Ioanna Bakatselou, owner of the Athens taverna To Kati Allo, explained that for many centuries spoon sweets played an important role in Greek brides winning the approval of their future mothers-in-law. Before permission was granted for an engagement, the women of the boy’s family called upon the girl at her home. The prospective bride had to serve the women a spoon sweet that she had prepared, presented in a silver spoon on crystal dishes. If the quality of the spoon sweet was deemed worthy, the bride could take a deep sigh of relief.
Ioanna’s daughter-in-law did not mention if she had to pass this test, but considering Jennifer was born in Iowa it can be assumed she was exempt. The delicious lemon spoon sweet served at the end of my first dinner at To Kati Allo confirmed both why it is held in such high regard and served in such a small portion. The flavor of the lemon rind was intense despite having been slowly simmered in sugar and water, and the syrup itself was a perfume of citrus. Yet more than one spoonful of this sweet at a time would most likely make your teeth ache.
Long regarded as a symbol of Greek hospitality, spoon sweets were traditionally offered to guests upon arrival, accompanied by a glass of cold water. And it’s not uncommon for both a home and a café to serve them along with strong Greek coffee. Ioanna explained that technically a taverna must offer for sale both Greek coffee and spoon sweets.
To Kati Allo’s lemon spoon sweet, with the thick rinds of Greek lemons, are made by a family relative, Soula Bramou. Spoon sweets are not the only menu item provided by family at To Kati Allo. Olives and olive oil come from the farms of relatives. Citrus rinds are popular in spoon sweets and the following recipe uses naval oranges.
Orange Spoon Sweet
Spoon sweets are not jam, so using a peeler to remove the rind will result in pieces too thin to hold up during the cooking process. During the final cooking stage in the syrup it is strongly advised to use a candy thermometer.
- 4 naval oranges
- water for boiling
- 16 ounces (2 cups) sugar
- 24 ounces (3 cups) water
- With a sharp knife, score the orange rind into eight sections.
- Carefully peel the rind off the oranges.
- Flatten each rind section and carefully cut most of the white pith away from the rind – see photos. It is not necessary to remove all the pith.
- Place the rinds into a heavy saucepan at least three times larger than the volume of the fruit. Cover the rind with cold water and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and gently simmer the rind for 30 minutes.
- Strain the rind through a colander discarding the water and set aside to cool for 4 hours.
- Place the rind back into the saucepan, cover with cold water and gently simmer for 20 minutes.
- Strain the rind again discarding the water and set aside, but a second cooling is not necessary.
- Add the sugar and water to the saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and add the orange rind. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Secure the candy thermometer to the side of the pot and cook to a temperature of 250°F (120°C) or until the syrup coats a spoon.
- Remove the pot from the heat and cool to room temperature.
- Transfer the cooled rind and syrup to a glass container, cover and store in the refrigerator.
Although in Greek tradition spoon sweets are eaten on their own, they pair well with plain cake or as an ice cream topping. Citrus rind is not the only ingredient used in making spoon sweets. Nearly any type of fruit such as cherries, kumquats, figs, raw versions of nuts like walnuts, pistachios, almonds and even baby cucumbers and cherry tomatoes can all become spoon sweets. When preparing non-citrus foods, add some lemon juice to preserve color. If the food is on the softer side, reduce the time in steps 5 and 7. The ingredients should not become too soft.