ONCE the wood fire had burned itself out Patroklos scattered the

embers and extended the spits across them, sprinkling the meat with

''divine salt''. When he had roasted all and spread it on platters, he

put the bread in baskets and Achilles served the roasted meats. So the

mythical figures of the Iliad presented their battlefield repast to

Ajax, Odysseus and Phoenix, who had come to persuade Achilles to return

to the fight.

Homer's epic heroes are appropriately depicted; eating outdoors,

frugally, but with satisfaction. The essentials for their active

lifestyle have been primitively, but expertly, cooked and served.

A palate for simplicity combined with learning was the sane tradition

of the Ancient Greeks. Like poets, cooks were expected to use their

brains. To love the ingredients entrusted to them with a deep passion,

to taste often while cooking, to judge correctly what a dish lacks, and

to keep on tasting until they got the flavour right.

They were encouraged in their art by philosophers like Epicuras

(341-270BC), who taught his students the right conception of pleasure.

Sensation, he lectured, is the sole source of knowledge and all sensuous

perceptions are true.

The skill of Greek cooks was nourished in a unique way and with

ultimately far-reaching effects for the civilized world.

Their reputation grew and gastronomy flourished. Greece ate well. Not

decadently, for they loved their simple spit-roasts, their native fruits

and fresh vegetables too much to allow them to become destroyed in a

luxurious style which seeks only novelty. They loved the mountain-herb

scented flavours in their native honey more than the newly arrived cane

sugar brought from China, which they left for the medicine-makers.

They continued to roast their native chestnuts and eat them with fresh

fruits at the end of a meal. They had been carefully taught that the

pleasure of food is achieved by satisfaction, not by satiety.

As the art of eating developed, men began to write about it.

No other source compares with Archestratus, Europe's earliest known

food-writer, for precision and concentration on achieving the best

results by finding the best quality product.

''When you come to Miletus,'' he says, ''get from the Geson marsh a

kephalus-type grey mullet and a sea-bass, one of the children of the

gods. That is where they are best; such is the nature of the place.

There are many other fatter ones in famous Calydon, in wealth-bearing

Ambracia and in Lake Bolbe, but they do not have the fragrant fat of the

belly, or such pungent fat. The Milesian, my friend, are amazing in

their excellence. Descale them and bake them well, whole, until tender,

in brine. When working on this delicacy do not let any Syracusan or

Italian come near you, for they do not understand how to prepare good

fish. They ruin them in a horrible way by 'cheesing' everything and

sprinkling with a flow of vinegar . . . ''

Five hundred years after the good Archestratus wrote his damnation of

cooks who spoil the natural flavour, another famous Greek food-writer,

Athenaeus, pursues the same theme in his Banquet of the Learned or

Philosophers at Dinner (290BC).

Built around an ancient dinner party, it discusses the classes of

foods and cultural aspects of the banquet. Several chefs are introduced

in the witty parody as comic, boastful characters who, every now and

again, have their own say. Here is one still feeling, like Archestratus,

that good fish should not be spoiled with a cheesy sauce.

''By Athena, it's sweet to be successful in all things. What a tender

fish I got hold of, and how I served it! It was not drugged up with

cheeses, nor was there an arrangement of herbs on top. No, it looked

identical when alive and after baking, so gentle and low was the heat I


The bakers were as renowned as the cooks. Athens grew famous for its

fine breads, honey biscuits and pastries. Delicate little cakes of

sesame and honey were served with the fruits and roasted chestnuts after

dinner and cities became rivals in varying the shape and flavour.

If there is a Greek national pastry it is baklava, a delightful,

golden brown confection of fragile pastry leaves, nuts, cinnamon and

honey and saturated in a honey and spice syrup. Today they are mostly

eaten in cafes with coffee and a tall glass of iced water as a

mid-afternoon snack. I have also been served them in Greece for

breakfast with sheep's yogurt, honey and peaches, and eaten them as a

late-night snack with cold water.

In commercial bakeries in Athens the baklava is sometimes made with

goat's butter, which gives it a unique taste. The flavour of the butter

and the honey will determine its success. Greece produces a highly

sought after honey from Mount Hymettus, deeply fragrant with mountain

herbs, mainly thyme. Other good flower or herb honeys may be used as a

substitute, but heather honey is too strong-flavoured for combining with

delicate spices and nuts.

Butter is brushed between each layer of phyllo (leaf) pastry, a

paper-thin sheet of pastry which has only in the last four or five years

become widely available in this country. Many different baklava

variations exist, the first method takes the quickest way of making them

in diamond shapes in a tin. An alternative form wraps each pastry



9 oz (275g) phyllo pastry (approx 12 sheets)

Filling: 6 oz (175 g) unsalted butter, clarified, to brush

8 oz (250 g) finely chopped walnuts, pistachios, or almonds (pecans,

though not traditional, can also be used)

1 heaped desertspoon freshly ground cinnamon

1 cup (8 fl oz-250 ml) water to brush

Syrup: 1 cup (8fl oz-250 ml) water

3 oz (100 g) caster sugar

Zest of a lemon

Juice of half a lemon

1 cup honey

2 tablespoons rosewater or orange flower water

For serving: sifted icing sugar

2 oz (50 g) finely chopped walnuts, pistachios, blanched almonds or


Method: Pre-heat the oven 180C/ 350F/Gas 4. Defrost the pastry.

Clarify the butter by melting in a pan and straining off the top layer

through a sieve, leaving the milk ''solids'' in the pan and the froth in

the sieve.

Mix the nuts and cinnamon. Open out the layers of pastry.

Brush a 9" x 9" by 1[1/2]" deep tin with butter and lay the tin over

the pastry layers. Cut round the edge of the tin so that the pastry just

fits. Tear up the scraps into small pieces to use as filling.

Assembling the layers: Put the first layer of pastry on the tin and

brush with butter. Repeat with another three layers, brushing with

butter each time. Put half the nuts on the pastry with some of the

scraps and continue with another four pastry/ butter layers, the second

half of the nuts/scraps, and then the final four pastry/butter layers.

This is not a rigid sequence and can be varied according to the number

of pastry layers in the packet. Brush the top of the pastry with water

for a crisp top, butter for a softer one, and bake for about an hour

until golden brown.

Alternative method making individual pastry triangles: cut the pastry

into four strips about two inches wide. Lightly brush the top strip with

butter and remove from the pile.

Remove another strip and lay on top. Brush with butter. Add one egg

and two tablespoons of honey to the nut filling and place a small

spoonful on the bottom end of the buttered strip. Take the bottom right

corner and fold over the filling to the left side to make a triangle.

Continue folding all the way up the strip until you reach the top. Place

the seam side down on the buttered baking tray. Brush with butter and

bake for 20-30 minutes. Other shapes can be experimented with; rolls,

coils or squares. Bake as for first method.

While the pastries are baking, make up the syrup. Put the sugar,

water, lemon juice and zest into a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for

about ten minutes until it is a thick syrup. Add the honey and


Pour this, while hot, over the hot pastries which have been layered in

the tin when they come out of the oven and leave to soak. For the shaped

triangles, dip them, while still hot, in the syrup and place on the

serving dish. Dust both with icing sugar and sprinkle with chopped nuts.

Serve slightly warm. Eat with a fork, iced water and Greek coffee.