A Classic Southern Food Meets the Mediterranean


Aglaia Kremezi

To try a recipe for a sweet, orange-scented cornbread from Greece, click here, or click here for an Italian version with cheese and hot peppers.

For elderly Greeks, cornbread is an inferior staple. When asked, they will tell you about the dense and crumbly breads they consumed during World War II's German occupation. Fighting the terrible famine of 1941 that claimed many lives in Athens, some families living in the outskirts of the city managed to cultivate some corn, and painstakingly ground the grains in hand coffee grinders to make hard yellow bread.

My father and my uncles—my mother's brothers—invented and operated an ingenious contraption using an old bicycle. They took turns and laboriously pedaled to rotate the heavy millstones they had somehow managed to get. To this day older Athenians dismiss cornbread with contempt, much like as mother refused to taste my Italian-inspired pumpkin risotto because it brought to mind the weeks and months her whole family ate pumpkins from the garden—usually without even olive oil, let alone cheese.


Aglaia Kremezi

Bobota (pronounce bo-BO-tah) is the word for cornbread and often for cornmeal. Unsuccessful, badly risen wheat breads and cakes were contemptuously also called bobota. The word is clearly non-Greek; according to the most prestigious Greek dictionary, it comes from Albanian. But if this is true, the word must have been part of the old vernacular of that country. Bobota, the word, didn't survive in modern Albania. Fortunately, cornbread has triumphed! From my invaluable assistants Ela and Stamatia I learned to make hortopsomo, a wonderful cornbread with greens, scallions, and feta.

My husband likes the dense cornmeal cake his late mother used to bake. Enriched with sultanas and orange juice, that cake—also called bobota in Thessaly, central Greece—is doused with syrup while still hot. Some people add wheat flour to make it fluffy, but I prefer the original pure corn version, a crumbly gluten-free cake. Inspired by Italian cornbreads, I often bake my variation with olive oil, eggs, and cheese, adding chopped smoky sausage from our island.

Stathi, our neighbor and friend who comes from southern Albania, loved that richly flavored cornbread, but shyly told me that this is more like a cake. He was longing for the rustic version his mother baked in her wood-fired oven: a polenta-like mixture of cornmeal and hot water spread thinly on a well-oiled sheet pan. His wife, Ela, baked cornbread following her mother in law's instructions, but Stathi wasn't satisfied. It probably lacked the smokiness of the wood-fired oven.

"Whether it was warm or cold and hardened, we would crumble my mother's cornbread in a bowl, toss it with watery homemade yogurt, and eat it as people now eat packaged cereal," Stathi said. "It is the breakfast I dream of."

Recipe: Bobota (Sweet Cornbread From Thessaly)
Recipe: Pizza Gialla (Southern Italian Cornbread With Cheese and Peperoncini)

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Aglaia Kremezi writes about food in Greek, European, and American magazines, publishes books about Mediterranean cooking in the U.S. and Greece, and teaches cooking classes. More

Aglaia Kremezi has changed her life and her profession many times over. She currently writes about food in Greek, European and American magazines, publishes books about Greek and Mediterranean cooking in the US and in Greece, and teaches cooking to small groups of travelers who visit Kea. Before that she was a journalist and editor, writing about everything, except politics. She has been the editor in chief and the creator of news, women's, and life-style magazines, her last disastrous venture being a "TV guide for thinking people," a contradiction in terms, at least in her country. She studied art, graphic design, and photography at the Polytechnic of Central London. For five years she taught photography to graphic designers while freelancing as a news and fashion photographer for Athenian magazines and newspapers. Editors liked her extended captions more than the pieces the journalists submitted for the events she took pictures for, so she was encouraged to do her own stories, gradually becoming a full time journalist and editor. You can visit her website at www.keartisanal.com.

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