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Fanouropita, the Greek Mama’s Olive Oil Cake

We all have a mother, but not all of us are blessed to have a Greek mother! If you are one of the lucky 17million worldwide Greeks alive today (or their spouses), chances are you’ll be familiar with the traditional expressions of love such as: “If you do it again I’ll have a heart attack!”. “I brought you into this world and I can kill you.” You’ll have developed your coping mechanisms for answering - several times a day - to the anthemic line “Are you hungry? No? Fine, I’ll make you something anyway.” No Greek can avoid it. Even our saints live under the tyranny of their mothers, take Saint Fanourios, whose entire sanctity rests on redeeming the sins of his mama.

There is very little literature around St. Fanourios, although all Greeks celebrate him on August 27th. All that we do know is the following. St. Fanourios was discovered in Rhodes around 1500AD when after a local pillaging by a roaming band of foreigners, a group of nomadic pagans found a ruined church full of decayed rubble including some destroyed icons. There amidst the rocks and dust gleamed the perfectly preserved icon of St. Fanourios. Clearly preserved by miracle, it was concluded that he must have been a saint, not least because of his story.

The illustrations in the large painting describe multiple scenes of torture, from Fanourios being stoned to strung up on the rack, being slashed and put behind bars, standing in the tribunal before a judge, being tied to a frame and burnt with candles, tied to a post and thrown to wild animals, crushed by a boulder, as well as holding hot coals beside a demon with a background of flames. He certainly withstood a lot. There is little evidence of why the legend goes that these punishments were sentenced upon him for the sins of his dead but once upon a time philandering mother. Could this story be born through the matriarchal voice of the motherland who reminds all her children annually that they should be prepared to go to such extents for their mamas even after her death no matter how she behaved in life? Certainly could be.

While we don’t know exactly why the traditions are there, we do observe and obey them. Every August 27th, Fanourios is celebrated, and his name invokes the recovery of lost things. As he himself was found in the rubbish, the tradition is to eat an olive oil cake and pay respects to the Saint while asking him to reunite us with items that have been misplaced or have slipped away. Although originally not a holy event, it has been informally adopted by the church as a blessing ceremony, offered at Vespers service just before the liturgy finishes on the Saint’s feast day.

On this day Greeks and Cypriots greet one another with “May God grant rest to the soul of Saint Fanourios’ Mother.” The church however passes no statement as there is no evidence to conclude that she was as they say such a sinful woman. Still, the blessing is taken with a slice of olive oil cake, a delicious and simple recipe including flour, orange, sugar, cinnamon and olive oil amongst other optional flavors and touches. If you are so fortunate to be the child of a Greek mother or married to one, she will no doubt have the very best recipe with a unique and particular way to make it which will give you a superior Fanouropita. She probably has already made it for you, your family and your entire neighborhood. If she hasn’t, then you can try making it by using ours.

FANOUROPITA Recipe ( Greek Olive Oil Cake)

375ml mildly intense Extra Virgin Olive Oil

375ml fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of sesame seeds

¼ teaspoon of cloves

540g self-raising flour

120g walnuts

75g raisins

(The number of ingredients should always be 7 or 9).

  1. Preset the oven at 170-degree celsius

  2. Beat the sugar with extra virgin olive oil and 250g fresh orange in a large bowl until the sugar melts, optionally adding the raisins

  3. In a fresh bowl, combine the remaining 125g orange with the baking soda, cinnamon and cloves. Mix it until all the baking soda is frothed

  4. Combine the two bowls and mix until thoroughly whisked

  5. Transfer the mixture to a tray and sprinkle with sesame seeds

  6. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes

  7. Serve with mint leaves and mixed nuts

photos: omgfood, elenisaltas


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