Why some Greek pensioners may have to forage to survive

Wild greens known as “horta” have been a staple of the Cretan diet since Minoan times, but with Greece’s rapidly worsening economic climate, foraging might once again become a way of life, reports Heidi Fuller-Love.

We’d been friends for several months before Giorgos invited me to join him on one of his food foraging expeditions. It was a real honour to be invited – I knew it was an honour because of the way my 80-year-old friend issued the terse invitation. “Tha pame na psaxnoume horta,” he said (“We are going to gather horta”), in the commanding way hospitable Cretans do when they give you something but don’t want the giving to be acknowledged.

It was also daring of him to share his secret spots. I knew this too, because he issued the gruff invitation in the street outside his house and not in the kafeneion – that social meeting space where every event of village life is discussed to the tick-tack tune of tavli backgammon counters and evil-spirit-countering komboli worry beads. This meant that he didn’t want anyone else to hear.

People often tend to forget that Greece has only known wealth for the past 30 or 40 years. The wonders of fat-tyred four-wheel drives, linoleum on the kitchen floor and self-cleaning ovens are relatively new in this country. Just 70 years ago there was widespread famine. Hardly surprising then, that the sites where you can find the wild greens that people survived on not so long ago, are very carefully guarded.