Give me a fruit, any fruit, and I’ll show you how Greeks turn it into dessert.
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It is kind of ironic, given all the publicity about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and how Greek food is a prime example of this style of eating, how much of a sweet tooth Greeks actually have. Stroll down any shop-lined street in the big cities or small towns, and you will come across multiple sweet shops (called zah-har-roh-pla-STEE-oh in Greek) along the way. Don’t go in one hungry, because you will come out with boxes loaded with all sorts of amazing goodies. You have been warned.
So how is there not the same issues with health as in other countries due to all this sugar being consumed? One key difference is that sweets are far more of a hospitality thing. They are served to guests and not purchased for one’s own consumption. Another difference is that most people are walking to and from those sweet shops, or getting a scoop of ice cream when they are out for a summer evening’s stroll. You can’t separate lifestyle from diet. It just doesn’t work.
Then there are also the portion sizes. This grape “spoon sweet”, so named because it is a type of confection usually served on individual spoons, is an example of this. Only one or two pieces is usually served. Not because of being stingy, but because it is meant to be a treat, not the meal in itself. Spoon sweets are very intensely flavored and equally sweet. Trust me, a little dab will do ya!
Spoon sweets are made from all sorts of fruits, and even the rinds or peels. It’s a way to preserve what is available each season, and turn it into something special to offer visiting guests. They are often served with a strong cup of Greek coffee, where the sweet flavor helps offset the bitterness of the brew. A glass of water will also be offered up to help wash everything down, and often the spoon with its last bits of syrup will be swirled in the water to add a little flavor.
We enjoy ours in the same way, but also as an added topping to cakes or ice cream, or even some Greek yogurt. I’ll even add a spoonfull to our iced tea or a glass of water to sweeten the flavor. It’s very refreshing on a hot summer’s day, and trust me, we have a lot of those!
Some quick notes before you begin:
Any type of grape can be used, but you will want to choose varieties with more distinct flavor that can hold up to the cooking down process.
Seedless varieties are not necessary, but you’ll likely prefer not to deal with the seeds anyway. I have found that the seeds tend to ooze out of the grapes as they cook so they were able to be taken out with a spoon.
Be gentle when you are removing the stems so that the grapes are not torn. You want to keep them intact as much as possible so that you don’t end up with empty skins at the end.
For the same reason, you don’t want to boil the grapes or stir too vigorously. These will need to be gently simmered to prevent the grapes from rupturing as much as possible.
Using a pot with a wide bottom will help speed up the process. This allows more surface area for the water to escape as steam and it will reduce more quickly.
The lemon juice is essential, but not just for flavor. The juice will help to increase the acidity of the syrup and protect it from spoiling, so don’t skip it.
Spoon sweets are intended to be shelf stable without processing or refrigeration, but this can’t be ensured if you don’t cook it down enough. For safety’s sake, be sure to simmer the syrup down until it is very thick. It should be similar to molasses or a thin honey. You can also refrigerate your sweets if you want, though they may crystallize over time.
The syrup will thicken as it cools, but if you realize it is still too thin, you can always cook it down more. Conversely, if it is too thick, you can add a little water and reheat to incorporate before putting it back into a jar.
There is the possibility that the grapes will continue to release more moisture after the initial cook down process. This is why I highly recommend that you not package up your sweets until after it has sat in the pot, unrefrigerated, for a day. Then test the consistency to see if you need to cook it down more.
Greek Grape Spoon Sweet Recipe
- 1 1/2 lbs. fresh grapes, stems removed
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup water
Put all the ingredients into a large pot, preferably with a wide bottom. Bring the contents almost to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low.
Stir gently and only occasionally to prevent the grapes from burning on the bottom. The skins will break over time, but you don’t want to push out the contents and turn it into mush.
Continue to cook until the syrup is thickened. To test if it is thick enough, put a little puddle of syrup on a cold plate, then draw your finger through it once cool. A trail should remain behind.
Remove the pot from the heat and set aside, covered, to sit for a day. This will allow moisture from the grapes to come out and allow you to see if you need to cook it down a little more. Once you have cooked it down as needed and it has cooled, put your spoon sweets into a clean jar and close. If properly cooked down, they will be shelf stable, but you can keep it refrigerated if you prefer. This should make about a pint or so of spoon sweets. Enjoy!