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The dry land and the volcanic soil of Santorini give a great taste to all the agricultural products of the island. On this dark and dry land, one wouldn't expect anything to grow, but some special crops are fruitful. The earthquake was catastrophic for Santorini, but it was the salvation of the vineyards, tomatoes and the split pea cultivations.
Irrigated by the fog
The vineyards have throughout the ages adapted to the volcanic soil, where phylloxera and other bacteria can't grow, and so the grapes touch the ground until they're mature but don't spoil. Nowhere else in the world are the vines this low and the grapes as round. They're made by nature so that they are cool and protected from the wind that flogs the island. They don't even need to be irrigated, they're watered by the "anedosa", that's how people call the beneficial fog that covers the island in the morning. Santorini is one of the world's oldest vineyards, excavations reveal findings of 3.500 years ago, which confirm the island's historical relation with wine-making. The volcano exploded in 1650 B.C. and ravaged the local civilization, but wasn't capable of eliminating the winemaking tradition of the island. Since antiquity there are "canavas" in the island, the buildings where the wine is made. The wines of Santorini have a great taste and beautiful names, such as Asyrtiko, Aidani, Atheri, Mantilaria, Voydomato, Mavrotragano, Aetonichi, Mavrathiro.
Split peas are also popular in Santorini produced in its special soils and climate. They accompany all the meals in homes and taverns. The first year they are cropped and the next they're peeled. If the peel is removed the same year it sticks and the fruit crumbles. The devoted split peas producers, produce 100-200 kilos of produce and avoid the use of pesticides by the following procedure: they put the split peas into a metal barrel and cover it with plastic, binding it air tight by a bicycle inner tube, so that insects can't get to the fruit. They also use oleander leaves which are natural preservatives.
Cooking split peas is not difficult at all. They wash them well and they put them in the pot with three times their quantity in water. When the water starts boiling they skim it and add the chopped onion, and mix it so that it won't stick to the pot. In the end they add salt, pepper and some oil. When it thickens they serve the split peas, embellishing them with some fresh onion, oregano, capers and oil. Whoever makes split peas must not forget the local proverb: "Art needs an artist and split peas need oil".
Santorini is famous for its vine tomatoes, which years ago used to be exported abroad in large quantities. They were so popular, that thirteen tomato paste/canned factories had opened in Odessa, of which only one is still active. The elderly say that due to the stupendous tomato and wine exports, the communication between Santorini and Odessa was once better than the one between Santorini and Pireus in Athens.
It was said that the tomato surplus was thrown in the sea, which turned red. The people of Anafi used to find tomatoes on the beaches of their island. Santorini's tomatoes are very tasty, especially in sauces or salads. They're also sun-dried as follows: they're cut in half and spread in the sun, after adding salt and pepper to prevent flies. After eight days in the sun, they get really dry and are moved in a cool place or are put in jars with vinaigrette. The vinaigrette keeps them in very good condition, but not for more than 1-2 months, because then they turn bitter.
The tomato croquettes of Santorini are also an unforgettable dining experience, which can't be made with any other kind of tomato in Greece. If you go to Santorini, do not ask for the tomato croquettes recipe, because its a well-kept secret. Only if you take tomato seeds and soil from the island will you be able to make such delicious tomato croquettes.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS