Crete is situated in the eastern Mediterranean in southern Greece. It was on that island that Minoan culturewas born (2600 B.C.); becoming the first European civilization, and one which has had a defining and long lasting influence on Greek culture. Already at this time, grains, olives and grapes were considered the pillars of their food foundation. It was this basic combination, which came to be identified as the Mediterranean trilogythat allowed many of the civilizations in and around the Mediterranean basin to prosper.
Beginning in the VI century B.C., the Greeks established many colonies in what is today southern France. They introduced an agricultural system which they inherited from Cretans. Centuries later, this region became the first provincial of the Roman Empire, the name by which it is still called to this day.
Cretans, even today are well known for harvesting hundreds of hortas, or wild herbs which have been an important element of their culinary repertoire since antiquity – in addition to grains, olive oil and wine.”
The Mediterranean basin is well known for the extensive variety of wild, edible herbs which grow there. The climate contributes immensely to the cultivation of the hardy, bitter plants which are characterized by their richly pungent volatile oils. It is also on Crete that we find the largest variety of herbs in the Mediterranean. Cretans, even today are well known for harvesting hundreds of hortas, or wild herbs which have been an important element of their culinary repertoire since antiquity – in addition to grains, olive oil and wine. Add to that combination, fish and a little meat and you will no doubt recognize the famous “Mediterranean diet” that is recognized today as one of the healthiest in the world. Among this wide variety of herbs, which are often eaten as vegetables, those that are extremely bitter and contain high concentrations of volatile oils are used in small quantities. Over time, Cretans have come to use these varieties to enhance dishes, and this is how many of the leaves and sometimes even the seeds of plants such as thyme, bay leaf, anis, fennel, rosemary and savory became spices.
We can thank Crete for nurturing our voracious taste for herbs; however, today it is in Provence that most of the economical benefits of exporting these products are concentrated.”
We can thank Crete for nurturing our voracious taste for herbs; however, today it is in Provence that most of the economical benefits of exporting these products are concentrated.
It is in these two rustic food cultures that the use of a variety of different herbs encourages the mixing and matching of flavors which lend such richness and diversity to the seasonal abundance of different ingredients. Using herbs is generally a simple affair; they just have to be added to recipes, without using any particular cooking technique. That being said, it is extremely enlightening to understand exactly how these herbs, once combined with aromatics such as orange peels or even with lesser known spices such as mastic or saffroncan transform the most rudimentary dish.