My Citizens, your well-connected and sought-after Leader – the Dionysian epicure that alone is TFD! – was invited to a very special event put on in San Francisco solely for the top food bloggers and writers about Mastiha by the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association! This amazing gum resin has an intense taste and is incredibly healthful as well! Mastic gum has been used for millennia to improve well-being – it is so chewy that it is the origin of the English “masticate” – to chew!
While there, I sampled amazing Greek-influenced foods using Mastiha and came away with some amazing samples of top-quality Mastic. To thank the Association for their largesse, I will now share with you a classic Greek ice cream, flavored by the piney essence of Mastiha and deliciously chewy thanks to the further addition of Salep (a very rare powder made from an Aegean orchid used throughout the region to give ice cream a unique stretchiness and immunity from rapid melting!
παγωτό καϊμάκι, pronounced pah-ghoh-TOH kah-ee-MAH-kee is both fascinating and delicious, and the history of Greek ice cream is quite interesting as well!
Ice cream in its modern form, or pagotó (Greek: παγωτό), was introduced in Greece along its development in Europe in the beginning of the 20th century. Earlier than that, ice treats have been enjoyed in the country since ancient times.
During the 5th century BC, ancient Greeks ate snow mixed with honey and fruit in the markets of Athens. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, encouraged his Ancient Greek patients to eat ice “as it livens the lifejuices and increases the well-being.”
In the 4th century BC, it was well known that a favorite treat of Alexander the Great was snow ice mixed with honey and nectar. In the modern Day Greek ice cream has been heavily influenced by Turkish Ice cream Dondurma thus the name used to be called Dudurmas but, because of very poor Greco-Turkish relations, most Turkish related foods are coined a more Greek idiom.
Greek ice cream recipes have some unique flavours such as Pagoto Kaimaki (Greek: Παγωτό Καϊμάκι), made from mastic-resin which gives it an almost chewy texture, and Salepi, used as a thickening agent to increase resistance to melting, both giving a unique taste to the ice cream; Pagoto Elaeolado me syko (Greek: Ελαιόλαδο με σύκο), made of olive oil and figs; Pagoto Kataifi cocoa (Greek: Παγωτό Καταΐφι κακάο), made from the shredded filo dough pastry that resembles angel’s hair pasta, similar to vermicelli but much thinner; and Pagoto Mavrodaphne (Greek: Μαυροδάφνη Παγωτό), made from a Greek dessert wine.
Fruity Greek jams or syrups are usually served as toppings with Greek-inspired ice cream flavors. TFD also prefers to sprinkle his mastic ice cream with chopped pistachio nuts and to serve with sour cherry preserves on the side.
As to the history of mastic, greece-is.com has this to say:
Every autumn in the mastichochoria (‘mastic villages’) of Chios, women can be seen sitting on benches in front of the tightly packed stone houses for a task inextricably linked with life on the island’s southern slopes.
They are cleaning mastic, an aromatic resin obtained from the Lentisk tree and the life-blood of these villages since the Middle Ages.
Strong bonds are forged during the cleaning process as women move from house to house helping each other with the work that takes until January to complete. It is a delicate task as each ‘tear’ of mastic must be cleaned individually by hand. The purity of the mastic each producer delivers to the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association will determine how much they are paid.
While lentisk trees grow in many areas in Greece, it is only on Chios that there is a large-scale production of mastic. The lentisks here are unique, belonging to a strain that is endemic to the island (Pistacia lentiscus var. Chia). For millenia these trees have shaped the domestic, residential and economic structures of the mastichohoria, and they continue to do so today.
Mastic cleaning is a painstaking process that is done by hand
THE HISTORY OF MASTIC:
It was under the rule of the Genoese (1304–1566) that the production of mastic was first systematized. They provided the native Chiots with protection from pirates in exchange for a monopoly on the mastic trade. The densely populated villages were surrounded by walls with gates that would open in the morning to allow villagers to head to the fields and close again at night.
In the center of every village stood a stone tower that was the central storehouse for the mastic as well as the main administrative building. The basic units of production were the homes of the villagers themselves: on the ground floor animals were kept that were used mainly for transport. Above was a floor on which family life played out, while the roof was used for the drying of grain and other agricultural products that formed the basis of the villagers’ diet.
Life was not easy and space was at a premium: every home housed more than one family and there were no courtyards and few free spaces. Every aspect of life revolved around the production of mastic.
In the 16th century Chios passed under Ottoman control. The new rulers kept a monopoly on the trade of mastic until 1840 when Chiots were permitted to sell mastic themselves with the Ottomans collecting a tax on the trade. The 19th century was a particularly difficult period as the value of mastic fell, threatening the industry. As a result Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association was established in 1938 for growers to pool resources. To this day it is the sole body managing the Chios mastic trade.
The mastic gum is produced by the lentisk tree as a defence mechanism. The sub-type of lentisk trees cultivated on Chios are endemic to the island
The method of mastic production has changed little since the Middle Ages, a fact which contributed to UNESCO’s 2014 decision to include Chios’s knowledge of mastic cultivation in its ‘List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity‘.
To collect the valuable resin, growers scar the bark of the tree at specific times and using a specific method. In response the tree produces the resin in an effort to heal the wound. The resulting ‘tears’ are collected in the early morning cool before the heat of the day softens them. The ‘tears’ are then transported to the village where they are processed and cleaned before being delivered to the association.
Citizens, my version of this delectable treat is based very closely to one I found on the fantastic website thespruceeats.com. The toppings are all mine, however! You can buy 100% pure salep from here. Top-quality Mastiha from the Isle of Chios may be found here. Greek sour cherry preserves are here and excellent unsalted and shelled pistachios may be purchased here.
Battle on – The Generalissimo