Sea urchins, octopus and chickens oh my!

Born under the sign of Pisces I am drawn to the water. It can be a river, pond, lake or ocean and this girl is happy. Being on a primitive island at the age of 10 surrounded by the magic of the Aegean was a lesson in many things but to learn all this at that age was astounding. Learning to live off of what was available was educational and necessary because yiayia didn’t let me eat peanut butter every day.

Let’s start with the sea urchins. Did you know they are edible? Yes. Google it if you don’t believe me. First, my story of these prickly ocean creatures.

One afternoon my yiayia said we are going fishing and she grabbed some fresh bread and a small knife. That was it. No fishing poles. Just bread and a knife. She took me down to a stone wall where the water crashed right up to it. She pointed to the water and told me to get in and find a large rock to stand on. I should describe the water here so you can visualize. It is crystal clear to the largest depths that I have ever wandered into and when you look down into the water you can see large boulders from thousands of years ago when the islands were formed. I hopped into the water and she dangled her legs over the wall. She peered over and started scanning the wall in the water and some of the larger rocks around me. Every few minutes she would point to a sea urchin and tell me to use the knife to gently remove it from the rock. I did this multiple times and she showed me how to recognize which ones were edible. Wait a second!!! We are eating these? How? She would turn them over and open them up, tear off a piece of bread and start scooping the inside. That was lunch. A far cry from peanut butter and jelly. I won’t lie. It wasn’t my favorite adventure into eating but I was 10! It was a lifestyle for her and I just learned so much from that afternoon and I am grateful I could spend it with her.

Octopus! Again another life lesson. My first experience with an octopus was laying out on the beach and one of my cousins caught one. I had my eyes closed when he decided that he would place the 8 legged creature on my thigh. Another moment to visualize here. Picture me jumping up and screaming. We all had a good laugh and then the tenderizing of the octopus began right there on the beach. There is a process of which involves throwing it onto the warm rocks 40 times. In between doing that you rinse it quickly in the water because you are extracting the toxins from it. It’s primitive but this is how island life was and it is not anything other than fishing and eating only what you need. I was with my cousins a few more times over the months when they caught a couple more and it is a delicacy everyone should try at least once.

Chickens. I was told that one of my jobs while visiting the island would be to care for the chickens at our home up in the village. The first time we headed up to Tsouretho my aunt walked me over to an old abandoned house that they used for a chicken coop. When she opened the door it looked like there were hundreds of them. I am certain there were about 30 but the room was filled with fowl. I had to feed them and give them water. I learned they grow fast and they are mean! I remember every time I opened the door they would attack me. I am guessing they were screaming “Let us out of here!” I would close the door and leave. I am not sure what ever happened to those chickens but we did go to a lot of panayiria (picnics) in the village. They were delicious. 🙂

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