Glyka tou koutaliou, which means spoon sweets, are traditional, homemade sweet fruit preserves, served in a spoon as a gesture of hospitality in Greece and Cyprus. They can be made from almost any fruit, though sour and bitter fruits are especially prized. There are even spoon sweets made from vegetables and flowers.
Homemade spoons sweets are slowly disappearing. Working housewives have so little time to spare that they can’t devote to such time consuming work and prefer to buy them from supermarkets, which are usually made using glucose and of inferior quality. As a result, traditional recipes are gradually being forgotten and whatever spoon sweets are made and consumed are all too often no more than poor imitations of sweet memories.
The abundance of fruit and vegetables made Greeks to preserve them from antiquity. Originally they were made by cooking fruit with honey. When cane sugar was introduced to Europe, it was very expensive but eventually its production and finding other sources to extract sugar, such as beet sugar, made it cheaper so honey was eventually substituted with sugar.
Not only fruit are made into sweet preserves but also some vegetables and nuts.
Some of the fruits that are used include citrus (bitter oranges), grapes, mulberries, bergamot, apricots, cherries, oranges, sour cherries, lemons, pomegranates, quinces, strawberries, apples, dates, figs, prunes, and tangerines. Other varieties include vegetables or nuts such as pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts and other nuts, and flower petals like roses or citrus blossoms. Many fruits or parts of fruits that are normally inedible, such as citrus peel and water melon rind, can be made into sweet, flavourful preserves, as can unripe nuts and vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes, carrots etc. Some years back they used to add colour to red spoon sweets, but nowadays they have been forbidden as dangerous to health and usually retain the original shape, colour, aroma and taste of the fruit.
When my mother, or before her my grandmother, used to make spoon sweets there wasn’t any picking lime and they would go to constructions and ask for some lime. Pickling lime makes spoon sweets much crunchier and do not become mushy like jam. They would dissolve quicklime with water (ratio 1 cup quicklime to 2 litres water) and would soak the fruit in this water for a few hours. They would then wash the fruit very well and proceed to make the preserve.
When the spoon sweet is ready, after cooling completely, store in sterilized jars.
I remember that in Cyprus spoon sweets were usually offered to guests served by the teaspoon in a small china or crystal dish, with coffee or tea and cold water. I also remember some pure silver vessels (sort of basket shaped which had special places for the silver spoons to stand round the basket) and inside they would put the sweets preserves.
Whole fruit preserves can be found in almost any Greek and Cypriot homes. They are made by slowly boiling fruit in water and sugar over several hours or days, until the syrup sets. A small quantity of lemon juice is often added to preserve the fruit’s original colour, as the citric acid prevents oxidation. The method of preparation is essentially similar to that of marmalade, except that fruit pieces remain whole. However, there are different approaches to making the preserves depending on the fruit or vegetable. Some fruit are very bitter, so this bitterness has to be removed first before proceeding to making the preserve.
They can be served alone or used as ice cream toppings, in cakes, mixed with yogurt, on top of any cream dessert or in the Western way as a spread on toast for breakfast.
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,