The beautiful lady and the handsome man holding hands in this picture from the late 30's are my maternal grandparents, Moschos and Georgia. Even though I'm her namesake I never met her, as she passed years before I was born. By all accounts, she was a vibrant, lovely and caring woman with the sweetest smile. I can't help but wonder how much fuller our lives would have been if she were around as our yiayia, although pappou Moschos lovingly compensated.
Georgia came from Paros, a beautiful Cycladic island, with an abundance of wild herb honey and myzithra cheese (a raw, soft, white cheese with a pleasantly sour taste. My grandmother used to make a honey pie with myzithra and although I never ate her version, my mother made it for us all the time and it's a beloved taste of our childhood. Think of it as a cheesecake with a buttery pie crust, with delicious honey and cinnamon tones and a velvety texture.
Cooking your mother's recipes (your late mother's especially) conjures up a unique, almost mystical bond between mother and child. It's a tribute, a celebration, and an expression of primal longing. I love recreating my late mother's recipes (rarely making them justice; she was a remarkable cook), but I had never tried to make melopita, the storied honey-pie. These days, I may be away from Greece, but thanks to Anthos I do have an abundance of amazing honey at my disposal (perks of the job!), so I enlisted my big sister Tania's help. She sent me pictures of the recipe (she's made it many times), written down by our grandmother and passed down from her to our mom, and so on.
The recipe, stained by time and loving use, uses measurement units dating from Greece's Ottoman rule (yup!) and my grandmother's beautiful penmanship was not the clearest to read. The labor of deciphering was sweet, though, and gave me the chance to learn how many grams make an 'okka' and to experiment a bit. At the end of the day, a recipe resembles motherly advice: carry with love the torch your mother passed to you, but carve your own, personal path.
So here's my interpretation (which was pretty successful, judging by how many pieces my brother wolfed down) of sweet Georgia's honey-pie.
Sweet Georgia's Honey Pie
[For the crust - store bought is just fine!]
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- cold butter (dice and then chill again)
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1/2 cup of sour cream (or Greek yogurt, not fat-free)
[For the filling]
- 600g ricotta cheese (unless you are lucky to find soft myzithra!)
- 3/4 cup best quality Greek honey (either Alfa or Aoritiko)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 5 eggs
- 1.5-2 tbs cinnamon
- Make the crust by mixing the flour with the butter and sugar. When it starts looking like slightly damp sand add gradually the sour cream, or yogurt. You may use less or more than a half cup. Stop the mixer when it starts coming together. You don’t want to over-mix, so use your hands to finish off, shape dough into a ball and chill. You can obviously skip this step and use store-bought crust! Make sure it’s buttery and not too sweet.
- Pre-heat your oven to 350º and start making the filling. Cream the ricotta and add the honey. Beat until they mix and incorporate very well. Add the eggs, one by one, and then the cinnamon.
- Strain your ricotta mixture using a sieve into a bowl. Pour the mixture gradually into the sieve and mix with a spatula to facilitate the straining process. Don’t skip this step: it helps create a beautiful, velvety texture. At the end of the process you will be left with a very smooth mixture in the bowl, without any grainy curds. (FYI, I'd hate wasting delicious curds mixed with honey and eggs, so I added some almond flour and made my self a pancake!)
- Take the dough out of the fridge and make the crust. Work into a circle and transfer to your pie dish. At this point I suggest 10 minutes of blind baking. It’s not necessary, but it will prevent the dreaded soggy bottom. So lightly press a fork on the lined base of the dish a few times, cover with baking paper and place on top either dry beans or your preferred weight of choice and blind-bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove the paper and the weights and pour in the filling. Put in the oven and bake for 50 minutes roughly. Start checking at 45’. It must not be jiggly, but don’t let it over-bake. A hint of jiggling is ok, as your pie will keep keep cooking for a few minutes longer once out of the oven.
- Let cool and serve. And then give your mom a big - real or virtual - hug.