There have been some considerable changes in the lives of certain women living on the island of Syros as well as in the village of Aghios Antonios in Halkidiki. While they still have to get up early and cook, they are no longer cooking solely for their own households. Dozens of large baking pans fill up with food and at sometime between 11 a.m. and noon, pies covered with handmade phyllo pastry start to turn golden brown while bean soups bubble away on stove tops.
The housewives are members of two cooperatives: the Agritourism Cooperative of Syros Women, Kastri, and the Women?s Agricultural Cooperative of Traditional Products, Aghios Antonios, which is based about 35 kilometers outside Thessaloniki. In the case of the former, a workroom and restaurant set up with funding from European Union programs such as EQUAL offer employment to jobless women. In Aghios Antonios, meanwhile, the women took advantage of their domestic skills, coupled with knowledge acquired at marketing and business seminars and are now, 10 years on, exporting their products to China.
As it turns out, Chinese palates are very keen on ?glyka tou koutaliou? (spoon sweets). Wild cherries, quince, orange, grape and cherry spoon sweet samples were sent to China for tasting and were approved. ?They will be part of the menu of a Greek restaurant which is opening in China,? said Despina Ioannidou, president of the Aghios Antonios cooperative, who noted that the top spoon sweet flavor was wild fig. Meanwhile, aniseed-flavored ?tsipouro? alcohol did not fare very well. According to Ioannidou, this is because many Chinese remedies include aniseed, and so they proceeded to ship plain tsipouro instead. The Aghios Antonios cooperative produces over 30 products.
Over at the Kastri restaurant on Syros, the women come up with about 70 large baking trays of food per day. It was Anna Darzenta, the cooperative?s president, who came up with the idea of putting the EU funding to use. As a result, 28 women work on various regional recipes and earn about 1,000 euros per month. The restaurant?s clients include seniors, working and young folk, while prices range from 3.50 to 6 euros. Takeout is another option, while the restaurant also caters to weddings, parties and other events.