Christmas is a magic time of the year in Greece. It is of course not as significant for the Greeks as Easter, but still we have a fantastic time. The families not only come together during Christmas, but also beforehand, to do preparations. Part of that is making Christmas cookies! The most famous and typical Greek Christmas cookie is the melomakarona.
Greek Christmas traditions
Needless to say, in Greece the biggest Christmas preparation is not so much about decorating the house, but preparing the food. Characteristically the biggest part of the house decorations are the huge plates of cookies and desserts that we display all around the house. The traditional Christmas cookies and their variations are placed in very prominent places and free for all to have!
We make all the sweets for our family, friends and also extended family like neighbours and visitors. Most important is that we also make them for people that cannot make their own, because they are sick or sad. Families that have lost a loved-one don’t make Christmas cookies but they receive them from friends, neighbours or extended family as a sign that we are thinking of them in their difficult time.
The recipe for melomakarona is different in different parts of Greece, but they are small changes I believe, and most of the families have their own recipe (that is of course much better that all other recipes!). The melomakarona are crunchy outside and juicy from honey inside. They are filled with crunched walnuts, and prepared with heavenly smelling spices.
Roots in ancient Greece
I was looking for the history of the word melomakarona and I was amazed to find out that this recipe has its roots in ancient Greece. How interesting is that. Melo-makaaarona (phonetic). Meli means honey, a basic ingredient in this recipe and the best melomakarona are those that give you the taste of honey. Makaronea / μακαρωνια / makaria was a kind of a pie or a sweet small bread or cookie that was offered during the farewell / funeral dinner or offered to the soul. The ancient Greeks were making something that was similar to the recipe that we still use today as an offer to God. During the past centuries, honey was added as a symbol of happiness and prosperity, and for sure you get happy eating the melomakarona!
Melomakarona is a vegetarian, simple and fantastic recipe. It is really easy to make and the result is wonderful: your house will be smelling of Christmas and Greece! Make sure that the olive oil that you use is of good quality and hopefully Greek. If you decide not do the last step and put them through the honey syrup at the end, they are still lovely and for some (including me) even more tasty and crunchy!
This recipe is my mother’s. I can assure you it’s very nice and I think all our friends, family, extended family, neighbors, etcetera will agree. When my mother makes this recipe, she multiplies the amount at least by 10 or more. She starts preparing weeks before Christmas, because it’s a nice treat to eat during the fasting period before Christmas! Enjoy the melomakarona with friends and family and make cookies to share, like we do. Sharing is caring and that is all about the Christmas spirit!
Food photography: Annette Spaan
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