Secrets from the Greek Kitchen

Secrets from the Greek Kitchen: Cooking, Skill, and Everyday Life on an Aegean Island

David E. Sutton
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt13x1hdg
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  • Book Info
    Secrets from the Greek Kitchen
    Book Description:

    Secrets from the Greek Kitchenexplores how cooking skills, practices, and knowledge on the island of Kalymnos are reinforced or transformed by contemporary events. Based on more than twenty years of research and the author's videos of everyday cooking techniques, this rich ethnography treats the kitchen as an environment in which people pursue tasks, display expertise, and confront culturally defined risks.Kalymnian islanders, both women and men, use food as a way of evoking personal and collective memory, creating an elaborate discourse on ingredients, tastes, and recipes. Author David E. Sutton focuses on micropractices in the kitchen, such as the cutting of onions, the use of a can opener, and the rolling of phyllo dough, along with cultural changes, such as the rise of televised cooking shows, to reveal new perspectives on the anthropology of everyday living.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95930-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Video Examples
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. Introduction: Why Does Greek Food Taste So Good?
    (pp. 1-24)

    Both of these extracts capture something of the unique taste of Greek food, the first from a culinary memoir by poet Christopher Bakken and the second from my fieldnotes during my own research. Bakken’s text captures the sense of “the taste of place,” that the flavor of food is shaped by its environment and the profoundly local knowledge of Introduction Why Does Greek Food Taste So Good? process and small differences that are the stuff of endless conversation in Greece. As many Greeks will tell you, and as I have experienced myself, no matter how hard you try to reproduce...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Emplacing Cooking
    (pp. 25-47)

    This chapter provides a short background sketch of life on Kalymnos in order to set the stage for my subsequent explorations of cooking. I develop ideas about food provisioning through some of my more recent ethnographic explorations of shopping and gifting on Kalymnos, and also briefly describe some aspects of Kalymnian marriage and family life relevant to thinking about cooking. Finally, I take a look at some of the key values that frame Kalymnian cooking discourses and practices.

    Kalymnos has always been known for its barrenness, which, while not inimical to agriculture entirely, made agriculture secondary to sources of livelihood...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Tools and Their Users
    (pp. 48-75)

    When I began filming people’s everyday cooking practices, it was not on Kalymnos but rather in southern Illinois, where my student and collaborator Michael Hernandez and I worked with about half a dozen volunteers as we developed through trial and error our methodological approaches and battery of questions, trying to get at some of the different ways that cooking shapes the texture of people’s daily lives.¹ At the time Michael, a keen observer of his friends, noted what he felt was a predictive correlation: the more fancy tools and gadgets a person has, the more expensive the cookware, the fancier...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Nina and Irini: Passing the Torch?
    (pp. 76-102)

    “My mother hates my cooking! Every day she tells me how much she hates my cooking.” This was the first time I had filmed Nina Papamihail, as one of the first subjects of my new cooking project, in 2005.¹ I had known Nina; her mother, Irini; and her husband, Manolis, since the early 1990s, so Nina’s claim was striking to me, applied as it was to her mother, who seemed mild-mannered to me. Nina stood out in the neighborhood of Ayios Mammas, one of Kalymnos’s more “traditional” working-class neighborhoods. She spoke Greek with a strong New York accent, reflecting her...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Mothers, Daughters, and Others: Learning, Transmission, Negotiation
    (pp. 103-126)

    A post on the bulletin board of the Association for the Study of Food and Society relates the following story: “There was a woman in a small town in Ohio; evidently, she made a great potato salad. Members of her community badgered her, repeatedly, for the recipe. Her response, ‘Over my dead body.’ When the woman passed away it was revealed in her will enough money to have her potato [salad] recipe chiseled on her tombstone.”¹

    Such anecdotes have the familiar tone of descriptions of “colorful, backward” rural communities. However, they took on a different resonance for me as I...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Horizontal Transmission: Cooking Shows, Friends, and Other Sources of Knowledge
    (pp. 127-151)

    “Vefa or Mamalakis? Who do you watch? Who do you prefer?” These questions stimulated strong reactions among Greeks on Kalymnos and in Thessaloniki when Leonidas Vournelis and I began to pose them in 2006.¹ The hosts of Greece’s two most popular cooking shows, one female, one male, each had their following. Some referred to Vefa as “full of imagination” and “golden-handed,” while others insisted that Mamalakis embodied authentic Greek cooking and Vefa was a crude infomercial, or a representative of “the oppressiveness of tradition.” While not everyone opposed one to the other, it was clear that many people were watching...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Through the Kitchen Window
    (pp. 152-181)

    One of the exciting aspects of research into everyday cooking was learning how articulate Kalymnians are about their cooking practices. I suppose this shouldn’t have been surprising, considering that Kalymnians tend to have well-formed opinions on most subjects, from relations with their neighbors to international politics.¹ But in reflecting on how casual cooking seemed to be for many of my friends and family in the United States, when I embarked on my Kalymnian research I was surprised to find consistency, even an aesthetic component, in people’s approaches to the daily task of cooking. This consistency fitted with larger Kalymnian cultural...

  13. Conclusion: So, What Is Cooking?
    (pp. 182-197)

    Recent authors have drawn on reflections on cooking, and reflectionswhile cooking,as a way of capturing life histories, gender relations and gender performances, social change, and political struggle. And in these pages I have suggested some of the ways that cooking helps us understand otherwise submerged gender conflicts and hierarchies within matrilocal families, for example. I have described how watching cooking shows, or simply making moussaka with a little less butter, can index ongoing debates about the existential value of living life “traditionally” or in a “modern” fashion, or finding ways to combine the two. And I have suggested...

  14. Epilogue: Cooking (and Eating) in Times of Financial Crisis
    (pp. 198-204)

    By 2012 Greece was already five years into a crisis that seems to be without end. While in other parts of Greece this crisis had led to attempts to challenge and rethink the food system,¹ Kalymnians told me that there had been no radical changes in their diets. Many insisted that Kalymnos was still livable, not like Athens or other urban centers. Kalymnos had been fortunate to have opened up a new tourist market just prior to the beginning of the crisis, centered on rock climbing. An international rock-climbing festival was now drawing hundreds or even several thousand additional tourists...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 205-220)
  16. References
    (pp. 221-232)
  17. Author Index
    (pp. 233-236)
  18. Keyword Index
    (pp. 237-238)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-240)