There is one book common to all the kitchens of Greek women who migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. That is a book known just as, "Tselementes".
Nicholas Tselementes was well known chef, who trained and worked in some of the finest kitchens in Europe. In 1910, he wrote the first ever Greek Cookbook, which became every Greek housewife's cooking bible. The reason why so many Greek migrant women sought out a highly prized copy of Tselementes has been speculated upon by many food writers, some consider it was symbolic of the growing sophistication of Greek migrant women. On her wonderful blog, "Organically Greek" Maria writes of her own mother's experience in New Zealand,
"...Cookbooks were unknown to her until she migrated...Suddenly it seemed that a cookbook was indispensable. It was as necessary as, as, as sandblasted ballerinas on concertina glass-panelled doors separating the lounge from the dining room, china figurines on the mantelpiece, antimacassar crochet doilies on the armchair head and armrests. It was what everyone seemed to be buying at the time, and she wanted to add such a book to her collection of things that made her feel like the urban woman that she had become, from the rural girl that she once was. She felt the need to own a cookbook, because it represented progress."
In her book, Sweet Greek, Kathy Tsaples also tells a similar tale of her mother's experience, "...When mum came to Australia, she wanted a cookbook but unfortunately could not afford it. When many of her relatives migrated to Australia during the sixties, her one wish was for them to bring a cookbook. She called this Tselementes."
My own mother in law tells a similar story. When she arrived in Australia, she did know how to cook, having learnt from her yia-yia Marieta. However, Tselementes, which Ma still considers to be the ultimate authority on Greek food, was a way of perfecting her art. Most importantly too, it was a source of inspiration in 1950s Australia, where you could only buy olive oil as a source of medicine from a pharmacy. Through Tselementes, Ma had a connection with her homeland, her culture and its cuisine. The well thumbed, sauce splattered pages of her navy blue copy of Tselementes are a testament to that fact. According to Ma, a copy of Tselementes and lots of practice are the very best ways to learn to become a good Greek home cook. I would hastened to add one more - a good tutor ie. a Greek mother in law!
Not one to argue with the fact that Tselementes taught many generations of women the finer points of traditional Greek cooking, or the advice of my mother in law, I have tracked down my own version of Tselementes. Luckily for me (whilst I am still in the throes of attending what is roughly about the kindergarten level of Greek school for grown ups) my copy was translated into English. Being published in New York in 1959. Having crossed referenced my copy with my mother in law's, the recipes in my version seem to be fairly true translations from Ma's Greek edition. And so, with a slightly refreshed look to this blog (I do hope you like it!) I plan to share with you my efforts in working through Tselementes in regular posts, with the one proviso being that Mr Tselementes recipes will be tweaked every so often with the wise counsel of Ma, having resulted from her 50+ years experience cooking with Tselementes.
And I leave you with this thought, if you grew up in a Greek household, did your mother have a copy of Tselementes, or do you have your own copy - and do you still use it? If you grew up in another culture, what was the 'cookery bible' in your home?
Mr Tselementes "Spanish bean soup (chick pea soup)"
1 lb. Spanish beans (chick peas)
1 cup pure olive oil
2 to 3 chopped onions
3 tablespoons of salt
Soak Spanish beans overnight in lukewarm water to which 2 tablespoons of salt have been added and stirred well.
Next day, rinse well, rub beans between the two hands to remove skins, which will float. Put onto boil with sufficient water to cover.
(Ma's tip: after soaking the chickpeas, drain them very well under cold water. When you add them to the pan, cover them with fresh cold water and when they come to the boil, skim of any of the white froth/impurities that rise to the surface).
Let simmer until Spanish beans are tender. Add chopped onions, rest of salt and oil, and cook half an hour longer.
(Ma's tip: also add 1 stick of very finely chopped celery and its leaves, plus one or two bay leaves and a little ground white pepper).
Serve with lemon juice if desired.