Follow by Email

Monday, April 13, 2015

Grilling An Easter Lamb In A Greek Village

Life in Greece is good. There may be financial chaos around the corner but customs and traditions are being observed.

When I know that more than a dozen people are coming for lunch on Easter Sunday, my Austro-German mind goes into overdrive. Everything needs to be prepared at the latest the day before. The tables are set and the sunshades in the open yard are up. In short, everything is prepared to perfection. Which, to be honest, can make it a rather stiff affair.

We arrived at the family home in the village on Saturday evening. Everybody was cool. Not a sign that there would be a big event the next day. Just easy-going and pleasurable company. I offered my brother-in-law to help and he said I should be up at 8 in the morning. Punctually, of course, at 8 I was there.

My brother-in-law threw a small mountain of logs on the fireplace and lit them, and that was the end of that. I expressed worries whether it would burn well; whether it would produce enough glow; etc. He just waved his hand. Then he brought the lamb from the refrigerator. It was a big animal. He improvised a couple of small tables to put the lamb on. We then made the lamb grill-ready like we would be preparing coffee: no stress or excitement whatsoever. When something didn't work, a new trick was improvised. There was no rush. It took almost one hour to finish the job.

Then the grilling began. Surprise, surprise --- the glow was just perfect. A little electric motor made the lamb turn and that was just about the end of it. My brother-in-law went back to enjoy a coffee. I couldn't believe how one could be so relaxed when performing such a big job. No one ever asked "When will it be ready?" I guess the answer would have been "It will be ready when it is ready!"

As time passed, more and more younger and older women made their appearance and without any such thing as a central command or organization, they got to work. Somehow everyone seemed to know what his/her part in the show was. The tables were set; the sunshades were fixed; salads arrived one after another; bottles appeared on the table. Before long, the tables were bending over and the lamb wasn't even ready yet. People were sitting down and started eating. I asked my wife whether we shouldn't wait for the lamb. She said no; this was just the Orektikó.

At long last, my brother-in-law took the lamb off the grill. I asked him how he knew that it was ready. He just waved his hand. I was curious because I didn't see a large table where he would put it in order to cut it up. Instead, he took a huge plate, put it on the floor and simply let the lamb slide down. And then he put the plate the middle of the table and that was the end of that. Everybody took their food and drinks and it turned out to be a huge feast. Hard to think of anything more enjoyable.

Life in Greece is good, indeed. My thoughts got going and I started contemplating that there might soon be a Greek default and/or Grexit. That there could be complete financial chaos in the country. But something told me that life in the village wouldn't change all that much. Life would remain good.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for this good story. I agree that life in the villages or on the islands is still good, and that it might be good even after a grexit. In Athens though it's a different story.

    I wonder nonetheless how a grexit - and it probably would be in the tourist season, maybe already in June or in July - might affect the situation for travellers and tourists in the country. Nobody seems to care about that.

    I remember that in the summer of 2012 some tourists were coming with lots of cash as they were afraid the ATM's were going dry. This time such a prospective is much more realistic. And there would be not only complete financial but also political chaos.

    Maybe Greece was only granted a four month extension of the bailout program to put this pressure on the negotiations. As far as I remember Greece had requested six months which would have taken them over July and August too

    In the long run a chaotic tourists season 2015 would of course have very negative consequences for this for Greece so vital industry. Tourists are after all an utterly mobile lot.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Electric motors are for lazy, not serious lamb grillers. You can tell that a lamb is ready just by looking at the knee joint.

    A serious lamb griller, prepares the lamb, the day before. He wakes up at 6:00, maximum 7:00, to prepare the firepit. The lamb should take 4-5 hours to roast. Initially that the fire is hot, you need to turn the lamb (by hand) quickly. By the end of the 5 hours, when the coal has lost heat, you need to turn slowly. You need to insist on areas that are resistent to be cook and avoid exposing to heat areas that have already been cooked. The motor doesn't do these things. An important thing is to keep the fat on the back on, fix it with toothpicks if necessary, otherwise it falls off very easily and the back goes dry. Some younger or city folks don't know this and remove the back fat as soon as they buy the lamb from the butcher.

    In cities, many people didn't buy lamb (again) this year. They bought a slice of meat, like it was another common day.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Addendum:

    "At long last, my brother-in-law took the lamb off the grill. I asked him how he knew that it was ready. He just waved his hand."

    He probably had too much fun watching your surprised look to tell you :)

    " I was curious because I didn't see a large table where he would put it in order to cut it up. Instead, he took a huge plate, put it on the floor and simply let the lamb slide down. And then he put the plate the middle of the table and that was the end of that. Everybody took their food and drinks and it turned out to be a huge feast. Hard to think of anything more enjoyable."

    In my parts, where we are serious for lamb grilling, you don't cut it on a table, because the lamb will be dripping fat and because no table (assuming village rustic open tables) is clean enough. If you use a tablecloth it's ruined for good. If you use a plastic tablecloth, again, it's not hygienic unless you 've washed it the day before. The simpler thing is to put the spit on a large oven tray. You let the lamb slide down the spit to the oven tray. You break off the head and the legs and now the entire lamb fits in a simple oven tray. You cut the pieces you need and the rest you cover it with aluminum foil and you put it in the fridge for the day after. When you 've eaten all the lamb, you just wash the oven tray and you 're done.

    In other parts of Greece, they don't use normal wood fire, but coal (coal burns differently). In other parts yet, they don't use a flat fire, but they dig a "hole", so that the heat doesn't come only from below, but it is reflected to the lamb from the sides too.

    At any rate, electric motors aren't for serious lamb cooks. Hand turned lamb 07:00-13:00 is the best. You leave it 1h upside down while still on the spit to dry out a bit from excessive fat and by 14:00 you are ready to serve. That's how it should be done.




    ReplyDelete
  4. "But something told me that life in the village wouldn't change all that much. Life would remain good."

    Villages, are always the best place to be in a time of crisis. In WWII, those who died from famine, were all city folks. The villages saw hunger, but not famine. The city people who didn't have a garden or a cow, are those who died.

    ReplyDelete
  5. In Italy we say "we laugh so we dont have to cry". Scratch a bit under the happy villager and once you hear of the kids emigrated because no future, the old people left without medicines/hospital, the families having to sleep in one room because no money for heating...

    At least this year they still had the lamb to eat..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gentile signore,

      Infatti, molti non hanno da mangiare, non solo l' agnello, ma nemmeno un cibo qualsiasi. La chiesa greca distribuisce giornalmente 250.000 pasti in tutto il paese. Questo la dice lunga sulla presunta diffusa felicità che il nostro caro ospite incontra sempre.

      Delete
  6. Nice Post Mr. Kastner and Welcome back for the summer.

    It was a nice 4 days especially Saturday and Sunday, but that which was in the back of my mind the whole was, Grexit or not, nobody can take our sun from us. And with that thought i had and still do not have a care in the world.

    I also saw a wonderful Greek movie from the 1950's. 'One Life Is What We Have' see it.

    Take Care,

    V

    ReplyDelete