Gathering samphire at the brink of the wavesΔημοσιεύθηκε: Ιουλίου 2, 2015
I am publishing here a translated version of a recent post from lifo.gr firstly because Lefteris, the hero of the article, is a «new Ikarian» who, the same as Xenia, happens to be a member of KANGA, the partnership of local guides which I wrote about in April, and secondly because I think that what he does, besides being a guide, is very interesting. Lefteris is a modern food gatherer, specializing in samphire. He has been gathering this tasty and nutritious wild plant which is very abundant at the rocky shores of Ikaria, since he moved to the island nine years ago. In the following interview given to Dionissis Anemogiannis in June, Lefteris talks about his work, about the value of «kritamo» (samphire or sea fennel in Greek) and about living -and making a living- in Ikaria. Not only have I tasted his delicious little jars, but I also totally agree with his opinions. I wish him the best and I hope that you too, after reading the article, will share the same feeling.
There something in this view which hides in the many hillsides of Ikaria, those dressed in olive trees and those which are barren, full of rocks, something that sounds like a call repeated with the voice of the cicadas. Sometimes it is the echo of ourselves as we long for relaxation, for a humane way to live our of lives. Sometimes it’s just the rough beauty of the landscape and the unworldly silence which we forget encaged as we are in greyness and noise. To such a call Lefteris Trikiriotis responded when he took the desicion to leave Athens and move back to the island of his ancestors to seclude himself in an old stone house inside the gorge of the river Charakas in Rahes. After years of experimenting and familiarizing himself with everything that nature provides, Lefteris feels that he has succeeded in his purpose: to content himself with little and to live from the land, through gathering and through culitivating one of the less known treasures of the land of Greece: samphire.
«With nutritional and therapeutic properties acknowledged since antiquity samphire is a wholesome aliment, secret of the Mediterranean gastronomy, able to add taste to almost everything.»
Samphire («Kritamo» in Greek) is a succulent plant which grows on the coastal areas of the Mediterranean. In the Greek kitchen it is used to garnish dakos or as a base layer for cooked fish, usually processed as pickles. However, Lefteris’s wild samphire isn’t pickled. The fleshy leaves of the plant are seasoned in a mixture of wine and vinegar which keeps them fresh and highlights their intense and crisp taste which has a distinctive bitterness in the background like the taste of wild green herbs of the mountain. With nutritional and therapeutic properties acknowledged since antiquity samphire is a wholesome aliment, secret of mediterranean gastronomy which can add taste to almost everything. During a break from his work which in this time of the year keeps him busy for more than 12 hours a day, we talked with Lefteris and he shared with us his tastes, his thoughts and his goals, making come alive in frontt of us a sustainable solution to the crisis: the model of «undergrowth», which is about men and women who pursue a new relationship with themselves, with nature and with money.
— Lefteris, how did you decide to move to Ikaria? How difficult/easy was this decision for you?
«I grew up in a small «Ikarian colony» in the neighborhood of Perama near Piraeus but I didn’t live all my life there. I moved to the island where my family comes from when I decided to resign from a well-paid job in an industrial environment in the summer of 2005. After I spent one year in Crete working as a book peddler, I visited Ikaria on holidays as I was doing almost every summer, and a sequence of events kept me on the island till today. In the nine years that I live here I have done many jobs, as it is usual in Ikaria, among them herb gathering and outdoor guiding. It wasn’t difficult for me to go on with my life outside Athens. I followed my inner voice and allowed myself to shape the course of my life in the way I felt and not in the way imposed to me by the model of modern consumer society. As I left Athens I knew only one thing, that I didn’t want to work as an employee for any financial compensation whatsoever as long as that choice was against my conscience and did not cover the needs of my soul.»
— How did you decide to start cultivating and gathering samphire?
«For many people in our country the environment is like the black box of an airplane. When I started to explore the island as a professional guide as well as for pleasure, I came to discover a literally new world. My gradual familiarization with plants brought about the first tastings and the first attempts to process local products; one of these was samphire. I adored this plant as it is durable and thrifty and I believed that I could work with it towards practicing a successful trade in the long term. Later on, after research and trials in reproducing the plant, I made sure that it can be multiplied, so at a certain point I decided to try to cultivate it with the help of my companion and a friend.»
— What does someone need to cultivate samphire and how easy is it to find it in the wild?
