A haunting, mysterious beauty overwhelms the visitor to Santorini (known too as Thera). For many, their first view of the island is from the deck of the approaching ferry as it slips from the open Mediterranean Sea into a sheltered, thousand-metre deep bay, known locally as the caldera, or cauldron. Surrounded by spectacular grey-lava cliffs with villages of curved-roof, white-washed houses and brilliant, royal-blue domed churches clinging to their sides, this beautiful sea basin is one of the deepest in the eastern Mediterranean. Santorini's dream-like landscape, steeped in history and legend, was created around 3600 years ago when a violent volcanic erruption caused the island to sink, its hillsides to split, and the sea to enter into the island's 'core'.
The catastrophic eruption left a deep layer of volcanic ash covering the remaining land and created the strange, lunar-like topography which, today, supports some of the best vineyards in Greece. Vineyard workers form the vines into the shape of a cage, or upside-down basket, as they grow, keeping them close to the ground. This ancient practice protects the vines from the strong Aegean winds and harsh sun, and allows their broad leaves to retain, in the form of dew, the summer-long night mists that frequently blanket the island. During the morning, this dew slowly drips from the leaves, creating a practical and effective watering system – an ingenious way to overcome the disadvantages of ash soil (which doesn't retain water) and summer months without rain.
Except for the years when the volcano’s activity has made the island uninhabitable, Santorini has supported human habitation for over 5 millenia. Many wonderful artifacts – Cycladic, Minoan, Dorian, Byzantine, Venetian and more – are still being unearthed in excavations.
Santorini has plenty of gastronomic treasures, too – fine sea food; tiny, rich-red tomatoes with an amazingly concentrated flavour; sharp, appetizing capers, from pretty bushes covering the island’s stone walls; creamy-coloured egg-shaped aubergines; and yellow-gold lentils that lend their name to the famous Santorini dish, fava. Over the centuries, the islanders have developed unique dishes and food products and, today, internationally-acclaimed wines, that have enabled them to prosper. Traditional food choices and cooking methods of any place reflect their geographical, historical and social surroundings: Santorini, tiny, and essentially frugal, is a perfect place to study the culinary wisdom passed down to us by the ancients, who understood their environment so well.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern Tables 2001-08
A story of food & wine on Santorini
The Greek word istoria can mean both story and history. With this in mind, I designed a course to tell the story/history of Santorini through the island's foods and wines. To do this properly I would have had to create an itinerary months-long, something that, sadly, wasn't practical to do. But I did my best ...
Over six days, my students and I delved deeply into the past food-life of this beautiful, captivating island while delighting in the unique foods and fine wines produced there today. Since early antiquity until Ottoman times, traders and pirates have taken full advantage of Santorini's position on the historic trade routes of the eastern Mediterranean. Other islanders, without these means of earning, or aquiring, a living, have had to cope with Santorini's sometimes inhospitable climate and terrain in order to feed themselves. Even so, they have managed to survive – even thrive – but only because they have always understood that, to do this, they needed to embrace and to practise a genuinely sustainable way of life. The Venetians appreciated their knowledge of viniculture – which is, today, once again behind the production of some very good wines – and the islanders' agricultural and culinary skills have produced a distinctive repertoire of dishes. This has enabled the people of Santorini to not only live with health, based on the inherited and well-tested wisdom of the ancients, but also to cherish their daily and festive tables.
During the courses, local experts guided us through the mysteries of Cycladic and Minoan antiquity and the more recent Venetian and Byzantine past as we visited Santorini's magnificent archaeological sites, museums, and historic buildings. We were invited into homes, explored off-the-beaten-track villages, relished tastings of Greek and island wines and Cycladic cheeses, and revelled in the stunning scenery. There are plenty of tavernas and restaurants too on this lovely island, so we could combine the preparation of our own imagined dishes from the past with enjoying today's delicious foods and wines, such as:
Brine-cured bonito with capers Tiny tomatoes with green olive sauce
Tomato kephtedes Fava kephtedes with tomato-caper sauce
Roasted aubergine salad Saganaki (fried cheese) Marinated octopus
Fresh anchovies in olive oil and vinegar Fried calamaria with skorthalia (garlic sauce)
A salad of chloro cheese, tiny tomatoes, rusks and capers
Khorta (wild greens) - samphire, vlita, radithia Tomatoes with bulgur, nuts and herbs
Slow-baked courgettes Fried courgette flowers Vegetable frittata
Stuffed white aubergines
Fish grills and pan-fries, with lemon juice, olive oil and herbs Baked fish with capers
Rabbit stifado (a stew, with vinegar and small onions) Meat grills, with herbs and olive oil
Veal baked in paper Pork from the oven
Honey-baked figs Sweet cheese pies Mastic rice puddings
Sigalas Santo Hatzidakis Cava Aryrou Boutari Gaia
and more ...
"One of the 'TOP TEN' Cookery Courses."
