In the second of her stories for the World Travel Blogger series, Karen Guttridge discovers a VERY unusual taste sensation on the beautiful island of Cyprus.
On the southern mountain slopes outside the Cypriot town of Limassol, lies the village of Doros, where I’d heard talk of mushrooms. Sugared mushrooms.
I arrived in the village via a slightly convoluted route. I’d intended to approach via the excellent road which hugs the impossibly blue expanse of the Kouris Dam, reputedly the home of Cyprus’ answer to the Loch Ness monster. However, I’d become distracted by a bevy of quail skittering before my car and ended up passing the same village kafeneion three times. To their credit, the chaps sipping ouzo and coffee had downed tools and waved enthusiastically each time I drove past.
I pulled up outside Katerina’s Cyprus Sweets where Katerina Christoforou is a lady determined to revive the old tradition of Glyka tou Koutaliou or spoon sweets. As a child she used to spend hours watching her grandmother gather fruits from her garden which she then stewed and preserved for the winter in sugar syrup. Tiny tasters of these rich, sweet concoctions were served to guests on a spoon, accompanied by thick, strong Greek coffee.
“In the old days village housewives in Cyprus were forced to be inventive and thrifty and took pride in letting very little go to waste – even the peel of the fruit such as watermelon and oranges was used,” said Katerina.
And what of the mushrooms? Katerina certainly likes to experiment. Her daughter Mary hastened to the kitchen to emerge with delicate plates glistening with sticky fare. A large mushroom sat proud amongst a scattering of pistachios and two strawberries. “ I like to push the boundaries,” explained Katerina, “ to create my glyka from the less expected sources”. She certainly does. A wander over to scan the shelves revealed jars of sugar syrup-preserved walnuts (picked from the tree whilst still soft and green), rose petals, olives, prickly pear and even garlic. All excellent, apparently, for their health-boosting properties.
Now to tackle that mushroom. I didn’t know what to make of it. I normally eat my mushrooms savoury – and hot. The tiny fork cut through the thick flesh easily. I popped a smooth quarter into my mouth and began to chew. The flavour was intense. Was that because of the sweet syrup? I’d no idea, but quickly pulled up my chair and focused on clearing my plate. Absolutely delicious.
As I ate, Katerina talked proudly of her success in the recent European business awards in Barcelona. “I was so proud. There I was, mingling with the chaps from Ikea …”
Karen Guttridge: fuelled by wanderlust and the odd cake, she likes nothing better than donning boots and rucksack, noseying around the UK and Europe and getting up to endless mischief. Check out her blog Ladyhiker and find her on Face Book & Twitter@happy_rambler. You can read her article on Family Wine-making in Cyprus here.