Autumn time brings more festivals to the island (the Greeks throw parties for nearly everything imaginable!) and this one celebrating the grape harvest took place at Katerina’s grandmother’s home in a village not far from us. A few friends and neighbors were invited for an old-fashioned traditional grape stomping!
When we arrived the table was laid out with the beginnings of a feast to share. Grapes, Greek cookies, wine and raki were the starters (mezedhes) with more delicious aromas coming from the kitchen inside.
The women were in the kitchen preparing copious amounts of food while the men were outside preparing the grapes and imbibing in some fruit of the vine. Katerina’s mom (Katerina) refused any help in the kitchen but she promised me a Greek cooking lesson later.
Wine-making involves crushing the grapes in special stone constructions called “patitiria“, or wine presses. This can be done by feet or with small machinery. In this case, many feet! We happened to have some guests visiting us from the States (the Nelson family) so they were thrilled to be able to participate.
Nothing is wasted. After the vines are pruned, the vineyard provides wood for the fireplace, grape leaves for cooking (the famous Greek “dolmades” – stuffed grape leaves), grapes as a fruit or as a pastry and, of course, wine. The remains in the patitiria – seeds, stems and grape-peels – aren’t thrown away, rather they are distilled to produce tsikoudia, spirits consumed for centuries in this part of the Mediterranean and commonly known as raki – a.k.a. Cretan moonshine, mastika, ouzo (anise seed flavor) and sometimes even “jet fuel”.
There are many theories as to how this drink got its name but my favorite has Turkish roots. During the Turkish occupation of Crete the name raki was given to the local tsikoudia, since there were some similarities. Arak in Arabic means “sweat” and araki means “that which makes one sweat” – no joke.