Food for Souls (living and dead)
Last Saturday, I visited my village for a particular reason. I wanted to see how a food preparation connected with religious events is made.
I arrived early in the morning and went directly to the house where my aunt was waiting for me. She had boiled already the previous evening wheat berries, which are the base of the preparation.
She explained to me that after the wheat was cooked simply in water, she had to drain and dry it so as it’s not soaking wet when mixed with the rest of the ingredients, and thus the final preparation would remain crumbly. To do so, she spread it on a towel and pat it dry with kitchen paper. Additionally, she used some toasted flour which was the first component that arrived in the bowl with the cooked wheat. After that, she added a good amount of chopped walnuts and almonds, some breadcrumbs, and a mixture of different types of raisins. For flavour and aroma, she used the zest of a big orange plus ground clove and cinnamon. The whole mixture was very aromatic and appealing!
However, the preparation was not ready yet. My aunt kept going by placing a baking paper on top of the mixture and pressing it firmly with her palms so that the food would become as compact as possible. She spread on top a good layer of breadcrumbs as well as powdered sugar. Finally, using a stencil she decorated the top with a cinnamon-made cross and placed some almond pieces. It was then ready to go!
The name of the preparation is koliva or kollyva. It’s connected with the Orthodox church as a means for commemorations of the dead. Typically, people bring koliva to the church during funerals or memorial services performed at various intervals after someone’s death, as well as during the so-called Saturday of Souls (ψυχοσάββατο), a day when according to belief people can come in mental communication with the dead. Saturday of Souls is biannual and it was the occasion for which I visited the village that day.
My aunt covered the bowl with plastic wrap, took it into her arms and she started walking towards the cemetery, which was located a few hundred meters from the house. The rest of us followed her enjoying the nice walk, on a sunny day, through the village paths. At the cemetery, we met locals and relatives who had come for the same purpose with their own koliva bowl. My aunt left our bowl on the grave of my grandmother, pierced a candle into the bowl, and lighted it. After a while, the priest arrived and performed a short ceremony commemorating the dead.
We left the cemetery carrying the bowl back home and the time to enjoy koliva had now arrived. My aunt using a spoon ruined the decoration and started mixing thoroughly the contents of the bowl. She served koliva to us alongside a Greek coffee. It was delicious!!
Except for being tasty, koliva is also very nutritious food. Every morning during the week afterward I was mixing koliva with yogurt and fresh fruits. That was my breakfast, one of the best ever had!
For a big bowl use, ca. 300g wheat berries and add the rest of the ingredients as you wish
wheat berries *
toasted almonds **
zest of a big orange
* Other whole grains (corn, rice, barley, oats, etc.) can be used similarly
** First blanch the almonds, peel them, wipe them with a paper towel, and toast them in a pan
- Wash a few times the wheat berries until the water remains relatively clear, place them in a pot with fresh water, and bring to a boil. Remove the cloudy water, add a new batch, bring it again to boil, and let it simmer for ca. half an hour or until the grains are soft and edible.
- Drain the cooked grains and wash them again under a strainer to remove the excess sticky starch. Spread them on a towel and pat them with a paper towel to remove excess humidity. Store overnight in the fridge or proceed directly with the next steps.
- Pour the grains into a bowl that fits them comfortably. Add the toasted flour and mix.
- Add the chopped walnuts and almonds, a good amount of breadcrumbs, and raisins of any kind. Mix well.
- Add the zest of an orange, ground cinnamon and cloves, and a pinch of salt. Mix again well, taste, and adjust the flavour according to your liking.
- Place a baking paper on top of the mixture and press strongly with your hands to create a compact mixture.
- Sprinkle freely on top to cover the whole surface with a layer of breadcrumbs and then with powdered sugar.
- Decorate the top with any means using stencils and nuts.
- To eat it, just mix it again (it should feel crumbly), and simply serve it!
(You can store it in the fridge where it lasts for several days)