By Mike Rakes
If you’re familiar with me and the Philia story, you’re aware that the brand is founded in a rich Greek culture and lineage. I can recall a time in college where (at least I'm told) I introduced myself by saying: “Hi, I’m Mike, I’m Greek.” 17 years removed from that time in my life, I’d like to think that isn’t exactly how I introduced myself. Regardless, Greek culture has been and will always remain a fixture in my life and in the Philia story. One of my favorite parts about our culture is the rich traditions and rituals that are woven into it. Seeing as we just entered 2019, I thought I’d share a little bit about what New Years looks like in a Greek-American family, and talk a bit about what is in store for Philia in 2019.
In every culture there are certain culinary offerings that are associated with Holiday and New Year Celebrations. For Greeks, the New Year is celebrated with a dense, cake-like bread called Vasilopita (vah-see-loh-pee-tah). Every family has their own Vasilopita recipe – and every family thinks theirs is the best (our family’s is actually the best, of course). The recipes all vary slightly but most include the following elements: flour, yeast, sugar, milk, sweet butter, eggs and egg whites, orange rind. I won’t go into detail on the execution, but like most breads, you start with the milk, yeast, flour and sugar, and let the starter dough rise. Once it has risen appropriately you mix in the other ingredients in various paces and amounts depending on your family’s recipe. When it comes out of the oven, it has a nice golden brown color, and sometimes you’ll see the year imprinted across the top of the bread, often written with candy or even small pieces of dough that are added right before baking (see picture).
Once the bread is finished and has rested it is usually sprinkled with some powered sugar and served. Our family tended to gather on New Years Day to spend time with each other and watch whatever college football games are on. We usually take a break to cut and enjoy our Vasilopita around the dining room table. As each piece is served, a dedication is made. First to St. Basil – whose feast day takes place on New Year Day – next to the home that you’re gathered in, then each member of the family from oldest to youngest. There is a hidden quarter somewhere in the loaf of bread that is wrapped in tin foil and inserted before the loaf goes into the oven. As the pieces are served, the coin is discovered by one lucky family member, on whom good luck is bestowed for the entire year. One year as a small child, I was so distraught when the coin was revealed and I had yet to receive my piece, that somehow a second coin appeared in my loaf. Shout out and thank you to Aunt Despina for the emotional support ;)
Lately I’ve been feeling blessed and fortunate (even though I didn’t get a coin this year) as we’ve launched our new packaging in the Northeast Region of the US. Our products are now available in all Shaw’s and Star Market stores! If you find yourself near one of their retail locations, stop in and grab yourself some Philia – I promise, you won’t be sorry. We have some exciting things in store for Philia in 2019, which I will share more about in future blog posts.
What are your favorite New Years traditions? What are you most looking forward to in 2019? Send us your thoughts, and until next time...
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