It's no secret - we love Kathy Tsaple's Sweet Greek cookbook (and as it turns out, so many of you do too!) In the lead up to Mother's Day, Kathy took some time out to chat to Homer St about her fondest memories of her Mother, the first cake she ever baked, and shares some advice for future mums.
Tell us a bit about your relationship with your mother growing up…
Mum and I were always very close. For about 9 years before my brother was born, I was an only child and Mum absolutely doted on me. Aside from being an amazing cook, she was actually a professional dressmaker and would always dress me in immaculate outfits that she created. The key word with mum was that she was a Nikokira and believed a woman should be the queen in her home – nurturing and caring in a way that reflected love and respect for her family. That sums up my mother, and she has certainly passed that on to me.
Nikokira – Na eise kiria mesa sto spiti sou (to be the Queen of your home).
Your book Sweet Greek is all about your memories of cooking with your Mother...can you take us back to your first memories of the kitchen?
Growing up in Port Melbourne, the fishermen would come in with their boats and Mum would rush dad to the port to get the freshest fish and produce. From an early age, I learnt that the best Greek food is made from the freshest produce. I showed an interest in food from a young age – my first food memory is making Karithopita (Walnut pie) – it’s the first memory I have of making something. Our whole street was full of Greeks, we’d often make dishes and meet up with the neighbours and eat together. One day my Aunty brought back a Tselemente from Greece (Nikolaos Tselemente was the first Greek chef to create a cookbook and to this day, many Greeks refer to cookbooks as Tselemente) I came across the Karithopita recipe and made it every week. I mastered that Karithopita – it was the dish I was known for – at age 12.
Karithopita at age 12 is impressive! What’s your fondest memory of your Mother in the kitchen?
My fondest memory is watching mum making pites…because Mum is from Northern Greece she has always had a way with pita. Even in my teenage and Uni years, when I lost some interest in food to pursue my studies and have some fun, I would always sit down and watch her make pites. Mum would always say “Kathy you better sit down and learn how to make these…one day you will be married!” Eventually I did get married, I had a corporate career and young kids and still hadn’t learnt that pita recipe! When I got sick I needed Chemotherapy and towards the end of my two year treatment, there was not much left of me…it was a difficult time…that was the time when I applied myself to making pites to take my mind off things and focus on something. I simply had to learn how to make those pites – it was something I just had to do for my boys.
Mum at the moment is very unwell and frail, so this is the first Easter where I am making koulouria and all the beautiful Easter baked goods on my own, which is very difficult. However, having all those memories with mum in the kitchen keeps me going.
What was your Mum’s number one rule in the kitchen that you still apply to this day?
Mum’s number one rule in the kitchen has always been simple - be organised! Everything mum did was immaculate and perfect. She always said “when you wake up in the morning, make sure you organise your family’s meal first and then deal with the rest of your day”. Even though mum’s memory and understanding of her surroundings is challenged these days, the first thing she will always say when she sees me is “Ti tha magirepsoume simera?” (what will we cook today?) It just shows you that’s still her first thought every day!
All Greek Mothers have their one signature recipe...what’s the one recipe that always reminds you of your Mother?
Without a doubt, it’s Mum’s Galatopita (Custard Pie). When mum made her own pastry it was so lovely and crunchy – she was a master! But what I really remember is Mum making the custard for the galatopita. She would cook it slowly over the stove, with the sweet smell of custard floating through the house...and she managed to make it all look so simple - honestly she whipped it up in no time at all! She knew it was my favourite, and as my boys grew up, she would always have it ready for them after school. She would even save the saucepan for them and they’d race to scrape the bottom of the pan that the custard was cooked in (sometimes I would race them for it!). That’s a dish that’s taken us through generations…I hope to cook it for my grandchildren one day!
Your Mother has obviously played such an important role in your life, and you’re also a proud mum of two young men who now share your enjoyment for cooking. What advice would you give to new mums or future mums of our generation?
Create memories and beautiful moments throughout the life of your children. In the end that’s all we have and I am so grateful to my mother for giving that to me. Sweet Greek is based on all the memories I have with my beautiful mother, memories that were created because of who she was. Create those special moments for your family at home, around the table, among friends – these are the moment your kids will never forget.
Finally, embrace and be proud of your culture and pass this onto your children. Easter, Christmas, Name Days – we have so many traditions that give us the opportunities to make so many memories. Our Greek culture is so beautiful and filled with tradition - food is just a part of that rich culture that is to be shared.