Kavourmas (Greek Pork Confit) as Made on a Greek Island

Froso Cleaning Oregano

Froso Cleaning Oregano

In honor of the recent publication of Tastes Like Home’s 2nd Revised Edition, I’m rerunning this article, originally published on November 10, 2007.

Every cook worth her salt has mentors who influence and inspire in different measures. From Froso, I learned the importance of using local ingredients at their seasonal peak, and the degree to which good cooking and quality ingredients are inextricably entwined. I couldn’t have written Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska if Froso and I’d never met.

I first sat at Froso’s table over 25 years ago, as her cousin’s new wife. She spoke no English. I spoke no Greek. Nonetheless, she welcomed me into her kitchen, the center of family life, with open-hearted hospitality.

A shared love of food and cooking was our first common language. During our first days together, and continuing over the next 26 years, I’ve watched, tasted, and helped Froso prepare an amazing abundance of food from what she, her family, and her friends grew or gathered, all within walking distance of her kitchen.

Froso lives in Atsiki, the small, vibrant farming village where she was born, on Limnos, a rural island in the northern Aegean Sea. Once from necessity and now by choice, the foods that grace Froso’s table come almost exclusively from the bounty of her garden, fields, and pastures, the island’s hunting grounds, and the rich waters of the surrounding sea.

Froso and Achinoi

Froso Opening Sea Urchins

Froso learned to cook beside her mother, when the island was an isolated province, and Greece still reeling from ten years of war. Preparing food was hard in those days. There was no refrigeration and every drop of water was fetched from a neighborhood faucet several blocks from the house. Cooking was done on a two-burner gas camp stove, and baking in a wood-fired outdoor oven.

Life in the village today is easier. Froso has running water, a working range, and a microwave oven. The village has a half dozen tiny, one-room stores where Froso can buy staples and prepared food from far off the island. Few of these products actually find their way into Froso’s kitchen. She makes only the traditional foods she learned as a girl, using the same ingredients gathered in the same ways from the same places.

Froso’s meals are crafted from island ingredients in season. Like many Greek cooks (and the best cooks everywhere), φρεσκάδα (freskatha), the freshness of her ingredients, underlies everything she prepares. If Froso is complemented on a dish, she never credits a recipe or cooking technique, but only her ingredients. If pressed, she might mention a special flavor imparted by the particular place foods grew or were raised. When Froso preserves food for future use, it’s always during each food’s season of abundance and peak ripeness.

When okra is abundant, it appears at Froso’s table frequently. When artichokes in Froso’s yard are heavy with buds, they become the center of her meals. In late fall through early spring when wild greens are abundant, Froso spends the long hours necessary to prepare greens for salads and hortopites (wild greens pie).

Stomping Grapes

Froso and Zafiris Supervising Grape Stomping

The eggs she uses are gathered from hens in her back yard and those that wander freely on her farm. The flour that Froso mixes on the kitchen table to make noodles, bread, and filo is milled down the street, a day or so before it is used, from her husband Zafiris’ wheat. The wine she serves is made by Zafiris in the amphora set deep into her yard.

Froso’s dishes start with olive oil – never butter, which even today is not available in the village. Traditional cheeses, made by Froso and other local women in seasons when the sheep and goats are producing lots of milk, are served at every meal. Food is flavored with fennel, dill, mint, and parsley, all of which grow a few steps from Froso’s front door, in her kitchen garden.

When the fish monger drives through town, hawking his wares with a megaphone, Froso buys only the cheapest fish available — locally caught, small, and bony — because they’re the ones with the most flavor. In many ways, Froso is a simple cook, but a simple cook who uses her unerring taste buds to produce consistently delicious food.

When we first met, the village didn’t have its own meat store. In those years, Froso raised a yearly pig in the back yard. Slaughtered in winter, every part of the animal passed across Froso’s table. The liver, kidneys, and other edible internal organs were fried immediately and served with ample homemade ouzo to the butchers and onlookers. The next day’s meal would be a prime cut of pork. The head, ears, and feet became headcheese.

Pork and SaltBefore the days of refrigeration, Froso preserved most of the pork by making kavourmas, slow-cooked pork similar to a French confit. Kavourmas was traditionally made the day after slaughtering the pig. Meat was cut into chunks, salted overnight, and cooked slowly in its own fat, which Froso calls voutero (butter). The voutero was supplemented with sesame or olive oil, and the meat cooked until it was moist and tender. When fully done, the finished kavourmas was packed into crocks, covered with rendered fat, and stored in a cool place for use over the coming months.

Froso continues to make small batches of kavourmas for its special, salty flavor. She cooks it with eggs, in dried beans and vegetable stews, or with onions as an accompaniment to ouzo. Although it must cook for a couple hours, kavourmas is simple to make and requires little attention from the cook.

Last summer, Froso and her husband Zafiris debated whether today’s kavourmas is as good as it was in years past. Zafiris thought the traditional version he remembered was better. He claimed the better, old-time flavor came from sesame oil added to rendered pig fat to ensure the meat wasn’t exposed to air. He insisted sesame oil has a more complex favor than the olive oil used today for the same purpose (when Zafiris was a child his family ran a sesame mill).

Froso thought Zafiris preferred old-style kavourmas because it was cooked in pig fat, not sesame oil. Today, when making kavourmas, Froso discards most of the animal fat and cooks the meat in olive oil. She says kavourmas made this way is healthier and tastes better.

What follows is Froso’s modern version of kavourmas: When we eat it in Alaska, we feel the presence of Froso at our table, without whom our meals would be much the poorer.

