Tonia’s Rural Cyprus

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Tonia Buxton

This was the name of a ten-part series that the chef/presenter and all-round espouser of all that is Cyprus, Tonia Buxton, had on television a little while ago. It is also the name that could be given to the current promotion being aimed at us by Cyprus. We know the resorts, the beaches and the coastline but what about the hills and the land set back from the coastal belt?
Part of Tonia’s role is to reveal the changes that have happened; the return to natural products and the rise of Cypriot cooking in the rural areas.
Thirty years ago, local cooking was largely rejected in favour of standard international food but in the last few years there has been a return to tradional menus. As a result, rural restaurants are booming and, internationally, series like Tonia’s have won good viewing figures wherever they are shown. In her words, “People are falling in love with indigenous Cypriot ingredients.” So much so that another series looks to be in the offing.
Take haloumi for example, the cheese that we flour and fry. Cypriots also serve it with melon but now they are also mixing it with chutneys as they use their own produce to develop a modern twist. But some things remain traditional like lounza. This is pork loin that has been salted and smoked then rolled in coriander seeds and marinated in red wine for a couple of weeks. Or hiromeri which is cured ham that has been salted,marinated in red wine then put in a press and left for two months.
But it is likely that the lounza that you try in one village will vary in the next. Or even be different from house to house in the same village. Why? Because each householder will marinate the meat in the red wine that they have harvested from their own vines. Just as grapes have different varieties so farmers and householders will use their preferred grape types. And Cyriot wine has changed dramatically over the last decade or so as vineyards have produced internationally quality wines and dessert wines.
And how do you fancy candied aubergines? Baby ones are placed in cold water and citric acid. (lemons for example) Then they are removed, peeled and the flesh is allowed to harden. Into a strong syrup they are boiled for a couple of hours until soft. Some beetroot is added to give colour. When they are cooked they are slit open, stuffed with almonds and bottled in the syrup.
Food plays an important part in rural life and just as the best food was prepared for festival time, so the same applies today. The visitor is lucky because there is a festival almost every day. Follow the festivals and eat the best would almost seem to be the rural motto. For the festivals were not only important in religious life they gave the youth of the village the opportunity to meet members of the opposite sex. Above all, rural life is family based and maybe that is why families have taken to rural Cyprus.
It is no surprise then that homestays have become commonplace . Stay with a family instead of a hotel. Eat as they do, live their life if you wish or move on to the next village. Combine it with trips to the sights or explore the heritage and culture that still abounds unlike some of the more touristy, beach resorts. Or better still, have a homestay near a secluded beach that the unadventurous visitors have yet to find. You’d be surprised by how many remain.
For more on rural Cyprus, click here.

We are grateful to Tonia for permission to print one of her favourite recipes.

Glyko tou Vasanyou (Aubergine Spoon Sweet)

This is a more unusual spoon sweet, it is also one of my favourites as it has such a wonderful texture, sweet & soft and then you bite into the almond nut, just wonderful. The Greeks make candied spoons sweets out of pretty much everything as you can see here, one would not normally think of using an aubergine, but it is actually a fruit not a vegetable.

Ingredients:
2 heaped handfuls of lime powder or 2 heaped tablespoons of citric acid ( if you do not have either you can use the juice of 1 lemon, this is primarily used, not for flavour but to give the aubergine some crunch.)
20 baby aubergines
40 whole almonds, blanched

For the syrup:
1kg caster sugar
3 lemon leaves
A bunch of pelargonium (lemon scented /sweet geranium) leaves
A small of rosewater
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Stir the lime powder into a large bowl of cold water.
2. Peel the aubergines and with the tip of a sharp knife, score down one side of the aubergine large enough to slip in an almond.
3. Drop the aubergines into the limewater and leave to soak for 1 hour. This firms up the aubergine. Then rinse thoroughly under cold running water.
4. Meanwhile, make the syrup. Simply place all the ingredients into a large saucepan together with 1 glass of cold water. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.
5. Add the aubergines and gently simmer, uncovered, without stirring, for 1-1½ hours or until the syrup becomes dark and syrupy.
6. When cool enough to handle, remove the aubergines and stuff one or two almonds into each aubergine through the scored opening.
7. Pack the aubergines into sterilised jars and pour on the syrup to fill. Seal and store in a cool place.

Enjoy the spoon sweets with a glass of iced water.

To sterilise the Kilner jars, simply fill with boiling water then drain or place in
A hot oven for 10 minutes or so.

For recipes from Tonia click here

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