herbs to dry out in the sun and my favourite smell was always that of oregano. If I was sent for it by my mother I would crush the twigs in my palm and sniff at it running up the hill all the way back to the kitchen. I still like to do this now. I have a bunch of it hanging from the roof tiles behind my house.


I think I have cooked this dish most often because all the ingredients were always available to me. Even the olive oil has always been from my own olive trees. My sisters and I would pick olives in the rain on the mountainside  while our younger brothers went off to school. In fact, I’m still on my knees picking olives every November. I haven’t had a single year off excluding 2009 when my husband died.

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I didn’t actually learn to scale or gut a fish until I met my George. We’d make this together every Tuesday and Thursday. I would send him off to go and collect the various ingredients we’d need and he would gut the fish while I prepared the fire, listening to the radio. I have so many memories of us cooking together. It really was a joint effort.



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