Posts Tagged ‘Crete’


The most important visitor to Crete will arrive in May, she’s already on her way.

Her name is “Caretta Caretta“, she has become entwined in our lives in such a way as we could never have imagined.

May is always an exciting time for Mr J and I. As part of a volunteer group we begin the daily 4 kms beach patrols in search of the endangered Loggerhead Turtles nest. Our duties are shared and continue until the end of October, by when the last little hatchling has got to the sea.

Remembering our first nest patrol back in 2010, up at 5am, on the beach at 6am, camera at the ready for what we hoped would be our first discovery of a turtles nest. And there she was in all her glory, the morning sun, rising up above the Mediterranean, forgotten in all the excitement.

The sight of the sunrise was just one of the many joys we were about to experience during our first season as volunteers for the Greek Sea Turtle Protection Society “Archelon”

Archelon has been protecting turtles in Crete since 1989, having first been established in 1977 after discovering that many Loggerhead Turtles nested along the beaches of Zakynthos, by 1989 research had shown that Crete was also  a popular nesting area, particularly along the North Coast, and so the task began to provide as secure an environment as possible for the turtles of Crete.

And as long as there are volunteers, so it shall continue.


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Fancy footwear for dinner tonight? In this post I am going to cover one of my favorite aubergine dishes, Papoutsakia (παπουτσάκια).
But lets start with a little appertizer of history with a side dressing of Greek. 


The French call them “aubergine” which comes from Arabic, the Americans call them “egg-plant” because the small white ones resemble eggs and  the Greeks call them melitzana (μελιτζάνα) pronounced “meh-lee-tzah-nah”, which apparently comes from the Latin “mala-insane” meaning “apple of madness”. Why such a peculiar name ? Because we’re mad for them. No, because they are part of the nightshade family and were once thought to be very dangerous and yes, we’re mad for them. 

There are so many recipes that include this wonderfull vegetable, which is actually classed as a berry becasue of the seeds inside, but here’s my favourite.

Please remember these are my adapted versions of  traditional recipes made to suit my own taste and garden or cupboard content.

Papoutsakia simply means little shoes, because they look like little shoes, no analysis required there.


 2 melitzanes, cut lengthwise and the pulp removed and chopped for adding to the sauce.

2 onions, chopped finely.

2 garlic cloves, chopped.

2  large ripe tomatoes, chopped, or if you don’t have fresh toms then use tinned, my rule of measure is 1 large tomato for each melitzana, so that would equate to 1 tin for 2 melitzanes, or thereabouts!

a bunch of  fresh parsley, chopped.

salt and pepper to taste.

oliveoil, as much or as little as you like.

and finally the cheese, I use whatever I have in the fridge in the following ways:

 you can use either Feta crumbled on top or big chunks of it placed into the shoe before you put the sauce on top


any hard cheese grated on top or again a big chunk in the middle….. whatever you want.

Heat the oliveoil in a pan and add the onions and garlic, plus the chopped pulp from the aubergine and saute for 5 minutes……..

Add the tomatoes, herbs and seasoning and gently cook for a further 5 minutes…..

Pre-heat your oven to 180c…….

Place your shoes into a tin, dish or whatever ovenwear you want to use, skin side down.

Now depending on the cheese option you took either place your chunk of cheese into the shoes and then fill them with the tomatoe sauce, cook for 20 minutes


If you’ve gone for the cheese on top option, just put the tomatoe sauce straight into the empty shoes, cook for 15 minutes and add your cheese on top for the last 5 minutes. 


You can add minced beef or lamb to your sauce, just pop it into the pan and fry with the onions and garlic, or you can make a bechemel sauce to put on top with a sprinkle of grated cheese or crumbled Feta. Just remember to give the shoes an extra 10 minutes overall cooking time to allow for the extra ingredients.


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SALADMr J and I do love our food, our favourite saying is that whilst some people eat to live, we live to eat.

Over the past few years we’ve developed a habit, which to others might seem slightly annoying, of analysing what’s on the plate at every mealtime.

