This week’s recipe was inspired by a class assignment brought home by my youngest daughter. Affectionately called “Ellis Island Day”, the children pick a nationality from their family history and write an extensive report on that country, make a float for their country of origin and a choose a photo of one person from their family tree who immigrated from that country to display. In addition, they may dress as immigrants from that country and bring food from that country to share with the entire grade. So, of course, I volunteered to bake. One of my daughters’ favorites is a Greek pastry called Melomakarona, pronounced meh-loh-mah-KAH-roh-nah. In Greece, this pastry is typically a Christmas cookie. But here in the States, we make them at all times of the year, for holidays and special occasions.
I volunteered to bake about a month ago and had sort of forgotten about it, until my little one reminded me that Ellis Island Day was this week. I began to rethink my eagerness to help out yet again. Really the last thing I wanted to do was spend a whole entire day baking cookies for grade-schoolers. Really? 12 dozen cookies? It’s not that the cookies are difficult to make, it’s just that the recipe, like many of my Greek recipes, makes so much food, which takes so much time. When they decided to cook in the ‘old country’, they really cooked! These recipes basically feed a whole village. And, I could have used that time to go to yoga class, clean the house, or even catch up on my reading.
But I didn’t. As I mixed the dough and shaped each cookie, I thought about my paternal grandmother, who must have made these cookies hundreds of times in her tiny kitchen in her little house in her small village. It got me thinking about how things used to be. I’m sure she enlisted the help of at least one her four daughters to help with the baking. While they baked, they would probably share with each other what was going on in their lives and the news of the day, maybe even throw in a little gossip.
So, what started out to be a daunting task of making literally over one hundred cookies each one shaped by hand, baked, then individually dipped in honey syrup, turned out to be quite a meditative day for me. As I formed each cookie, I was repeating a task done by generations upon generations of Greek women before me. It forced me to stop my busy life, if only for one day, and allowed me time to think about who I am, where I came from and where I’m headed. And you know what? I actually did draw a few conclusions on things that had been racing around in my head for a few weeks now. So, who knows? Maybe the goddesses of Mt. Olympus knew I needed this day to think and had this planned for me all along. Thanks, Yiayia (Γιαγιά)!
Notes: Please see recipe for Melomakarona on the Featured Recipe page. These cookies will keep for up to 3 months. And, the longer they sit, the better they taste! Do NOT store in the refrigerator! Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Of course the goddess decided to dip a few of the pastries in chocolate. And of course, they are out of this world. Either way, traditionally plain or artfully dipped half in chocolate, you may be glad that the recipe makes so many cookies, because they disappear as quickly as a winged-footed god.