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The History of Currants

The “Black-eyed Circe” through time and History

Source: the Couniniotis Currants Museum’s book:. «Corinthian Currant, a princess through the ages».

The oldest known evidence regarding the cultivation of currant sin Greece goes back to the 14th century A.D., but it is certain that from the ancient times people dried grapes to make raisins (currants). “Σταφίδες (stafides), ασταφίδες (astafides) or σταφυλίδες (stafylides)” are the names for currants or raisins mentioned in many ancient scripts, while the proverb “ανθρώπου γέροντος ασταφίς η κεφαλή» (meaning that as a man gets old their head looks like a raisin) shows that this product was known from ancient times.

raisin-history-body-lft-1In ancient Greek mythology, the birth of the grapevine is attributed to the youngest god of Olympus, Dionysus, who after becoming a man and discovering how useful this product was, he roamed the world teaching people how to cultivate this gift of nature. According to mythology, Dionysus was born (came out) from his father’s, Zeus’s thigh, as he had put him there in order to complete the pregnancy because his mother, Semeli, had died. Zeus hid the newborn Dionysus in his shade to protect him from the scorching sun’s rays. The grapevine, as they call it “the eye of the vine”, from where the sprout comes out, reminds us of the knee. The god’s symbol was a stick decorated with ivy and vine leaves, “thyrsus”, while on his head he had a wreath made from vine leaves and grapes. Worshiping Dionysus was established during the Dionysian Feasts connected with the growth of the vine, the maturation of the grape and the harvest, while many myths were created regarding his worshiping. The Dionysian Feasts included competitions, symposiums, libations, chanting, dancing and teasing which created an atmosphere of fun and making people happy. These were the first origins of comedy. Dionysus’s close relation to viniculture is demonstrated by his sons’ names: Ambelos (vine), Stafylos (grape) and Oinopion (winemaker), the two latter from his mythical union with Minoa’s daughter, Ariadne.

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Xenophon in his “Anabasis” refers to the “αποξηραμένη σταφυλή” (dried grape) when describing the passage of the troops through Armenia, mentioning the abundance of the country’s products, including the raisin. Many were fast to support the view that:
“ο μικρός της σταφιδαμπέλου θάμνος είναι αυτόχθων εν Ασία, εν αυτή δήλον ότι το πρώτον εφυτεύθη και εκαλλιεργήθη, είτα δε εξ αυτής μετεφέρθη και ενεκλιματίσθη και εις άλλας χώρας, οίον την Πελοπόννησον” (the small bush of the vine originates from Asia, as it was first planted and cultivated there; from there it was transported to other countries/regions, such as the Peloponnese).

However, the word σταφίδες (stafides), ασταφίδες (astafides) meaning raisins, in ancient texts might refer to the present day Corinthian Raisin, which became a commercial product of the Peloponnese, the Ionian Islands and Central Greece almost six hundred years ago and which owes its name to the French attribution of the products (Raisin de Corinthe).

The classic Latin author of agricultural issues Columella mentions in his work methods of making raisin out of grapes. He also mentions white raisins, probably talking about “Sultanas”, he recommends the appropriate time and temperature for the harvest, he describes the way to lay the grape on reeds to dry, the usage of lye made from ashes after burning the remaining vines (bines) and the usage of high quality oil in order for the product to be dried to have the perfect colour. After that he suggests the separation of one grape away from the other, to avoid the presence of humidity, covering them during the night to protect them from the morning dew and the rain and after they are dried to place them in a dry place or in new pots.

This way of drying had been used until the 1960 and produced excellent quality of raisins/currants with a distinctive blue colour of a grape dried in the shape of a drop, with an extra soft skin and a unique perfume. After 1960 this method was abandoned because it was overly expensive.

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