A handful of fresh almonds and a bottle of village wine

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The old lady, plump and surprisingly agile for her years, runs in front of the moving car, gesticulating wildly with waving arms for it to stop. She has timed her run in front of the moving vehicle perfectly well, for she does this every day in the summer months.

The dusty brakes wheeze for breath in the hot summer air as the car comes to a halt, just a few precious feet away from her. She points to the wooden hand built stall at the side of the road, full of home grown produce that she has for sale. Her husband, happy and as round as a country apple, stands ready to pass samples of his wonderful wine to the tourists who just might buy something today.

Heleni and Spiros look across to the now stationary car, and try to judge what nationality the people inside might be. A smile spreads across the happy face of Spiros, as he recognises us as friends, not tourists. Both he and Heleni rush around the stall, to greet us and ask for news of our winter, and the latest gossip down in the village of Palaiokastritsa, where we live.

We accept the offered tastings of the new wine that Spiros made at the end of last year. It is fruity and rich and sweet with the grapes that ripened in the Greek summer sunlight and the fresh spring water that constitute its very being. It leaves a surprisingly good aftertaste of fruit and sulphur and things of our mother earth that are long forgotten. You can imagine this wine being savoured by the ancient Greeks, at festivals and holy times and primitive feastings and celebrations. This is no ordinary red wine. There is nothing else like it anywhere else on this earth.

It was produced with natural products, the heady result of the combination of sun and water, love and traditions that Spiros and Heleni learned from their ancestors. Nothing is added to the wine, they have never heard of additives and preservatives, they would never change something they know is already perfect.

Spiros and Heleni have lived in the tiny mountain top village of Makrades for most of their lives. Spiros is eighty four years old, and Heleni is seventy four. They rarely leave the tiny hamlet, their home, work and life are all spent here in this remote village, some two thousand feet above sea level, accessible even now only by a torturous mountain road. The road snakes up from the tourist resort, taking in views that can only be dreamed of from picture postcards and upscale travel magazines. It is a place that dreams are made of.

They rise early in the morning, and tend to their almond and citrus trees. They collect the nuts when fully ripened in the autumn sun, after a long dry season, and package them to sell to the tourists. Heleni always has a small bowl full at her side on the produce stall, ready to give them to friends and passers by, as she wishes them enough food for the year. The almonds are rich and brown and crunchy, turning to a fragrant creamy delight as you bite into them.

Spiros has already been to visit his hives this week, and collect the thick golden brown honey that his bees produce in the mountain top hives. The honey tastes of wild mountain herbs and flowers that open to let in the sunlight. It melts in your mouth and sweetens your soul.

Both Spiros and Heleni work together to produce the light green olive oil that is the pride of their stall. It is sweet and fragrant, but has a slight peppery aftertaste that is sought by lovers of fine olive oil. Locals use it to pour over salads, to drip over feta cheese baked hot in the oven, and to dip their fresh wood-oven baked bread into . It is food fit for the Gods. They offer you a taste of the olive oil, as well as the wine and the honey. Tourists find it strange tasting oil without cooking it first, but enjoy the tang of the fresh oil on the crusty piece of bread they are given. No oil of this quality finds its way to supermarket shelves, the locals try to keep it a secret to enjoy for themselves, and only a few tourists discover the secret if they stop at Heleni and Spiros stall for a while.

As you stand at the stall, listening in awe to the mixture of Greek, German, English and Italian that Heleni is speaking to other visitors to the stall, your senses are assaulted and pleasured by the mix of scents from the baskets. Heleni and Spiros have a vast array of old wicker baskets laid out side by side, full of sun dried herbs from their garden, and from the mountainside slopes that surround Makrades.

Cultivated and wild mountain herbs sit side by side like close friends in the baskets. Well known Herbs for cooking and rarer herbs for medicinal use intertwine in the medley of earthy scents. Heleni tells you all the names as she points to the basket. If you understand enough village Greek she will explain how to use the rarer herbs for curing arthritis and coughs in the cold wet winter months.

She laughs with me today, I have just said that we needed her herbs this winter, with all the rain we had ,we needed Noah’s Ark as well. Spiros laughs and agrees with me. They know that we, too, survived the winter in Corfu with good humour. She hugs me, and hands me a handful of fresh almonds and a bottle of her red wine, gifts to bring us good luck and enough food and wine for the household for the rest of the year. We kiss and hug and wish each other “Sto kalo” ,”Always to the good”. These happy village people are the salt of the earth. Long may they live to sell their wine and honey, almonds and herbs at the roadside at Makrades.

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Makrades is a tiny village on top of a mountaintop above the resort of Palaiokastritsa on the beautiful island of Corfu, in Greece. Makrades is famous for its home produce of good wines, both red and white, herbs and honey. Most of the villagers have stalls and shops at the side of the road, but Heleni and Spiros provide some of the best produce available. Say hello if you pass by, and taste the food and wine of the Gods.

Janet Darbey, the author of this article, has lived in Corfu for over twenty years.

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