Take for example this beautiful salad, prepared and eaten within half an hour of being picked from our garden. Fresh and delicious, everything except the Feta, though it is local, is our own. Not such a great feat I hear you say, it’s the standard tomato, cucumber, pepper and onion combo, but trying to be self sufficient doesn’t just mean growing veg, it’s the little details that really make the difference.

The extra virgin olive oil, lavishingly poured on top is ours, picked by our own hands from our trees and processed in the village. The purslane and parsley are fresh from the herb patch, the dried oregano was picked from the mountains by Mr J, dried and stored by myself. The black olives are from our eating olive tree,  cured and preserved in a dark, rich, red wine vinegar which I also make myself. 

I’m proud of the fact that we can claim ownership of the majority of ingredients in nearly all our daily meals. And what we can’t provide ourselves we buy locally, the red wine we drink is bought from our neighbour, the bread we eat is from the local bakery and even the sea salt we use is local.

I’d say it’s pretty impossible to be 100% self-sufficient and we’ll probably never get there, but it’s greatly rewarding trying.

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toms1Growing tomatoes organically in Crete has been more of challenge than I had anticipated, but this year, being my third growing season, I have produced the best to date.  I admit I was totally sucked in by the frequent blasé comments of   ” They’re easy to grow here, plenty of sunshine” or ” Just throw them in with plenty of Goat manure” and the most famous of all  ” No, I never use chemicals”. 

OK they do love the sun but need protection from shoulder burn when it’s too hot, yes goat manure is good but whilst it gives you plenty of nitrogen resulting in lots of lovely healthy leaf, it won’t give the plant other ingredients for the flower and the fruits.   And the chemical thing ? Your guess is as good as mine, but I was somewhat enlightened, whilst visiting a neighbour some time ago, when I was briskly shoved into the kitchen and observed the windows and doors being quickly closed because the toms were being sprayed. No problem, everybody does things differently, but when I was handed a beautiful tomato by the same neighbour a few weeks later who proudly announced ” No chemicals” I realised that not everyone’s idea of organic included pesticides but just the fertilizer, yes you guessed it, Baaaa!

I have had many failures over the past three years but basic trial and error and  ” I wonder what this will do” experiments resulted in this years bumper crop.  This is what I did…..

Firstly, with Mr J’s help we constructed six 1 mtr by 1.5 mtr raised beds, or boxes as we call them. They were placed in the most troublesome part of our veg garden, the part where even a famous brand of beer cannot reach. Poor soil, poor drainage and just plain simple bad location where we reaped little reward for our hard graft. 

The soil was rotavated and the boxes palced on top, then filled with a mixture of 1 bag compost from our heap, 1 bag of manure and dressed with a good top soil from around our land.

I then constructed a bamboo frame to support the anticipated weight of the tomatoes, planted four plants in each box and surrounded the whole frame with a green mesh, helps to keep the bugs off.  Not forgetting to place the water pipes appropriately in the box.


At this same time I started the process of making my own liquid fertilizer. I make two kinds, one from the weeds I pick in the garden and one from our Chicken poo. I call them Green Tea and CPTea, respectfully. It’s a very simple but effective method, yes they both stink but the toms love ’em. Fill a large bucket or any container half with the weeds or a quarter if using the poo as this is strong stuff and then water to the top, leave stand for about 4-6 days and then water the toms with the liquid. Discard the mulch that’s left by either digging it into an empty patch of soil, making sure it’s completely covered or the weeds will sprout and the poo will smell, alternatively just throw it onto the compost heap.

Next I make up a bottle of pesticide spray. Use an empty bottle, drop in a few cloves of garlic, a couple of chillies and a few shavings of olive oil soap or a drop of washing up liquid. Leave stand for a week or more and finally, decant into a spray bottle. This works in three ways, the smell of the garlic puts off some pests, the taste of the chillies puts off others that are not bothered by the garlic and the soap clogs up the insects pores and eventually kills them. You can use this spray on any plants, not just toms, I also use it on my hibiscus which the aphids love to inhabit. But be very careful with the soap as this will also kill your plant if you make the mixture too strong, only a squeeze of the washing up liquid or a few shavings of soap using a potato peeler, when you shake up the mixture before use you’ll see the bubbles. To be on the safe side, before you go spraying everything, I advise you to do a test spray on a leaf and wait a few days, if it looks healthy then crack on, if it shows any signs of blackening or distress then water down your mixture and test it again until your happy with the results.

