This Horta Page is from the Completely Crete Cretan Food and Drink Section.
A walk through the olive groves or through the vineyards might reveal the sight of an old lady dressed in a long skirt, shawl and thick black stockings – even in the summer, labouring in the fields or the roadside gathering up what looks like weeds.
She’s gathering Ta corta (pronounced “ta HORta”), which means wild greens or green vegetables.
The picking and cooking of horta is a very traditional thing in Crete. Skills and knowledge are passed down the generations – you can't learn this.
There are 25-30 different kinds of herb and plant that comprise true horta, and the picking, cleaning, and preparation of these greens can take a full day for the women of the village. February to March are the optimum months for horta abundance.
Many of the plants are found in different (sometimes neighbouring) fields and the women must trudge from meadow to meadow to find the varieties they are looking for. Many of the families have their own special names for different plants, some of which will mean nothing to a family in the next village - or even next door!
Horta plays a vital role in the Cretan diet, and is regarded as an important reason why this Island's inhabitants have been able to recover so well from foreign promoted adversity. The Cretans have always been resourceful when using the natural produce on their Island. During the war for example, it was an abundance of natural greens, olive oil, and chestnuts made into bread, that kept many healthy and alive.
Horta can comprise such things as black mustard leaves, dandelion or beet greens, curly endive, sorrel, spinach, kale and collards – a medley of edible wild greens. Obviously, the combination is very dependant on the season and availability.
To cook horta you simply braise or steam using a little water and season with olive oil, lemon, salt & pepper. If you are using more exotic wild greens, you'll have to make sure they are washed thoroughly.
In many parts of Crete you’ll see offered on menus greens pie, which is a variation on a classic Cretan pie.
Over 5 different types of green herb can make up the traditional greens pie, although many you get in restaurants will be made from spinach, not a bad substitute mind. Traditional pies, made by women of the village, will all be different. The filo pastry is lovingly hand made with olive oil and has lemon juice added to make it especially crispy. The herbs added to the greens add a tangy zestiness and the flavour of mint subtly enhances the fresh green flavours.
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