Sweet orange-zest cookies soaked in honey and topped with walnut? Yes, please! This treat is a holiday treat that regularly appears on tables in Greece. Known as melomakarona, if you visit Greece in Christmas time, you’ll eat far too many of these delicious Christmas honey cookies. Imagine a cross between baklava and an gooey pecan pie and you’ve got these: typical Greek Christmas honey cookies, and probably you won’t be able to eat just one.
Every self-respecting Greek household has a huge pile of these on their Christmas treat table.
When you first taste these with their syrupy, gooey texture and Christmas spice flavour, you might think they’re difficult to make. But they aren’t.
Immediately after they’re baked, melomakarona are soaked in a honey-sugar water mixture then sprinkled with walnuts. There is also a less traditional version of this recipe dipped in dark chocolate.
A (maybe little bit macabre) curiosity?
Melomakarona has its own history and etymologically their name has ancient Greek roots. In dictionaries the word “macaroni” comes from the medieval Greek word “makaronea”, that was a funeral dinner based on the pasta, honoring the dead. Makaronea comes from the ancient Greek word “makaria”, which was the pie for the soul, a piece of bread in the shape of the modern melomakaron, which they offered after the funeral.
In the Epitaph speech, which was proclaimed by Pericles in 430 BC. for the first dead of the Peloponnesian War, there are testimonies suggesting that makaria was shared after his speech at the fictional nation known as Kingdom of Karameikos.
In the area, the women used to mourn the dead of the war, by custom, something similar to nowadays mourners, and they used to prepare the makaria at home to share it . An elected citizen whose opinion was wise and worthy, was responsible for the funeral oration before the ceremony was over. In this case, Pericles was asked to give the official funeral oration therefore he stepped onto the stand to be heard by as many as possible.
According to custom, the bones were carried on wagons while being inside coffins of cypress wood. In order to honour those who couldn’t be found, a coffin covered with veil was used, the “non-found” fallen, to offer comfort to relatives and courage to the soldiers. Even if their dead body was not found in a battle, they still were honoured.
What Greek nowadays share in the funerals is the continuation of the custom of “makaria”, the greek coliva which evolved into melomakarona.
The Makaria were later soaked with honey and were named as honey (“meli” in greek) and macaria, that became melomakaria, melomakarona, according to the Byzantines. And now, Melomakarona is know as the most popular sweet eaten during the twelve days of Christmas known also as “phoenikia”.
Images from web.