Ancient Wisdom, Modern Tables
Condé Nast Traveller
“We were equally in thrall to Rosemary’s “ancient wisdom” as she took as on an olfactory tour through the herbs of early Greece ...
Grazing, still a novel concept to us, was apparently recommended by ancient Greek doctors who believed eating small amounts regularly was good for the digestion, hence the origin of meze ... For me, the simplest things were the best. One day we had a dish of greens that the Greeks call horta, which took me into a veggie stratosphere, even beyond asparagus. A basic, yet heavenly, peppery cheese salad shot straight to the top of my entertaining repertoire and I still swoon when I think of the taramosalata, a world away from the lurid pink gloop in my supermarket.”
Jill Hartley, The Times
“So you’ve seen all the TV cookery programmes, taken out a mortgage on the custom-built stove, bought the Japanese knives. Now what? You need a course. Forget the culinary equivalents of an MBA … what you need is a short, sweet, professionally run programme aimed at people (like you) who regard cooking as serious fun and who love to share great food with like-minded people ...
For an exploration of the traditional food and culture of the Greek islands, Rosemary Barron does courses in May and September on the starkly beautiful volcanic island of Santorini.”
Inspirational Courses Around Europe: Can cook, will cook
Sue Style, Financial Times
“Santorini is a mystical, magical island. I was lucky enough to visit with Rosemary Barron, a respected British food writer and teacher first lured to Santorini more than 30 years ago as a student on an archaeology dig … She set up a small cooking school in the 80s in the village of Oia and now runs fun-filled, week-long trips of culinary exploration on the island. Along the way, she has become a world-recognised authority on Greek cuisine, ancient and modern ...
... With expert guidance, we set out on a week of exploration that took in antiquities, geology and geography, winery visits, shopping, lazy days spent relaxing and swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean and, of course, endless feasting on the simple, delicious food in tavernas, bars, and restaurants ...
... As in many tavernas, the menu didn’t adequately explain what was fresh, good, and available... Choosing was made easy with Barron’s knowledgeable guidance and before long we were all happily settled at a table laden with traditional Greek meze dishes as we awaited our fish.”
Lauraine Jacobs, New Zealand Cuisine magazine
“Even Greek people are envious when they find you plan to visit Santorini. It is considered one of the loveliest and most stylish islands in the Mediterranean. Rosemary Barron, who is board director of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, has been running programmes on the island for several years. Prior to that, in the 1980s, she ran a renowned cookery school on Crete, the first to focus on the cultural aspects of Greek food. This experience, plus her acute fascination with history and the health aspects of ingredients, guarantees an absorbing introduction to all that is good in Greek cuisine.”
A Place to Cook: Rosemary Barron’s Greece
Author: Jenni Muir
“Rosemary Barron provides a thorough and delightful introduction to this extraordinary island for any visitor.”
Ancient Wisdom, Modern Tables
Travel & Leisure
“Rosemary Barron is a world authority on Greek cooking and, while expensive, her course on Santorini is second to none. As well as demonstrations gleaned from her book Flavours of Greece, she leads you to the producers of cheeses, wines, breads and olive oils to learn their secrets.”
40 Great Things To Do this Summer; #17 Learn Greek cooking
The last word ...
The last word belongs to those of you who shared with me a week of Ancient Wisdom, Modern Tables. My greetings to you and, too, to all of you who joined me years earlier, at Kandra Kitchen on Crete or Santorini.
We want you to know – our week with you was simply fantabulous. We are very grateful to you for sharing your own passions for Ancient and Modern Greek Wisdom and Tastes and for providing access to the passions of your warm and wonderful Greek friends, especially Evelyn and George at Selene's, Nena the gracious, captivating guide, and the good sea-captain and his family. I hope you know how truly special you made our week on what must be one of the – if not the most –awesomely beautiful places on this earth. And with "good and beautiful tastes" to match!
It really was a very special week and I am still catching up. It was certainly one which could never be duplicated and I would never want to go back. Nothing could measure up! Definitely a "once in a lifetime experience".
I’d no idea that there was so much to discover about the foods of the past. I loved the beautiful pots, the spectacular landscape, and the delicious foods. But most of all I loved the way you drew me into a story – one that’s been written over thousands of years and, even better, by cooks just like me!
Thank you so much for a wonderful week in what must be one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’ve come back home making plans already for my next trip to Greece. Right now though I’m off shopping for my Greek goodies so that I can cook for my friends some of the dishes I learnt with you.
If only I could go out now to one of those tavernas – I can still taste the fantastic flavors of the grilled meats, the fish, while we were sitting by the sea, and those greens. Most of all though I enjoyed the people we met and learning about the foods of the past. What a beautiful place!
But, as we toasted Rosemary, Selene, and the Santorini sunsets, the last word had to go to the student who said he had learnt much from the course, including how to make the “mother of all favas”.