SKopelos

By Sofia, Jul 10 2020 05:17PM

One of my first ambitious projects in propagating Skopelos-endemic plants in the 39steps garden was with capers. The flower of this flora is delicate and beautiful but the plant resilient, growing out of rock cliffs in the face of adverse weather conditions, and yet they still survive!


Initially I carried back from the wilds of the Skopelos seaside countless seedlings. About 50! Only three survived and only after I removed the nutritious garden soil and replaced this with rocks and rubble! Once rooted, this allowed the root to roam deep down and find its own nourishment. One of these migrants gave shade to the garden table for many happy years. The seedling was established by the side of the arbour and, by pruning and support over the years, I gradually trained some fronds on the upward move to form an attractive trunk. Above, at the top of the arbour, a dense leafy crown of fronds full of blooms then spread covering an area 3 sq.m and giving a cool aromatic shade we enjoyed for many years!


I noticed then that ants liked the seed of the ripe caper fruit. I don't mean the buds which we know as capers and which are found on the supermarket shelves; those are caper flower buds, before they bloom. I mean the small cucumber-like fruit with black seeds. Ants, great cleaners of nature, busily carry the seeds into their nest in the stone walls for whatever purpose they need them. An occasional seed would be trapped in the crevice of the stone wall and germinate and grow into a beautiful overhanging caper plant. They do grow on flat ground but don't do so well! I copied the method used by the ants and placed seeds in the walls in designated spots whereupon - at one time - the area of 39steps was caper full!


My over-the-arbour caper is now gone and there are other attractive plants shading that corner of the 39steps garden! Having satisfied my curiosity about the way capers propagate, I now leave ants to do their work. There are now generations of uncontrolled capers seeded from that early experiment in the alleys and gardens of our neighbourhood in the Old Town, often admired and photographed by our visitors.


Incidentally, the whole caper plant is edible. Also, the buds take their time to open into a beautiful bloom but live only one day before forming into the cucumber like fruit. In the time it blooms, it attracts droves of bees and other insects busily gathering pollen and nectar.


The bloom and buds
The bloom and buds
Caper-shaded terrace (as was)
Caper-shaded terrace (as was)
Jenny's caper beneath 39 Steps' stone wall
Jenny's caper beneath 39 Steps' stone wall
An ant-spread caper sprouting from the stone wall
An ant-spread caper sprouting from the stone wall
Outside eating area, now shaded by vine and jasmine
Outside eating area, now shaded by vine and jasmine

By Sofia, Jun 28 2020 11:51AM

Hooray! Four of the self-seeded plants of the Jackman's Rue Blue in my garden survive and thrive! (see previous blog here)


One of them has been planted in its permanent place and does well in a grouping of wild sage, common myrtle and other forna situated at the side of 39steps' stone garden room overlooking the main guest entrance. The grubs of the common swallowtail butterfly are already happily busy defoliating the plant. (and good luck to them!).


The initial transplanting of the five seedlings went smoothly and I enjoyed the mornings when I 'visited' to check the progress of growth. However one morning the sight shocked me: I hadn't counted on a slug onslaught! Most upsetting!


I refused to abandon the defiled seedlings and have continued their care, but was adamant to firmly reinstate Rue Blue in my garden. So I foraged the wilds of Skopelos for the endemic variety, eventually finding a whole sunny bank!


Ruta is somewhat revered and is kept by Skopelos households to symbolize purification and health. I now have two types of this purifying flora to enjoy and for the herb to watch over the endemic plant groupings in the yard. It also appears popular for the flashy swallowtail butterflies to continue to lay their eggs on and for their larvae to denude the plant in which they camouflage to save themselves from the observant eyes of the birds nesting in the area of 39steps!


In general, I find it pleasing to have the spirit of this herb to watch over the household and its inhabitants in these days of strange events!




Groupings of endemic flora in 39Steps' garden
Groupings of endemic flora in 39Steps' garden
The self-seeded seedlings survive!
The self-seeded seedlings survive!
Two varieties of Ruta - the spiky sort is wild
Two varieties of Ruta - the spiky sort is wild
Wild sage and newly-planted Jackmans Rue love being in the same grouping
Wild sage and newly-planted Jackmans Rue love being in the same grouping

By Sofia, Jun 22 2020 04:40PM

As green as the island is this year - abundant with herbs and leafy forage - there is scarcity of fruit. Strange that! Few here would give serious attention to preserving mulberries and Mirabella plums. Normally the glut of these in the spring verges on nuisance; this year they are sparse. Lemons we take for granted. There is an all-around-the-year supply, and of different varieties at that; this year they are sparse.


On my day out for herbs, I was pleased to come across a lone Mirabella plum tree and a couple of sour cherry trees laden with fruit in an otherwise bare fruit orchard. Such is the rarity of the supply situation and coming across these fruit trees that it would have been a sacrilege to turn down obviously a gift of nature.


I've given up making jams long ago, and give preference to honey if a sweetener commodity is needed nowadays. Friends who make jams are much better at it and give me a jar now and then. I am not fond of chutneys and they are the last of preferences for me to make. With a supply of fruit and veg and good choice of spices, recently restocked, they are handy to have to give as gifts.