Be sure to check out the recipes mentioned in this post:

 

30 Responses to Kavourmas (Greek Pork Confit) as Made on a Greek Island

  1. african vanielje says:

    Wow, what an amazingly self-sufficient woman. She sounds like she is truly inspirational. You are so lucky to have time in the kitchen with someone like Froso. Thank you so much for sharing this with us in Apples & Thyme

  2. Froso is a true inspriation, and I do feel very lucky and blessed to know her. I’m so glad you liked the story of her table!

  3. The Passionate Palate says:

    Wow, what phenomenal details, photos and woman! I felt transported to Greece. The recipe looks mouthwatering.
    Thanks for participating in our event!
    Jeni

  4. Sounds like something I need to try at home! I loved this entry! Great photos too!

  5. Ok, so I will just have to try it…of course at home-where else? I’m so silly. 🙂

  6. Jeni, thanks for the kind words; I had fun writing this piece. And I love kavourma — we had it again tonight, with cabbage, so I added that recipe too! Thank you and Inge for putting this event together.

    Cheryl, I knew just what you meant! Of course, you could have been thinking about trying it at your m-i-l’s house. Or not! Nice to see you here…

  7. there are some women `i have met in greek remote villages who are like froso simple food yet so tasty and like her they cook whats on the season,

    I have travelled in some remote places in north Greece and I tell you I still remember their xortopites

    Great story Laurie I just really hope we will meet in Greece one day…. tha leme kai kali ebdomada

  8. Επίσης, Sha, Καλή Εβδομάδα!! I’m glad you liked Froso’s story. She is a wonderful woman and I love her very much. As for hortopites, I’ve never met one I didn’t like.

    I also hope we will meet one day!

  9. Maryann@FindingLaDolceVita says:

    wow! What a wonderful post! Thank you 🙂

  10. What a great blog to find, I LOVE Mediterranean cooking and am thrilled to find some new recipes to try.

    Thanks for entering this, it’s a completely different take on the topic and is fun.

  11. Tartelette says:

    My years of Greek are a little behind me but you brought me back to the most wonderful days I spent in Greece visiting my bestfriend and her family. Great post Laurie! When I feel like whining because I have had a tough day, I almost always think about what my grandmothers had to function with everyday and it makes shut up! Froso is a true inspiration for all in the kitchen and I am sure you learned a lot from her.

  12. Thank you for this lovely excursion through Greece and for your beautifully expressed memories. I will be adding your recipes to my (ever growing) list to try.

  13. sognatrice says:

    Lucky you, and lucky us for your sharing this!

    It’s reading things like this that make me forget that there’s a sea between Greece and southern Italy where I now live…such wonderful cooking traditions.

    Lovely post 🙂

  14. Tartelette, you are so right — we have it easy, especially compared to village women. Froso is my inspiration and I have learned an incredible amount from her. I’m glad you enjoyed meeting her.

    Ann, thank you — you won’t be sorry if you try this — it’s delicious.

    Sognatrice, when we go to Italy, I always notice its similarities with Greece, not suprising given how close the two countries are. Thank you for the kind words.

  15. What a wonderful story and what a great Mediterranean character. It was a pleasure to read.

  16. Barb McMahon says:

    OK. I’m drooling.

    Thank you for such a wonderful story!

  17. Froso is one wonder woman! makes me remember all the things i have now and to be thankful 🙂

  18. Self-sufficient households amaze me! My parents harvested almost all the produce we ate in the garden they turned their suburban yards into, and it’s always heartening to see that somewhere out there, people still put food they make themselves on their tables. What a great look into a Greek household! Thank you for sharing these stories and these tasty recipes! I may have to buy a hunk of pork to try it out!

  19. Rokh, Froso is a wonder woman, and I didn’t even write about one of the best things about her, and that is she is the kindest, most loving person I have ever met. I have never heard a single person say a bad word about her – quite an accomplishment.

    Julie, go buy that hunk o’pork and think of Froso as you eat it! I agree with you that self-sufficient households are amazing.

  20. Wow – she sounds like quite an inspirational and amazing lady! Thank you for sharing about her and her lovely recipes!

  21. Hi Laurie, I’ve been browsing around your site and reading some of these very interesting stories. It’s like reading “Loxandra” in English. Well done.

  22. Hi – I linked over to your site from Mel’s Diner…just checking out some of your posts and began reading about “Froso”. I was wondering which island in Northern Aegean she is from as my mother’s side of the family is from a small island in the Northern Aegean. Is it Aghios Efstratios or Lemnos?

  23. Sam Sotiropoulos says:

    Laurie, thanks for this posting! The kavourma with eggs is truly classic!

  24. Hello Laurie, that’s so exciting, your book’s 2nd edition! Congratulations!

    I love kavourmas! My grandmother used to make it herself and we always prepared it much like as in your second recipe, with eggs and onions and lots of pepper.
    Thank you for a wonderful post. It was a real pleasure to read.
    Magda

  25. Enjoyed reading about Froso and kavourmas. How long with the meat keep in the refrigerator?

    • If the meat is kept completely covered with fat, it keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator (in other words, months). Keep in mind, the technique was originally developed as a pre-refrigeration food preservation method. The salting helps keep the meat free from bacteria and the fat keeps air away from it, which also protects it from spoilage.

  26. beatrice (panagiota) anagnos says:

    HI THERE ENJOYED READING ABOUT YOU AND FROSO…..IF YOU CAN PLEASE E-MAIL RECIPE FOR HORTOPITA
    BEA(PANAGIOTA)

    • Harriet Drummond says:

      Beatrice, I am the (volunteer) designer of Laurie’s book and I noticed your last name is Anagnos. My maiden name is Anagnostis and my father’s family emigrated to the USA from the island of Limnos. Could be that we are related!

  27. Christine VLOTAROS says:

    I know Froso and her husband Zafiri I am from the same village I leave in Canada I will se her in the summer.

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