I wait until the first blossom set before I administer the tea and of course only use the spray if and when needed, be vigilant, a few pests found early and  squashed with your fingers will halt a mass invasion that warrants the spray.

Finally I sprinkle a teaspoon of Epsom Salts, delivered by kind guests from the UK on a visit, again at the first blossom set and then every 3-4 weeks thereafter. Epsom Salts is magnesium and it helps my toms to grow better. I did do a test and the plants with it have stronger stems whilst the ones without are weaker. I also use it on my pepper plants.

Don’t forget to trim any unnecessary leaf stems and nip out the top when your plants have reached the desired height, this helps the plant to become sturdier rather than taller and gangly. Be careful when trimming leaf stems not to trim out too many as the fruits need the leaf to protect them from the sun and only trim the stems that have no blossoms.

Sounds like a lot of work but it’s worth it.

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Being a novice gardener, with only my childhood memories of Mam’s green fingered wizardry, I found the biggest problem I had, when trying to start my own vegetable garden in Crete, was timing.

As any good comedian will tell you, timing is………………..crucial.

After weeks of care and attention, I’d lovingly snuggle my little seedlings into their prepared bed and proudly admire their brave attempts to keep upright. I’d watch, as over the next few days , they’d dig their little roots into the soft bed and then, disaster. They’d either be too young to cope with a heat wave in Winter or too leggy to weather the winds of Spring.

A quick visit to my local horticultural expert, Kosta’s our neighbour, and I’d find the same species of plant reaching for the skies like a troop of pirouetting ballerinas, far stronger than my own. My timing was out.

Kosta’s little ones had flown the nest four weeks before I’d given my little darlings their first field trip. Inevitably, his were much more prepared.

The climate here in Crete is wonderful, long hot Summers that stretch into October, mild Autumns, short Winters and Spring is here again before you’ve had the chance to dig out your hot water bottle and sow that patch on your old jumper. 

But gardeners be ware, in January we enjoy the Halcyon days, when the north wind ceases and gives way to the warm air from Africa. Resulting in a few weeks of warm, dry, glorious weather that, whilst it cradles and nurtures your bones, will devastate your unattended plants. Halcyon comes form the Greek word for Kingfisher (αλκυονα) and according to legend the kingfisher is responsible for this warm period as she needs to calm the waters to lay her eggs in a floating nest.

In summary, Spring winds will flatten your broad beans and suck the moisture out of delicate leaves, Summer will scorch, Autumn is perfect but for the odd heatwave and Winter is welcome.

So, in the hope that my experience can help others,  I’d like to share with you my planting schedule as I’ve developed it over the past 3 years. It’s not “one size fits all” as every garden is different, but the general rule of timing applies. The table below is basically split into 4 columns, the first is the vegetable, the second tells you what season you’ll be eating it in, the third tells you when to sow it and finally what to plant it with.

I can’t stress enough that this is my personal plan, based on my experience of gardening here in Crete.

To help you fight the battle of the pests, I strongly recommend that you plant plenty of basil and marigolds in your veg patch, plus onions and garlic which  I plant around the edge of each of my planters and then my vegetable in the centre, this works as a kind of barrier or security fence around the vegetables. I’ve also very successfully, grown carrots in a huge plastic half barrel, inter-planted with garlic.

 Good luck.

  when do we when do we put what’s a good    
what ? eat it ? the seeds in ? companion ?    
cabbage   july carrots,potatoes    
cauliflower   july onions,leeks,garlic    
broccoli winter july onions,leeks,garlic    
carrots   september onions,leeks,garlic    
turnips   september onions,leeks,garlic    
onions,leeks   september everything except beans and sage
pot1   september cabbage,marigold,carrot  
broad beans   october anything apart from onions & basil
pak choi   december onions,leeks,garlic    
parsley   january tomato,carrot    
onions,leeks spring december everything except beans  
lettuce   january onions,leeks,garlic,corn  
swiss chard   december onions,leeks,garlic    
pot2   december cabbage,marigold,carrot  
garlic   december everything    
tomato   january marigolds,basil,peppers  
cucumber   february peppers,    
courgette   february parsley,tomato,pepper  
pepper summer january cucumber,    
aubergine   february peppers,beans,lettuce    
beans   march corn,aubergines,cucumbers,peppers
corn   march beans,lettuce,peppers,cucumbers
melon   february corn,radish,nasturtium  
basil   march pepper,tomato    
  autumn we’re still eating all of the above summer veg until sep/oct 
lettuce   september everything especially onions,leeks,garlic,
celery   september everything except parsley and carrot,