Having harvested some of the fruit, I stopped on my way at the MONI monastery to ask the kind nun there if she had lemons on her tree. She did and gave me three giant ones which probably equal nine of normal sizes! The fruit and one lemon made 4 kg of chutney: 3kg to add to my cupboard which has jams and chutneys dating back to 2014, and 1kg to give away.


It'll be good to have in my stocks a memory of this shared-by-all-strange 'vintage' of 2020!


Foraged fruit for the chutney
Foraged fruit for the chutney
Culinary and healing herbs, ready to dry
Culinary and healing herbs, ready to dry
Preparing the ingredients
Preparing the ingredients
Bottled and ready to label (2020) then store
Bottled and ready to label (2020) then store
The magnificent view from the Moni monastery towards Alonissos
The magnificent view from the Moni monastery towards Alonissos

By Sofia, Jun 14 2020 02:50PM

The time of isolation has been (and still is) a nuisance to many. However, it proved useful for Babis Kochilis, a fine craft carpenter here on Skopelos. He has completed an elaborate, beautiful, full-size hand carved iconostasis, designed and ordered to be hand-made by another fine art artist.


As in other places in Greece and elsewhere, in Skopelos boys often follow in their father's professional tradition. There are exceptions and so it was with Babis and his brother. The two men are autodidact carpenters, choosing wood to be their medium to work with rather than textiles, with which their father worked as a tailor of costumes and other classical wear.


The two brothers chose different direction of the line of work. Babis chose artistic woodwork to become his speciality and to create beautiful carvings in furniture, free-standing decorative objects, but more frequently religious objects and chapel furniture of altars and iconostasis.


Passers-by, be they local or visitors, stop to watch Babis at work, patiently and skillfully engraving details of life into wood, his chisels almost breathing back life into the wood, life which was interrupted in the felled tree some time in the past. Plants, birds and many other design features become alive in the wood he works with underneath his chisels, guided by his hand. The enchanted onlookers ask questions, which Babis tirelessly answers, thus interrupting his work.


With the shut-down time gained in his workshop where Babis spent his isolation period, the iconostasis - a magnificent labour of feeling and skill - is complete now. It is a time now for the iconographer to show skills of creating the imagery icons, which are to be slotted in place for the completed work to be installed to serve in the chapel.

Babis busy at work
Babis busy at work
Just some of his tools
Just some of his tools
The chief door, stained in dark shade
The chief door, stained in dark shade
The same door before staining
The same door before staining
Iconostasis carved by Babis
Iconostasis carved by Babis
Completed with some icons in situ
Completed with some icons in situ

By Sofia, Jun 7 2020 08:51AM

I generally spend a fair bit of time out in nature, but this year - in such unexpected and unusual circumstances - nature has been my salvation. The blog contents show foraging to be my own way of appeasing curiosity about the surroundings, which includes flora. Oregano and St.Johns Wort gathering is an annual event; I forage these both for myself and for friends who cannot leave their work to do so themselves.


Although we are mostly familiar with herbs which are readily found in our kitchen cupboards stocked from the supermarket shelves, there are so many edibles in nature, be they for flavouring, to eat, or drink. The main difference is that, foraged direct from nature, these need home-preparation: the care needed, for example to take time to dry them makes their pleasure even greater!


Herbs can be gleaned in the flora world from the leaves of a plant, flowers, seeds or even root (ginger). In Skopelos, growing of most herbs is not necessary if you know a little about nature's many generous gifts. It is enough to know the herb you want to harvest, when, and how to preserve and store it for later use (drying, pickling, freezing). There are many edible herbs on the island, especially those that I use regularly in food or drink (some for both). Readily found is fennel, mallow, nettle, chamomile, lemon balm, peppermint, mint, oregano, sage, thyme, capers, hawthorn, watercress, samphire, rue (ruta), myrtle, and many more. ..


The harvest in most cases is best early in the morning when the dew has dried and the herbs are still fresh in the cool morning. Most herbs are at their best for gathering just before flowering. Avoid crushing or tearing herbs and try gathering, drying and storing them whole, which preserves better the essential oils and scents.


Taste is a personal matter as is preference to stronger or weaker flavours and scents. Average herbal dose for a cup made of fresh herbs is three teaspoons of fresh macerated herbs to a cup, while with dried herbs one teaspoon per cup is enough.


I like to mix and combine the herbs for my daily brew, in accordance to scent and taste, but still exercise caution with some, as their essential oils could produce a bitter pottage is steeped too long (e.g. sage, St. John's wort).


I prefer mixing my daily brew with fresh herbs to the commercial sort I used to drink, usually laced with milk. As well as the satisfaction of preparation, foraging from nature rather than from the supermarket shelf has an added bonus: one is closer and more aware of nature around the island, closer to the seasons, closer to flora and fauna.


If you wish to learn more about the flora of the island you may look at my friend Sue Warren's site:


http://wildflowersofskopelos.org.uk/Blog.html

Meadow of herbs in Elios
Meadow of herbs in Elios
Chamomile
Chamomile
At home and ready for a foraged cuppa!
At home and ready for a foraged cuppa!
Chamomile and mallow drying
Chamomile and mallow drying
Elder flowers ready to forage
Elder flowers ready to forage
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I'm Sofia, 39 Steps' owner and host. This is an occasional blog to keep in touch with my regular guests, give a taste of Skopeliti life and share my experiences of foraging through the summer season

 

Sofia

 

Sofia's 39 Steps Forage Blog

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