Volos is an attractive little city with a long history stretching back deep into antiquity, and although large parts of the old town were destroyed by the devastating earthquakes of 1954 and 1955, some older buildings still remain. Orange trees line many of the streets, and at this time of year their plentiful fruit provides a cheerful blaze of colour. I’m told the oranges aren’t sweet, being of a variety best used for marmalade, which probably explains why they don’t seem to get picked by passersby. Good – I like seeing them.

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Many years ago, when I was still in primary school, we had a calendar which featured Moncreid’s “Still Life with Oranges.” I loved that picture – I could almost taste the succulent oranges. The green jug was similar to one we had, we too had bone-handled knives, but the kilim on which they rested fascinated me. It spoke to me of far-off lands, of fairy tales and exotic peoples, of different ways of life. I was enthralled.

Still Life with Oranges

Oranges, lemons, mandarins and other varieties of citrus fruit abound now. Buy them in the street markets, choose at the supermarket, get them from greengrocers, or stop to shop from a tiny roadside stall.
“Are they sweet?” you ask as you climb out of the car.
“Absolutely! Here, taste.”
The seller will whip out a knife and peel the succulent fruit in a second.
“No, no, that’s OK, ” I usually say, “I believe you.”
A bag or two is filled, a euro or two is handed over, a word or two about the weather is exchanged. Everybody’s happy.

The tables in the fruit and vegetable markets would complain, if they could, about the huge heaps of citrus stacked upon them. Oranges, oranges and still more oranges. Even though the produce market is packed with fruit and vegetables, with fresh fish and cured meats, with olives, cheeses, herbs and flavoured olive oils, preserves and sweetmeats, breads and baked goods that would surely tempt the gods, it’s the oranges that are the most distinctive. You can’t miss them.

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The fruit and veggie market is always lively, a meeting as well as a marketing place, with buyers and sellers alike chattering and yelling. The news of the day is announced and pronounced upon, gossip’s passed back and forth, babies and children are fussed over, and all the while supplies are bargained for. Produce inspected, weighed and the sale concluded, the goods are tucked into bags and baskets as the shopper continues on their way. No need to hurry. Lots to see. Much to talk about.

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If it’s in season, you’ll find it here.

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Well…it is an open-air market
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Standing guard


We’ve had quite a bit of unsettled weather this winter, including some heavy and very disruptive snowfall. Higher than usual temperatures in the last few days have been accompanied by strong winds from the south which bring us unwelcome Sahara dust. The resulting dense haze usually only dissipates when the wind changes direction, or when it’s finally washed out by rain. Yesterday we were suddenly walloped by a fierce gale out of the west which certainly took care of the dust, but also heralded a big change in the weather.

According to the forecasts, which are often about as accurate as my aim when throwing a ball for the dog, we can expect strong winds, heavy rain, sleet and some snow, starting tomorrow. Seems the really nasty conditions prevailing in Western Europe at the moment have set their sights on us again, as if we don’t have enough problems already with the severe flooding and damage in Northern Greece.

The gloomy weather outlook turned my fancy to thoughts of something sweet. Chocolate perhaps? A biscuit? My eye lit on the bananas in the fruit bowl which were starting to get over-ripe. Banana bread, of course – that sweet treat you can zap out with little fuss but big impact; quick and easy to make, simple and satisfying.

I got to work, first picking oranges and lemons from our laden trees to decide which I’d use for the zest. I’ve tried many recipes over the years; some were better than others. Banana cake is pretty basic, unless you’re really into a highfalutin version. I’m not. I can’t give due credit for the recipe that I finally settled on some years ago as it’s cobbled together from the efforts of many other bakers, but this is what works for me, and as I’ve said, simple banana bread recipes are of much the same ilk.

If you’re interested, here’s how I go about it, with a few hints first:

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The Basics
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Our own oil
I like to use oil rather than butter; orange or lemon zest really does give the loaf that extra something; nuts should be added sparingly and finely chopped if you use them; we don’t like raisins in banana loaf; I must be careful not to over beat the mixture or it gets gooey; it’s better to mash the bananas first.

Cathy’s banana loaf

4 very ripe bananas – mashed (and obviously peeled!)
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil (I use our own organic olive oil)
1 cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence
2 cups self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
¼ cup milk
and if desired:
¼ cup nuts, finely chopped (pecans are good)
the zest of an orange or lemon

Cream the oil and sugar
Stir in the bananas and vanilla essence
Add the eggs and mix in well
Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the batter
Stir in the milk
If used, add the zest and/or nuts

When thoroughly mixed, pour the batter into a greased loaf pan
Bake at 350 deg F (180 deg C) for about an hour until well risen and browned.
Cool in the baking pan, turn out and …go bananas!

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Nutty and nice
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On guard duty


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Apples feature in several of the Greek myths, as they do in the mythologies of many cultures.

Hera was given a wedding gift of apple trees from the Earth Mother, Gaia, when she married Zeus. Theirs was what you might call a tricky courtship for Zeus deceived her into marrying him.

The wedding planner did them proud and although the occasion was a most splendid affair, quite over the top, with gods and goddesses in attendance, lavish gifts, out-of-this-world food, including streams of ambrosia bubbling about, the relationship went rapidly downhill from there. Truly the stuff of tabloids and trashy TV.

Hera, who had a pretty good background of her own and was quite the career woman, became the goddess of marriage once their unhappy union was sealed. The Greek myths tell of Hera’s jealous rages, for Zeus was not the poster boy for fidelity, and their thundering rows on Mt Olympus struck fear into many a trembling mortal, so one wonders if brides of the time were all that eager to have her blessing?

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Sweet, juicy, organically grown
Hera’s golden apples grew in a garden guarded by a dragon, together with nymphs who flitted about day and night on patrol, for the fruits were much prized. Hercules was charged with obtaining these apples as one of his twelve labours; much mayhem ensued as a result of his efforts.

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An apple a day? Not me!
Frankly, I am in awe of the ancient storytellers whose wondrous imaginations gave us these tales. How on earth did they remember all the minute details of each myth?

I’m hard pressed to recall who are the Twelve Gods, never mind all the demi-gods and various other hangers on, whose exploits are so varied and enthralling. Got to hand it to those who first dreamed up the gods and made them mortal in their foibles.

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Oranges, or golden apples?
The Greek myths have held people spellbound for centuries. They’ve been told and retold in countless versions, discussed, debated and dissected in every conceivable forum, with even the apples coming under scholarly scrutiny. Were these apples, described as golden, in fact oranges?

Were they not apples at all, as believed today by some classicists? Others disagree, arguing that oranges came from the East and were not known in Ancient Greece. The dispute continues enthusiastically among those for whom the fascination of these fables never fades.

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Do I want an orange? No thanks!
Jason steadfastly refuses to comment.

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