I am currently suffering from a very specific condition. Fortunately, it is not life threatening – I’m sure that. externally I may even appear fit and healthy. Nonetheless, the affliction continues and the cure that I am desperately in need of is a good, strong dose of Greece. In these last, flagging weeks of August has come the realisation that the month is nearly spent and I haven’t yet dipped into the Aegean this year, nor felt the searing, summer sun on my skin. Instead this has been the summer of moving house with countless weeks spent packing and unpacking, filling boxes and emptying them, finding places for all our belongings and, most importantly, setting up my kitchen again. The pots and pans are now in place, pulses and grains stashed away and the carefully collected herbs and spices ready for use. And then there, in a mixed box of oils and vinegars was a tantalising reminder of other August days. At the bottom of the box, three bottles of amber liquid – the remains of last year’s kaneláda – beautifully fragrant cinnamon cordial. My malady is confirmed and one thing is certain; I am suffering from a severe deficiency of Greek summer days.
On late August afternoons on the island of Kos there is a perfect refuge from the bone-blistering heat of the coast – up the winding mountain road, to the villages of Asfendiou, Lagoudi, Pyli and Zia. These settlements rest, almost precariously, on the mountainside, amongst the pine and eucalyptus. Up there, it is pleasantly warm and it is good to walk under the shade and fragrance of fig and walnut trees. Intermittently, the cicadas pause in their rasping and suddenly, for a split second there is total silence.
Always on these visits to our village, we look into the church and, admire the family name on the gilded icon and altar piece. We will pause in the ruins of the, now derelict, ancestral olive press – picking our way gingerly through frazzled grass, dried thistles and wild fennel. At the kafeneion across the way, we stop and sit and order glasses of chilled kaneláda – cinnamon cordial. We sip the cool, sweet, drink, listening to the café owner talk of village life past and present and her memories of the olive press before it fell into disuse. We show our admiration as she tells us that her late husband was the strongest man in the village – ‘He alone could turn the millstones… single-handed !’ And we sit and sip our kaneláda, the ice clinking in the glasses and listen to village tales and the incessant buzz of the cicadas.
In Britain we associate cinnamon with Christmas and winter; in Greece it is the spice for most sweet things and it even finds its way into savoury dishes. In the islands of the eastern Aegean, cinnamon takes over the main role in this traditional drink.
It is very simple to make – water, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and, if possible, a few leaves of lemon geranium. In the past a food colouring was added to give kaneláda a distinctive red colour, but I prefer it in its natural state. Mixed with well chilled water it is the perfect refresher for a summer’s day.
So, until I get my real Greek therapy, I will have to make do with a few glasses of kaneláda to help me through – that recipe is here.
Kaneláda – Cinnamon Cordial
1 Litre water
1 kg sugar
4 sticks of cinnamon
2 leaves of lemon geranium (optional)
Put the water and the spices in a large pan and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat.
Add the sugar carefully – it has a tendency to splash. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and allow to simmer for another 15 minutes until the mixture becomes slightly syrupy.
Remove from the heat and add the geranium leaves, if you are using them.
Allow the syrup to cool.
When completely cool, remove all the spices and leaves, and store in sterilised bottles. If you like, add a stick of cinnamon to each bottle for enhanced flavour.
Serve diluted with chilled water. The syrup is also lovely trickled over ice cream – and who knows what else !