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Even city-dwelling vegans will feel removed from their grains and leafy vegetables most of the time. In the fast-paced digital age, it’s hard to imagine what slow food really looks like.
Such alienation from food and the land would come as a strange idea for one Corfu-based Yiayia, grandmother of Grand Dishes founder Anastasia Miari.
The Athens-based writer found the customs and rituals that informed how her granny prepared and cooked food to be a source of inspiration, and strikingly different to the way in which the millennial generation approached their meals. “My Yiayia lives in a tiny whitewashed house in Corfu,” Anastasia tells us. “She lives a very rural life and has barely been off the island. Corfu is a very agricultural island – or it was before tourism – so she went out to work on the land from a young age, planting things by the cycle of the moon. Her way of living and feeding herself was completely self-sustainable. That’s just what she has continued to do, even though everything around her has changed.”
On visits to her granny throughout the year, Anastasia also experienced this hands-on approach to food. For even when the food has been harvested and brought back home, the process of cooking extends far beyond just throwing things into the microwave.
“She doesn’t have an oven,” Anatasia explains. “Her kitchen is separate from her house, in an outbuilding across an alleyway. She cooks on the fire.”
As with many Greek islands, life on Corfu emphasises a slow, thoughtful approach rather than anything too hurried or throwaway. Such an approach extends to the kinds of food that are cooked as well. “She always cooks by the seasons,” Miari adds, “which is something that we don’t do any more.” Indeed, at a time when anything is available from the supermarket, the idea of patience – of waiting for things to grow ripe – is an idea that a new generation of urbanites would have to relearn.
The rituals and traditions of planting, harvesting and living off the fruits of the land are things that encourage a sense of togetherness and shared effort too. “Yiayia grows everything herself. She has her own olive trees. We make wine and olive oil, and I have done that with her since I was really young. So, that’s kind of in my yearly cycle too. We go and collect all the grapes in September, and then olive picking is in November.”
Given the powerful impact her granny’s cooking had on her, Anastasia decided that she wanted to document the recipes. “Because nothing I’ve ever tasted has been like her food,” she explains. “My granny’s cooking is instinctive.”
However, the idea of Grand Dishes as a larger project was hatched with her co-founder Iska Lupton, whose German grandmother’s relationship with food was similarly inspiring. “Her granny is this amazing hostess; she’s quite strict and stern, like my granny. And she shows her love through the fact that she hosts people.”
Together the pair decided to celebrate grannies from around the world, capturing the lives that each woman has led through their stories and favourite recipes. As Grand Dishes’ website summarises: “It’s not about what it’s like to be old. It’s about what it’s like to have lived.”
Although their website and Instagram page already celebrate grannies from around the world, this seems like just the start for Grand Dishes. The site has recently been shortlisted for the Guild Of Food Writers Awards 2018, and they are in the process of crowdfunding their forthcoming book, published through Unbound.
On the site, visitors can see some of the women that have featured so far, from grannies in India to those in France. These are all strong, determined women who have grown up in a more austere era, where nothing showed tenderness as much as a delicious slice of homemade cake. Each grandmother shares a recipe and a story about their lives, conveying as they do that timeless link between cooking and communality. Meals shared around a dinner table – memories made through the pleasure of enjoying homemade food. As life lessons go, Yiayia does seem to know best.