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While this is a mournful memorial food, it is also a much loved treat, patted down in pie tins, blanketed with a thick layer of sugar, and elaborately festooned with silver dragee candies, seeds, and almonds. It is brought to the church for blessing on the third and ninth day of a beloved’s passing, again at forty days, a year, and three years, and also on “Soul Saturday” twice a year. After church the kolyva is poured into a sack or a large bowl, mixing the sugar, decoration, and grain together, and offered around. Children wait for it, paper bags at the ready. Adults, unable to forgo the comfort and memory of it, take handfuls. It is a fine way to honor the deceased with the food of life.
- 4 cups wheat berries (about 1 pound, 6 ounces)
- 1⁄2 cup sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon anise seed
- 1 1⁄2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped (6 ounces)
- 1 1⁄2 cups blanched slivered almonds (6 ounces)
- 1 1⁄2 cups golden raisins
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pomegranate, seeds of (see Notes)
- 3 cups confectioners' sugar, divided (sometimes called icing or powdered sugar)
- 2 cups blanched almonds, whole, for decorating
- silver dragee decorative candies (Jordan Almonds)
- Rinse the wheat berries and place them in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches, along with a few pinches of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the berries are tender and beginning to split but not mushy, about 1 3/4 hours. (Add more water to the pot when the liquid reduces to the level that the wheat no longer floats, and stir from time to time so the berries don’t stick to the bottom.) Drain and set aside in the strainer to cool and dry for at least 1 hour or up to several hours.
- Place the cooled wheat berries in a large mixing bowl. Add the sesame and anise seeds, walnuts, slivered almonds, raisins, cinnamon, and the pomegranate seeds. Sift in 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and toss it all together.
- Transfer the mixture to a large platter or tray. Sift the remaining confectioners’ sugar over the top to coat it thickly, almost like a frosting. Decorate the top with the whole almonds and the dragees.
- To serve, present the platter of decorated kolyva. Then, just before eating, mix it all together. Serves 40.
- NOTES: Pomegranate is not always in season, but there really is no substitute for the seed in taste, texture, or symbolism. If it is not available, simply omit it.
- Dragees are available in any well stocked large supermarket, usually in the baking aisle.
- Kolyva is traditionally prepared the day before the memorial serve, but the wheat berries can ferment if left at room temperature overnight and the sugar can crystallize in a refrigerator’s moist environment. The best pre-preparation method is to boil and refrigerate the wheat berries ahead of time, then add the other ingredients and decorate the kolyva just before it’s needed.
- Adventures In Greek Cooking : The Caper and The Olive by Susanna Hoffman.
This recipe got the ingredients right, but one MAJOR step is missing. If you follow this recipe exactly, you will have a bowl of mush. What makes kolyva so good is that the wheat berries are dry and have a little bit of a crunch to them. They are cooked, but not mushy. The step that is missing is that after you cook and drain the wheat berries, you need to spread them out either on lint-free cloths (the traditional way) to dry over night, or you need to put them on parchment on jelly-roll pans. I prefer the latter because the wheat berries don't stick, but either way works. The bottom line is that you need to dry out the wheat berries so that they aren't tacky at all. THEN you mix them up with all the other yummy stuff.