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oranges-1I remember reading somewhere the definition of Autumn as the season between Summer and Winter, it must be the dullest of definitions for such a glorious season. The Greek word for Autumn is Φθινόπωρο pronounced fthi…no…po…ro, literally translated as the decline of income. The French used to call it Harvest before they and the rest of Europe, adopted the Latin word Autumn a few centuries ago and in America it’s called Fall.
Call it what you will, the Autumn season brings with it various definitions, to different people, in different places, doing different things.
For me personally, back in the UK, it would bring both a sadness of the Summers end and an anticipation of the Autumn fires about to burst through the trees. Mr J and I would often spend a Saturday walking, with Bronwen, through Dog Wood at Westonbirt Arboretum. It was like walking in an oil painting.
Unfortunately for some people, the Autumn is defined as above, the season between Summer and Winter and brings to them the impending doom of another long Winter, followed by the endless complaining of S.A.D sufferers.
Can you get S.A.D for every season or is it exclusively a Winter accessory for the fashion conscious ?
Since living in Crete we’ve noticed that we are much more aware of the seasons, not merely as weather patterns, but more as mother natures menu.
September is the grape harvest, after a long hot Summer the village comes to life with the sound of tractors awoken from their long siesta, loaded with empty crates and steered along an overgrown track to a vineyard, hidden amongst the olive groves. Of the various grapes grown, some are sold for the table and taken to local markets or shops, others are crushed in large concrete baths or simply trod on to produce next years vintage.
October brings the village stills to life, fired up like an old steam engine they boil away for 12 hours a day, exuding the firewater drip by drip, distilling the well know and well feared, Tskoudhia (Raki), from the last of the grape harvest.
November fails to bring the slumber before Winters sleep, instead, the buzz and whirl of the olive pickers poles can be heard across the valley, thrashing through the leaves, steadily rising every day as the villagers slowly migrate to the olive groves. A process that begins in November and continues through Winter and into March, when once again the lanes and groves are silent.
By far the brightest colour of Autumn is that of ripe Oranges, plump and juicy, plucked from a tree whilst out walking they are the best you’ll ever taste. It’s the perfect walkers thirst quencher, so juicy in comparison to the Supermarket bought oranges I remember back in the UK.
And of  course Lemons, a burst of yellow around every corner, in every garden.  They are, along with Olive oil, a staple part of the Cretan diet,  freshly squeezed onto everything, they truly are the taste of Crete.

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beans in a bog roll


I was recently given 11 shiny runner beans and having such a small amount I did not want to lose any to the dreaded garden pests or indeed one of our free range Bantams, who occasionally break into the garden for lunch. So I decided to give them a fighting chance from the very beginning and sow them into pots.

Having seen someone, somewhere using empty toilet rolls, I saved up enough for my little experiment, filled them half up with compost, gently nestled a bean on top and then filled up the remainder with more compost. To keep them upright I inserted each roll into an old bit of cardboard packaging and then surrounded them with more compost to keep them steady. Not wanting to waste this support I threw in some Arugula (large leaf rocket) seeds for company. A few weeks and lots of watering later the above was achieved.

Looks promising don’t you think ?

They’re going into a prepared area in the garden today, I’ll insert each roll up to the top in the soil, against the bamboo supports I’ve already been using for my string beans this past summer.

bean roots

bean roots

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Quince Jelly


  They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand on the edge of the sand
They danced by the light of the moon.

~ “The Owl and the Pussycat,” by Edward Lear



   The recipe


This is exactly how I make quince jelly.

Firstly I wash and chop up enough whole quinces to fill my biggest pan, I don’t bother weighing them as I’m only interested in the amount of juice I have at the end.

