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Farmers Market Update: Pteleos, Greece

by | Dec 2, 2012

Pteleos is surrounded by half a million olive trees

Matthew Denos of WeightLossTriumph.com is a biologist who lives in Greece. He enjoys the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle after spending 6 years in the US working as a research fellow in academia. He believes that health is our greatest resource and therefore it’s worth keeping it optimum. When he doesn’t review diets and gourmet food delivery programs he is outdoors biking, mountain climbing or windsurfing.

Farmers Market Update: Pteleos, Greece

by Matthew Denos

Pteleos Farmers Market

I am blessed to live in Greece. Yes, the economy sucks, unemployment is at an all time high, the cost of living is expensive, and basic salary is a joke. Yet, I wouldn’t trade the Greek islands, the beaches and the mountains for any of the strong economies up north or overseas. I wouldn’t trade the Greek food, either—the healthy  Mediterranean diet. The extra virgin olive oil, wine, feta cheese, seafood, olives, unique herbs and spices—the Mediterranean lifestyle in all its forms has a top place in my heart.

Fortunately, the Greek food chain is not as industrialized as it is in other Western countries. Of course, food is nowhere what it once was. But Greece is a relatively small market in Southeast Europe (the gate to the East), and, thankfully, has not yet totally assimilated the Western diet. Our traditional diet still holds strong, and healthy soils abound, especially in Greek islands and villages.

Last summer I spent a few weeks in my grandfather’s village in Pteleos, where I had the opportunity to visit the local farmers market. Pteleos is a picturesque village nestled among curvy hills on the west side of Pagasitikos Gulf, in Thessaly, Greece, not far away from gorgeous beaches facing Aegean Sea. Thessaly is the birthplace of Greek hero Achilles (think Brad Pitt in the movie Troy).

Melons

Olives and olive oil are the farmers’ main produce in Pteleos, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that there are over half a million olive trees planted within a radius of 3 miles from the village center. The village is basically embedded in a huge plantation of olive trees. The local farmers, which are mostly olive oil producers, own the plantations. Yet, it’s impossible for them to harvest all these fields by themselves, which is why each year in November, when the olive tree harvest begins, they hire workers from Bulgaria, the neighboring country, to help them out.

As I headed to the market that Wednesday morning, I was excited to meet the farmers. It was my first visit ever. Some of the farmers live and work in Pteleos while others come from nearby villages (Sourpi, Valestino, Almyros). Most of them have their own plantations and are proud and passionate about the quality of their products. Others are simply re-sellers of produce they bring from distant parts of the country. Farming is for them a family business. One can sense the care and passion that goes into cultivating the land, sowing the seeds, growing, protecting, and harvesting the plants, and finally selling the product. It’s a long and strenuous process which the family is proud of.

Beautiful Assortment of Peppers

The market takes place outdoors in a car park every Wednesday. It starts at 8am and goes until noon. It’s worth getting to the market early, so at 9am I was there, with my Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 in hand, greeting the first stall owner with a smile.

He thought I was a tourist and greeted me in English. Pteleos, and the broader area, is a popular summer vacation destination. When I told him I am just taking pictures for an article I am going to publish at a California-based health site, he gladly pointed me to his colorful and fresh produce. I loved his beautiful array of groceries of the nightshade family. Peppers of different shapes and colors drew my attention, as well as the shiny, ovoid, dark purple eggplants. I bought two pounds of peppers. Pepper is part of my daily high-protein, veggie-rich omelet.

A little further down there was a stall full of melons. The football shaped ones are called “Thrakiotika” (Thracian), because they grow in Thrace, the northeastern section of Greece, bordering Bulgaria to the north and Turkey to the east. I bought one and it was really sweet. In the summer, production of watermelons is in full swing. The stall owner was thirsty this sunny day and was feasting on a half watermelon.

Feasting on Watermelon

Across the way was a stall displaying a beautiful assortment of apples. Did you know that green apples have fewer calories than red? 30% less to be exact. This is because they contain less sugar. The same holds true when you compare the green and non-green version of almost any fruit or vegetable. Green olives have 38% fewer calories than black olives. Green peppers are 29% less calorie dense than red peppers.

Apples

As I had approached the apple stand, thinking about the calorie content of green and red apples, the farmer behind it greeted me. I introduced myself as a reporter for local Greek farmers markets. “Can you take a picture of me, too?” he asked. “Certainly,” I replied, “people in San Francisco and around the world will be glad to see your produce.” Another lady from a nearby stall heard the conversation and came along for the shot.

SummerTomato.com

As I wandered around the stalls, picking my weekly groceries, I stopped to buy some tomatoes. I love tomatoes, especially if they are produced organically. This was not an organic farmers market (like the one I visited in Patras), still the farmers try to use as little pesticide as possible to grow their produce. Some grow the produce in their backyards without using chemicals at all, mainly for their own household’s needs. They then sell what they don’t consume themselves. Tomatoes sell for 1 euro a kilo (USD 59 cents a pound).

Tomatoes

In general, organically produced tomatoes are less attractive than conventional ones. Take a look at these two photos below and compare the looks and the taste. Well, you cannot actually taste them, but I did. The difference is like day and night.

