Greek Spoon Sweets: An Ancient Gesture of Greek Hospitality
A guest arriving at a Greek home should expect an overwhelming array of traditional welcoming treats that will be presented upon their arrival, from coffee and cookies to cakes, homemade liqueurs, loukoumi and more. But there’s one sweet something that has long been linked with hospitality and welcoming in any proper, traditional Greek home: glyko tou koutaliou, or “spoon sweet,” a type of fruit preserve whose roots go way back to ancient times.
For centuries, preservation was a necessary part of the harvest – it was the only way to make excess fresh fruits and vegetables last for as long as possible. Based on historical references, we know that the most common preservation methods included sun-drying fruits and vegetables or preserving them in either honey or grape molasses (petimezi), which usually involved first boiling the fruit.
The ancient Greeks made something called melimilon (μελίμηλον): quince boiled in wine and then preserved in honey. It was through making this dish that pectin – a key ingredient in marmalade making – was discovered. Later, with the arrival of sugar to this side of the world and the gradual decrease of its price, preservation in sugar syrup begun.
Spoon sweets are fruit preserves that differ from jam and marmalade mainly in terms of texture – the ingredient being preserved should be firm and in a thick, transparent syrup, unlike the soft and pulpy texture of jam and marmalade. They are primarily made of fruit, which can be sliced, grated or even left whole, like figs, sour cherries or grapes. It’s also possible to make them from just the rind, which is usually the case with citrus fruit like lemons and bergamot oranges, but also with watermelon – just the white part of the rind – in the summer.
You’ll also find spoon sweets made of unripened nuts, soft rind, and shell included, as well as vegetables (tomato, pumpkin, eggplant and more) or even roots, like onion or beetroot for instance. A more recent trend in spoon sweets are those made from different types of mushrooms – while they might sound strange, they are actually quite flavorful.
But the most delicate and aromatic of all are those made of flowers, like fresh rose petals, newly blossomed lemon flowers and other citrus tree florets, or even jasmine.
Generally speaking, spoon sweets are made by boiling the fruit, vegetable or flower in sugar syrup with a lemon rind and infusing the mixture with spices or herbs like cinnamon, clove, vanilla, marjoram, rose geranium and more. Sometimes nuts are added too – most often whole white almonds – either to stuff the fruit, as with figs and tomatoes, or towards the end, to give it a crunch and an extra kick of flavor.