Glyko Cutali—Spoon Sweets
Spoon sweets are beloved and prepared all over Greece. Often simply described as a fruit poached in sugar syrup, the glyko is extremely sweet, and served in tiny, precise servings. I’ve seen it most often brought out formally, on a tray, when a visit is paid to someone’s home.
Glyko cutali are sold in a few random bakeries and in most grocery stores. (I usually dislike the grocery store ones.) There are many recipes available, but I’ve never seen one for the way they are made in the Magnesian Peninsula, the part of Greece that I’ve spent the most time in, and whose spoon sweets I prefer. Since I was taught to make them there by a friend, I’m going to describe the process as I learned it, approximating the ingredients and measurements and steps to the best of my ability. I’ve never attempted this in California, and I’d love to hear from anyone who tries it, or who does make it in this way. I don’t see why the recipe couldn’t be halved, or even quartered, though I’m guessing cooking time would stay on the short end of the same.
The real puzzle for me is the quick lime. It turns out that such a thing as “Food grade calcium hydroxide” is used for pickling cucumbers (or “pickling” anything else one wants to retain its crispness) and is a probable equivalent of slaked quick lime. A company named Mrs. Wages is one source for that, and wiki tells me that it can often be found in large grocery stores come canning season. I guess I’d better add a disclaimer and a strong word of advice here. I was told in Skopelos that “Hot quick lime can dissolve flesh”—you don’t want to touch it or be touched by it. Be very careful. Now if you still want to go ahead,
The photo shows spoon sweets made from oranges, but in Skopelos the most popular fruit by far is the yellow damson plum, the damaskino.
- 80 yellow damson plums
- 1 ½ kilos of sugar
- 1 vial powdered vanilla
- 2 cups asvestos—slaked quick lime
My best translation of this being:
- 80 plums
- 6 ½ cups sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- Enough “food quality calcium hydroxide” for a gallon of water
- Push the seed out of each plum, tearing the plum as little as possible, by poking a pencil or stick into the stem end of the plum and pushing the seed out through the blossom end.
- Peel each plum carefully.
- Dissolve the asvestos into about a gallon of water, adding the water a little at a time, breaking it down with your fingers, until it is all dissolved and the water is milky and cloudy.
- Place the plums in the water solution, turning them gently a few times, and then leave them to soak for three hours, turning them every hour. At the end of this time they should be sharp, almost stiff feeling.
- Empty the asvestos water and run water gently over the plums, swirling it and emptying the water again and again, until the water runs clear. Then gently pour the plums into a colander for a few minutes to drain off as much water as possible.
- Put the plums into a high-sided pot, over a high flame, cover it with all the sugar, and bring the liquid that comes from the melting sugar to a boil, adjusting it so that it continues to boil without boiling over. Skim the top for the first few minutes, taking off the top foam, and then leave it alone.
- Cook it for about a half hour, until the syrup has cooked way down, stirring only once or twice in all that time. The person who showed me this had a special way of using the spoon, lowering the bottom of it onto the surface of the boiling liquid and sort of plunking it up and down without stirring the fruit around. I couldn’t, at the time, figure out what that did, although in retrospect I think maybe it broke down the bubbles and settled the fruit.
- After the syrup has cooked down a fair amount, test the syrup for thickness, using a teaspoon to drop a tiny amount onto a plate. It’s done when the drops hold their shape and have a thick, gooey texture.
- Remove from the heat and let cool for a while before stirring in the vanilla. Cool completely and pour into clean/sterile glass jars. Once opened, store in the fridge.
Glyko cutali are served very formally, usually two plums on a little plate with a bit of syrup. The plate is usually presented formally, on a serving tray, and there is always a glass of cold water and sometimes a coffee or a glass of ouzo (or tsiporo) on the tray to accompany the glyko.
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