Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Greek Domestic Life


Greek survival is attributable, in large measure, to the closeness of family ties and responsibilities. There is no doubt that the Greek male child is favored and loved by mother and sisters, but in later years he returns this affection with a strong devotion which often includes the postponement of his own marriage in favor of seeing his sisters provided for. And the Greek male’s lifelong devotion to his mother is legendary: it is said that with the slightest look or gentlest sigh from his mother, the Greek male capitulates to her wishes.

Every Greek feels himself or herself a strong part of an extended family that includes concern for someone from the same village or area. Greek emigrants do not need to he told where to seek advice or help; they will automatically seek out relatives no matter how distant, and former villagers or neighbors. This kind of help and shared responsibility comes naturally to a people whose history is flecked liberally with examples of the need for mutual aid, without which survival would have been impossible.

Except for the upper classes, where women exhibit considerable independence, male and female roles in the traditional Greek family are clearly defined. The men not only enjoy their favored position, they carry this loving confidence with them into their work and into their male-oriented leisure hours. Every village, no matter how small, boasts a plateia or village square where the men congregate to enjoy Turkish coffee, a sip of Retsina or Ouzo, or where they lounge on chairs reading the paper or listening to the talk. It is a male preserve and the women neither complain nor intrude. In fact, most Greek women contentedly follow the saying of Euripides: “A woman should be everything in the house and nothing outside it….”

The women concern themselves with homemaking and crafts, with childrearing, with the kitchen garden and – in rural areas – the goats, sheep, and chickens. Not for them the problems of fields or businesses, money or education. Nor do they envy the male social life. They find fulfillment in their weekly visit to the church, and their daily trip to the village well or market. Even in North America, with increased accessibility and opportunities for women, many Greek women choose to retain this traditional role.

The rural Greek family home commonly comprises two large rooms: one for sleeping (Greek children usually go to bed when their parents do), and one for everything else. Firewood and stores are kept under the house. Large earthenware jars are used to store and cool fresh water taken daily from the local wells. In the main room of the house the walls are lined with open shelves displaying cooking and table utensils, strings of garlic and onions and colorful jars of sweet preserves (spoon sweets). Day-to-day baking is done outside in beehive-shaped ovens, while the local, fourno (bakeshop) shares its facilities for special occasion baking. This is also one of the few times that young boys share in household tasks: it is their job to bring home the fragrant baked foods from the fourno. Villagers also share wine and olive presses, for each home makes its own olive oil and ferments its own wines.

Recent government programs encourage the arts of butter, cheese, and yogurt-making, dispense information on nutrition, and educate people about various methods of food preservation that include drying, canning, salting, and pickling. Traditionally, Greeks favor fresh seasonal foods, an understandable preference considering that storage and transportation, together with low annual incomes, frequently meant that the available food was the day’s menu. But it should also be noted that preference for fresh seasonal foods is also distinctly shown by those with a discerning palate.

Modern methods of food storage and preservation are available to those in the larger cities, as of course are an increased variety of foods both local and imported.

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