I pour in enough water just to cover them in the pan.

I boil them until very soft, 2 hours or so.

I pour the whole lot into a pillowcase, previously sterilized by ironing.

I tie the top of the pillowcase with string and then tie the string to an upturned chair.

I place a large bowl or pan, big enough to catch all the drips, underneath and place a cloth over the whole thing to keep the flies off.

Leave to drip overnight.

Measure the amount of fluid you have in the pan next day and add appx 1lb/454g of white granulated sugar for each 1pt/570ml of juice. Throw in a few lemon scented geranium leaves and the juice of one lemon. Boil until it reaches setting point, I find this by spooning some of the juice onto a cooled plate and looking for the wrinkles on top. Don’t worry if you get the setting point wrong and you find your jelly’s not set the next day, just pop it back into the pan and boil again.

Remove the geranium leaves and spoon off any scum on the top.

Pour the, now beautiful red coloured, liquid into sterilized jars. I sterilize mine by boiling them for 10mins and then once filled with the hot liquid, screw the lids (also boiled with the jars) on tightly. I then turn the jars upside down and leave for about an hour before turning them upright again.

All done, just remember the jelly tastes better if you can leave it for a few weeks.


The tree.


Two years ago Mr J was asked to remove an inconvenient quince tree from a neighbors garden. Feeling sorry for the poor tree we found a space on the edge of our vegetable patch where a hole was dug and the tree, unceremoniously thrown in.

It’s first autumn was a success having produced a decent crop of fruit and now, in it’s second season the weight of fruit on it’s slim branches is threatening to rip it out by the roots.  The three bucketfuls I’ve already picked has eased the strain and produced, to date, ten jars of delicious jelly.


The Fruit


Coincidentally the Greek name for quince is κυδώνι,pronounced kee-THOH-nee (kydoni).It’s botanical name Cydonia originates from the area of Crete in which we live, now known as Chania.

The ancient Greeks associated the quince with fertility and it was offered during weddings as a gift to sweeten the bride’s breath, not that the groom would dare complain to a bride with a 2lb, rock hard fruit in her bag. And so it became known as the fruit of love.

There is nothing erotic or otherwise about it’s appearance, it’s furry, over sized apple, pear like looks don’t conjure up images of steamy passion, but it does smell wonderful.

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I’ll start with a word about the title, the Greek word for virtue is Arete (Αρετή) pronounced Ah..re..tee.

During the 3 years preparation period for the move to Crete we decided to name the house Arete as we planned to build two self-catering apartments on the first floor and needed a name for our business venture, so Arete Apartments was born.

Dairy entry 23 May 2005…..

Two more sleeps to go before our adventure begins, our lives change forever and “Virtue” becomes reality.

We’ve been at “Tycoch” , my parents home in South Wales, for the past few days finalising paperwork, repacking the truck in a more organised fashion after the exodus from our old house was more panic than plan.

The excitment increases with every tick on the “To Do” list.

Last sort out tomorrow, depart for the Chunnel on Wednesday………

Diary entry 24 May 2005

One more sleep to go.

The eve of our departure brings with it the last night in a bed, I’m in it already and it’s only 10pm. I hope to make the most of it’s comforts but predict a sleepless night of excitement and slight panic at the scale of our adventure.

Not happy with the 2 weeks annual package holiday and 50 weeks of saving and longing for the next, we’ve gone for the full monty, no going back, burn all bridges, living the dream and are leaving the rat race for what we hope will be a better life, with just a little bit more sun…….

Diary entry 25 May 2005

We left “Tycoch” with mixed emotions at 1pm, to add to our anxiety we discovered that “Lara”, our beloved Landrover, had sprung an oil leak which was increasing at an alarming rate.

It came as no surprise that by the time we’d reached Wiltshire at 3pm the leak was a rapid and so the garage took what time we’d alloted for our final goodbyes to friends and left us with just a few minutes to call in at the old house and it’s new proud owners for a final check before we left the country. All was well and it was lovely to see the place being used as it was meant to be, by a young growing family, full of energy and laughter. We left them with a sense of  satisfaction  having  being able to put life back into the old house.


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