Like many immigrants of their generation, our parents started a new life, in a new country, with very little in their pockets, no social support network, and no knowledge of the language they were now surrounded by. To make ends meet, they both worked long and hard hours. When our mother first arrived, alone, in Canada, she worked as a live-in maid for several wealthy families. When she married my dad, they then went on to work in the garment industry, food processing plants and housekeeping department of a rehabilitation center. These were not glamorous jobs, but they were always done with pride, respect and commitment. We can’t remember our parents ever taking a sick day, or ever complaining that they wished they didn’t have to work that day. As young girls, we saw our dad leaving the house at 6 am, returning home at approximately 4 pm, and then leaving again shortly afterwards to meet our mom at her job. Her employers were nice enough to allow our father to help her with her work, so that she could finish earlier, and come home to her children. Looking back, they both must have been exhausted, but we never heard either of them complain that they were tired. Instead, our father would often say, work is health (η δουλειά είναι υγεία).
Thankfully, our parents had their weekends off, and during their time away from work our apartment was always filled with family and friends. They loved using this time to cook up a storm, and especially to bake traditional Greek desserts like galaktoboureko and baklava. Sometimes however, especially when it was hot out and turning on the oven would have meant a sweltering kitchen (our parents did not believe in air conditioning!), dessert was a thick, white, spoon sweet flavoured with vanilla. This dessert, perfect to serve company and unexpected guests, might be the most refreshing thing you can have on a warm summer day. In Greece, this would be the treat waiting for us after a day at the beach, to tide us over before supper was served.
There are a few ways to enjoy vanilla. For us children, our parents would take a heaping spoonful of vanilla and place it in a glass of ice cold water. Dessert done in 5 seconds. Adults would have their vanilla served in water and ouzo; dessert, and cocktail, ready in 10 seconds! For people who worked so hard, efficiency was everything!
Spoon sweet vanilla is sold in jars imported from Greece. We find ours in our local Greek market, but if you can’t find this where you live, there are several on-line suppliers. Otherwise, if you have friends or family visiting Greece, ask them to forget the souvenir keychains, and bring some vanilla back instead.
This spoon-sweet vanilla is basically a mixture of sugar, corn syrups and vanilla flavouring. It has the consistency of a fondant, which will soften the longer it sits in the water and ouzo, or plain water. It is eaten by licking it, as you would a lollipop. You can then drink the liquid, which has taken on some of the lovely vanilla flavour.
If you are serving this to children, place the vanilla in ice cold water, (without the ice cubes…they just get in the way. If you are serving this to adult guests who would like a cocktail along with their sweet, you can serve the vanilla in an ouzo / water mixture. The vanilla will take on a bit of the ouzo flavour, and the ouzo drink will take on some of the vanilla taste. A perfect sharing!
The recipe below is for vanilla and ouzo with water. Essentially, all you want to do is use 1 part ouzo to 3 parts water. This ratio will give you a drink which is delicious and not too strong. You will also notice that the recipe calls for a heaping spoonful of vanilla; this means that you will open up your cutlery drawer and choose a soup spoon (or a teaspoon if you want less vanilla) and use that to scoop up a serving of vanilla. This is one recipe where exact measurements don’t mean much.
Mia Kouppa: Spoon sweet vanilla with ouzo
- 1 heaping spoonful of vanilla
- 3/4 cup ice cold water (no ice cubes)
- 1/4 cup ouzo
- Combine the ouzo and water in a glass. Stir.
- Take a heaping spoonful of vanilla and insert the spoon into your glass.
- Enjoy your vanilla by licking it like a lollipop. Between licks, reinsert it into your drink.
- If you would prefer your vanilla non-alcoholized, simply fill your glass with only ice cold water. Follow the same steps as above. Enjoy.