Compare Tomatoes

The ones on the top tasted much better and were full of flavor.  If you look at them you will notice that they are not as pleasant to the eye as the ones beneath. They are not evenly colored. They have patches of green. They have scars, too. Obviously, in the absence of pesticides and other chemicals, appearance is compromised in favor of taste.

At this point, I heard somebody coming from behind me and I turned around. “Take a look at these gigantic beets! You should feature them in your report,” a vendor said as she held these huge beets proudly in front of my camera. Her request was hard to beet.

Big Beets

Peaches, nectarines, and vanilla plums make it to the list of my favorite summer fruits. Their distinctive aroma and color drew my attention. The ones I purchased had really juicy flesh. They were highly flavored and had a sweet and sour taste.

Vanilla Plums and Peaches

Potatoes and onions are always displayed together in any Greek farmers market I have visited. I like onions because they add to the tastiness of many foods. I eat one a day as they are one of the healthiest vegetables. Being aware of the enormous health benefits onions, famous American chef Julia Child once commented “I cannot imagine a world without onions.” I got a few from the stand below.

Onions

As my Pteleos farmers market trip drew to an end, I looked around for grapes. Grape is regarded by many in Greece as the king of fruits. Here grapes support a vibrant wine industry which is rich in native varieties. Grapes are a seasonal fruit that is available in the market only from August to November. The variety I bought is called “σταφίδα” (stafida – raisins) because it is the variety used for the production of raisins.

Grapes

I was about to leave when I noticed two of my favorite medicinal herbs. Mountain tea (sideritis) and oregano. Both are native plants. They grow in Greek mountains. The vendor opened a bag where he kept the oregano, and the aromatic oils, which are strong enough to numb the tongue, filled the air.

Oregano and Mountain Tea

The farmers market in Pteleos is a lovely place to go shopping if you ever happen to visit Thessaly, the homeland of hero Achilles.

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Farmers Market Update: Patras, Greece

by | Jun 3, 2012

Organic Farmers Market in Patras, Greece

After working as a post doctoral fellow for 5 years at Washington University in St. Louis, Matthew Denos, a biologist, feels privileged to live in Greece. Being a foodie with a desire to help people lose weight safely, he offers a Weight Watchers online promotion codes and a Nutrisystem promotion for June, two clinically studied weight loss programs.

Farmers Market Update: Patras Organic Market, Greece

by Matthew Denos

Bottles of Wine

It was a sunny and busy day in Patras, Greece and I headed out to the farmers market. I didn’t want to miss it because it runs only once a week.

What differentiates this Farmers Market from other conventional markets in the area?  This is a 100% organic farmers market. All the food in this market is organic. That means that the food grows without pesticides, herbicides or any fertilizers. In addition, the ground where the plants are cultivated has been left to clear of these chemicals before the seeds are sown.

Farmers from all over West and South Greece gather here every Tuesday to sell their organic produce. All kinds of colorful vegetables, juicy fruits, cooking herbs, wine, honey, and even organic soap and aromatic and antiseptic extracts are sold here. I love it because it is the best place in the area to buy Certified Organic Produce at affordable prices.

Being located in the sunny Mediterranean basin, Greece is the heaven of farm products. It is the country where the Mediterranean diet developed, a way of eating that has now become a part of the country’s history, tradition, and culture.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are at their prime in spring and therefore I was expecting an abundance of oranges and lemons, as well as the first of the year’s harvest of strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, garlic and onion stems, but also all kinds of leafy vegetables that Greeks call horta (wild radish, dandelion, mustard, etc). I desperately wanted to stock up on some of my favorite late spring produce.

Eggplants and Peppers

When I arrived at the market place in late afternoon, growers and producers were standing behind their stands brimming with seasonal food. Their contagious enthusiasm and pride in their products drew many customers. All seemed to enjoy themselves. There were about 30 stalls under red and white awnings arrayed in two lines facing each other.

I started off at the potatoes stall. If I were allowed to  put only one organic vegetable on my table, that would be potatoes for 3 reasons: First, I am potato guy. I eat potatoes almost every day. Second, organic potatoes taste so much better than conventional ones. Third, potatoes have one of the highest levels of pesticide residues among conventional produce. So, here I am, loading my basket with 5 kilos (12 lbs) of great organic potatoes.

Stocking up on Potatoes

Stocking Up on Potatoes

Do you see the oranges and lemons on the other end of the stall? These are two of the most abundant fruits in Greece. Citrus groves are almost everywhere especially in Peloponnese, the Southwest part of Greece. The annual citrus production is close to 1 million tons, the majority of which is oranges, mandarins and lemons. One third of it is exported to Western Europe and the Balkan countries.

Oranges

If you ever visit Greece in Spring, when citrus trees boom, as soon as you get out of the airport you will smell the characteristic intoxicating citrus scent that fills the air this time of the year. Oranges sell for 60 cents a kilo (euro), the equivalent of 34 cents/pound (USD). I put 15 kilos (36 pounds) in my bag. I eat 2-3 a oranges a day.

Lemons

The label says: “Fresh and Juicy,” and heck are they!