«One needs to know the existence and the edibility of this self-sown summer herb and to afford to be as crazy as to cultivate something that noone else cultivates. In some islands of the Aegean and coastal areas of Greece and the Mediterranean it grows in large populations, while in others it is found only scarcely or not at all. I just happened to have frequent encounters with the particular plant which grows along a good part of the rocky coastline of the island.»
— Which are the difficulties that a modern food gatherer may encounter?
«The profession of the food gatherer is rare, more or less vague and undefined by the law, while its insecurity makes it difficult to provide a long term viability to anyone who is interested in this business. Also, bureaucracy does not allow the unobstructed practice of this particular activity as there is no national administrative plan for wild nature in Greece. As a result, even when someone wants to practice food gathering lawfully with responsibility and respect, he or she faces intractable deadlocks. Thereupon one needs to have imagination and decisiveness to create a living space that hasn’t been anticipated or classified by the authorities. One also needs to wrestle against several imaginable or unimaginable public services with totally rigid and outdated mindsets. Practically, the profession requires a deep love and respect for nature which offers generously to us rich sources of food inside its various ecosystems. One can find many of these ecosystems even in a small island like Ikaria. To become a food gatherer you have to explore a place for years, you have to experiment and to taste the various self-sown edible plants of the place. The wild herbs, fruit, crops, mushrooms, bulbs and even seaweed may give you new ideas about our diet and about new cultivations. Especially in Greece where we have one of the richest floras in Europe in relation to the size of our country, there are many species of plants waiting to be discovered and put to value.»
— What is your daily routine on the island? Can you describe an ordinary day?
«There is no ‘ordinary’ day on the island, and by this I don’t mean that there is no repetition. In Ikaria, like everywhere in the countryside, life follows a more natural course depending on the season, the agricultural activities and the whims of the weather. A winter, for example, can be rainy and windy and the result sometimes is that you have to stay indoors for days or weeks. Food gathering is not a routine job and I chose it against the advice of friends and relatives. When someone chooses this profession there is no pay safety. On the other hand, there is enough freedom so as to be able to improvise, to go on working with joy and to shape my daily schedule at will. The culture of a simple way of life and the pursuit of quality leisure time are two keystones which characterize to a great extent life on the island. I share this point of view with my companion, so for the last two years we have lived together in an old stone house inside an olive grove in the gorge of Charakas river. This particular time of the year I am working more intensively and I don’t have time to think about a lot of things. However, there are times when the machine crashes and then we escape for a while to some beautiful lonely cove or to some natural pool of one of the many rivers which carve the slopes of the mountains. After working hard I usually look forward to going back home to see the progress of my vegetables, the fruit trees in the orchard and to hug with my companion. I am looking for some rest and the company of my friends to end the day smoothly until the following morning when hard work will start again. The thought which often comes as a capping stone of all this effort to cover my financial needs is to ask for the least and content myself with little.»
— How would you characterize life on the island?
«Life in Ikaria is hard, difficult on the economic side but rich in the social side. Its rewards are scarce but they keep you alive and of course, the way someone will experience a place depends mainly on his or her personality and not on the social environment. Walking through a foggy forest of perennial oaks, hunting mushrooms in a cloudy autumn morning, is enough to bewitch you and make you risk everything to stay there forever. Every place has a lot to offer, natural landscapes, social relations, pleasures, hardships, as long as you decide to expose yourself to the place and experience its qualities.»
— What are your plans for the future?
«After nine years of hard work every summer I would like to find some time for a holiday at the end of August. I also intend to add more seedlings of samphire to the plantation that I have started. I want to build a house with natural materials to shelter my flesh and fashion the land around it to make it suitable for permaculture.»
— How do you like to eat samphire?
«Raw, the moment I gather it, with salt to add to the taste and with iodine to color my fingers. Also, fresh steaming hot together with vegetables from my garden, with natural rice or cereals, inside a simple tomato salad with a lot of olive oil and lemon, in a quick omeletith fresh eggs from the vagrant chicken of my neighbor, or in a fresh sasandwichth kathoura (fresh local white cheese from goat milk) and tomato, minced into a puree of legumes (split peas, broad beans, chickpeas, lupins, etc.»
You can find the Wild Samphire of Ikaria in selected stores around Greece. You may also purchase it from ikariastore. You may contact Lefteris Trikiriotis at 6974042417 or his facebook page. The photos of the article are by Niko Dayandas from his film «Little Land» produced by ΑΝΕΜΟΝ. You can download the film from here.