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Traditional Culture: Foodways & Domestic Arts

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Foodways

Foodways include the complex of social customs based on the selection, preparation, and consumption of foods and beverages. Everyday, regional, and holiday foods are served in households and a limited variety are publicly available through special events or restaurants. 

In the early 20th century, spongers went to sea for several months. The men often ate fresh fish, but they broke the monotony with a preserved meat dish called kavourmas. Before sailing, the crew prepared enough for the entire trip. Outside over a wood fire, they filled a washtub with fat, melted it, added beef or lamb, stirred with a paddle as it cooked for hours, then sealed it into cans. The preparation of kavourmas became a social occasion as well as a necessity.  Sponge boats no longer need it, it is still made on special occasions.

For Easter, many prepare regional Dodecanese foods such as the bread called eftazimo. Made in observance of God’s command to Moses to prepare unleavened bread for the flight to Israel, the name refers to kneading the dough seven times. It does not contain yeast, but the juice of fermented garbanzo beans provides leavening to raise the dough. The juice is mixed with flour, salt, sugar, anise and other spices, mastic, and nigella seeds to produce delicious loaves.  Women also bake lazarakia, small spice breads in the form of Lazarus, on the Saturday before Holy Week to commemorate Christ raising Lazarus from the dead.

A few families have built a traditional oven, or fournos, to cook regional specialties.  On Holy Saturday, they assemble to light the oven and prepare food for the Easter feast.  One delicious Kalymnian dish is mououri, lamb stuffed with rice, red sauce, and spices, then sealed in a clay pot.  Families insert the pot inside the oven, seal it with clay, and cook the lamb overnight.

Domestic Arts

Domestic arts, such as needlework, fulfill the basic needs of family and community.  For example, children sometimes wear Greek regional clothing for dance groups or community events.  Many order costumes from Greece, but some local needlework experts create beautiful regional dress with intricate details.  Greek girls traditionally learned embroidery, crochet, and tatting—often to make clothing or linens for their dowry, or prika.  Few create these beautiful items today, but some households still display the needlework of the older generation. 

Inside the house, the aesthetic arrangement and display of objects expresses values.  While the proportion of Greek artifacts varies, most homes contain items that symbolize ethnic identity.  Several categories of objects are displayed: those reflecting historic village life, products from the ancestral region, Greek Orthodox artifacts, and symbols of national identity.  The blue and white colors of the Greek flag are frequently used for homes or businesses.

Families often utilize plants around their homes for culinary, decorative, and ritual purposes similar to those in Greece. They frequently plant lemon, mandarin and other fruit trees; herbs such as basil and rosemary; and common Mediterranean flowers such as geraniums and roses.  Households often pave the avli (courtyard), carefully configure their potted plants within the space, and sweep it on a daily basis.