"I'm telling you, no taste!"

You see this vendor talking to my brother? When I took this photo, the vendor was  telling my brother his story. Back in the 70s, he visited Los Angeles, CA. He was going to get married with a very rich Californian woman. The woman was so wealthy that  she bought him an expensive Corvette as soon as the he landed in LA. He finally did not marry the girl and decided to come back to Greece. But what still lives vividly in his memory is that some of the fruits he ate in California were not as tasty as the ones in Greece. You see his gesture? “I am telling you, they had no taste” says emphatically shaping a “zero” with his two fingers. I am sure Darya will refute that, as will my brother who has lived in LA. Kinda funny, isn’t it?

Down the lane a bit, a beautiful display of tomatoes! My favorite vegetable. Or should I say fruit?

Tomatoes

I filled my bag with 2 kilos (4.4 lbs). When I later ate a few at home, I could clearly see how much better they taste comparing to conventional tomatoes.

Zucchini

Brocolli stems, beets, green beans, and squash (zucchini) were abundant in many stalls. The zucchini fruit is very popular in Greek recipes where we usually boil them (some prefer to fry them) and eat them with olive oil and garlic. Delicious appetizer! I purchased some, boiled them next day, dressed them with virgin olive oil, lemon juice and pepper, and ate them with olives. They had a slightly sweet taste that went great with my turkey fillet.

Ready to make your own healthy Greek salad? This vendor sells horta. On his stall you can find lettuce, chicory leaves, spinach, rocket, garlic and onion stems, dill, parsley, and green Amaranth which is known as vlita in Greece. I used to grow vlita in my backyard.

Horta

Swinging around to the other side of the market, I stopped to sample these gorgeous looking olives. Could olives not be present in a Greek farmers market? Of course not! Anywhere you look in Greece you see olive trees. Olives are a real treat and one of the local favorites in Patras. There are at least 6 local olive varieties that differ in size, taste, and color.

Olive Bar

The olive “bar” at the farmers market is the right place to figure out exactly what your favorite type of olive is and purchase it.

Olives in Jars

The woman at the olives stand also sold smashed olives in little glass jars. Smashed olives spread on small barley rusks makes a delicious appetizer. I purchased two jars and they were delicious. The jar also contained red pepper, oregano and other herbs, which all added to the healthy taste and flavor to the smashed olives.

Smashed Olives

As I was taking a few pictures of the olives in the jars, the lady behind the stall asked me why I was taking pictures of her produce. I explained to her that I was going to write an article about the local organic Farmers Market and post it online. When she asked me what site I would publish it in, I took a piece of paper and wrote “SummerTomato.com”.

Link Sharing

She marveled at the fact that people in San Francisco would see her beautiful display of various types of organic olives.

SummerTomato.com

Strawberries are at the market each week. Their aroma is out of this world and they taste sooo sweet! Unfortunately, they sell out within 10 minutes of the market’s opening. Who can resist the aroma of 360 different esters, alcohols, terpenes, and aldhehydes that comprise the strawberry flavor! I was not there soon enough to take pictures. Next time.

Grape leaves are necessary for making dolmades, a Greek delicacy made of rolled vine leaves stuffed with rice, meat and seasonings. Look how tender, green, bright and clean they are, and totally organic. My brother bought 30 leaves. His wife used them to make the best “dolmades” I have ever eaten. The label says: ΑΜΠΕΛΟΦΥΛΛΑ, which translates to “grape leaves”.

Grape Leaves

Honey, royal jelly, and propolis—powerful natural antibiotics, medicinal marvels with many health benefits. The label says: “Royal Jelly, the battery with the longest life”. On the back shelf sits natural soap made of honey and propolis.

Honey, Royal Jelly, Propolis Soap

I talked with the vendor, Mr Nikos Smyrnis, a member of the Smyrni organic farmers family, who explained to me how they prepare their organic products in the family’s 37 acres in Arcadia, situated in the mountainous south Greece. They cultivate olive trees, vines, herbs, aromatic plants, and cereals.

Beeswax Candles and Honey

The little vial that the man is handing over to me contains an antiseptic solution of propolis. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used propolis as a pharmaceutical agent for its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and pain-killing properties.

Antiseptic Propolis Solution

Antiseptic Propolis Solution

I ended my little tour in Patras’ Organic Farmers Market by visiting the wine stall. Sant’or is the name of the company that makes this absolutely fantastic organic wine.

Wine Sant'or

They have their own vineyards in Santameri, a beautiful village in west Greece, which I have visited a few times. They cultivate a local grape variety called Santameriana. I bought a 5-liter white Santameriana wine. It is served cold with multigrain bread, seafood, and white cheese. Yum!

Sant'or Wine

Here is another vendor selling their own organic wine. The label says: Wine made of organic grapes, 2 euros (USD2.6) per bottle.

Wine

The Organic Farmers Market in Patras runs every Tuesday from 2:00 pm to 6:00pm in the winter season (up to April 30th) and 4pm-8pm during the summer season (up to October 1st). Greek organic producers love their agriculture. If you ask them about their products they have a story to tell you for each one of them.

Smell the freshness!

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