Written by Carrie Vasios
Greek hospitality is directly related to caloric intake. It doesn’t matter if you’re not hungry, or if you just ate your weight in spanakopita or downed a pile of pita and a quart of tzatziki. If you go into a Greek household, you will be served food and expected to eat it—end of story.
Luckily, there is a reprieve in a small but delicious treat served to welcome guests in households around Greece: γλυκό του κουταλιού, which translates to “sweet of the spoon.” Spoon sweets are fruits, and occasionally vegetables, preserved in syrup.
True to their name, spoon sweets are served on spoons and accompanied by a tall glass of cold water—which is usually necessary to get all the sugar out of your mouth before the cavities set in.
Every island in Greece seems to have its own specialty. On Ikaria you will find sour cherry spoon sweets, and on Chios they use lemon blossoms.
Santorini preserves its abundant tomatoes and Aegina its pistachios. Many spoon sweets utilize fruits that are slightly underripe, like green figs or bitter oranges.
The island of Naxos is famous for making these sweets out of quince, a fruit so bitter that it can’t be eaten raw. I personally enjoy rose petal spoon sweets, which are popular gifts for weddings and baptisms.
Spoon sweets are extremely simple to make, though the full process takes a few days. You start by layering your fruit in a pan with quite a bit of sugar and some lemon juice and letting it sit for 12 hours.
Then starts the boiling process; you add water to the fruit, bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer, wait 24 hours, then boil and simmer again.
Eventually, the fruit candies and the sugar, water and juice become a thick, sweet syrup. What differentiates spoon sweets from jam is that the fruit typically remains whole and the syrup, while thick, isn’t gelatinous.
For this reason, spoon sweets are the ideal topping for yogurt or ice cream. Or, for that matter, drizzling over pancakes, waffles and cheese.
It used to be a point of pride for every Greek woman to have her own perfected recipe for spoon sweets. However, with most women working outside of the home in recent years, these sweet signs of hospitality are typically purchased in markets rather than made by hand.
I encourage you to take up the old tradition, especially as the holidays come around. It’s easy to make a big batch, and the mason jars and ingredients are inexpensive. You can personalize your sweets, choosing the type of fruit and maybe adding a few cloves or a dash of vanilla.
The following recipe for grape spoon sweets is a specialty of Crete. The intense grape flavor reminds me of happy times spent on that beautiful, rocky island—accompanied, of course by the ubiquitous raki, a strong grape-based liquor.
But whether or not you’ve been to Crete, you can appreciate the rich taste of grape spoon sweets by making them for yourself. Keep in the fridge to dollop onto yogurt or give them away as a lovely homemade gift. Kales Diakopes! Happy Holidays!
- 3 pounds seedless green grapes
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon cloves
- Wash and clean the grapes, making sure that all stems are discarded.
- Cover the bottom of a large saucepan with a layer of grapes, then sprinkle with a layer of sugar. Repeat until all the grapes and sugar are in the pan.
- Pour the lemon juice over the grapes and sugar, and let rest for 12 hours.
- Add 1 1/2 cups water to the pot and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
- Let rest once more overnight, or up to 24 hours.
- Bring the grapes and liquid to a boil and add the vanilla and cloves.
- Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the syrup has become thick enough to coat a spoon. You want the fruit to look candied (the grapes will have actually shriveled a bit), and the syrup to be loose but gooey.
- Ladle the spoon sweets into clean mason jars and refrigerate.