An excerpt from

Grand Dishes

Iska Lupton and Anastasia Miari

Sample interiors:

We eat the healthiest food here. It’s why I’m still on my knees picking olives every November. The fish here is the best, fresh from the sea. It’s caught in the morning then it’s on my plate by the afternoon. That’s real food that will keep you alive for years.

I’ve been cooking this dish for so long. We joke that skordalia isn’t for a young girl that wants to be kissed. My husband, George, loved it. He’d want fish for every meal so I learned to cook it as soon as we married. Back then, we didn’t just stick it in the oven, we’d cook on an open flame. I still do. My mother never taught me how to do any of this - it was more about putting me to work out in the fields. I had nine other siblings and we couldn’t all go to school so I never learned to read or write.

I’ve always been poor but I’ve never gone hungry. When we were young we had chickens and we’d sell the eggs to make a tiny bit of money to be able to buy fish or cheese. We’ve always had food because we grow it. As I get older, it gets harder to do but I still walk to my allotment for an hour every morning to harvest fresh vegetables. My oil isn’t the same as the oil you buy from any supermarket. Nothing tastes as good as the olive oil from your own olive trees.

I met George on the day he came to my house to ask permission to marry me. He used to pass with a horse and cart through my village. He worked as a delivery man, delivering all sorts from olives, to flour and he’d see me out in the field, working. He said he’d watched me for months before proposing. It was news to me. He was a good looking man and I was old by that point, 27, so I said yes. We were married eight days later.

I have cooked this dish most often because all the ingredients were always available to me. Even the olive oil comes from my own olive trees. My sisters and I would pick olives in the rain on the mountainside every November, while our younger brothers went off to school. I haven’t had a single year off olive picking, apart from the November my husband died.

I think of him and my mother when I make this dish. I didn’t actually learn to scale or gut a fish until I met my husband. He taught me how to do that and we’d make this together every Tuesday and Thursday. We had a routine. I would send him off to go and collect the various ingredients we’d need and he would gut the fish while I prepared the fire.  We would make the food together listening to the radio. I have so many memories of us cooking together. It was really a joint effort.  

As I get older, it gets harder to do but I still walk to my allotment for an hour every morning to harvest fresh vegetables. There’s nothing like the food you grow, tend and cook yourself. That is independence. And having someone to share it with is what it means to be rich.