Elizabeth Sardonis Songster, left, and her sister Georgia Sardonis Cone, 71, of Randolph, in Greece. The two traveled the country to write about the food and dining.
Ingredients: Two sisters, Greek heritage and a love of food. Mix well, then add a dash of exploration and the impetus to let both their families and the world in on the legacy they’re continuing.
The result? “A Greek Journey with Fork and Pen: Two Sisters Find Their Roots,” a cookbook, memoir and travel narrative all in one.
Georgia Sardonis Cone, 71, of Randolph, and her sister Elizabeth Sardonis Songster, inspired by a trip to Greece in 1997, began pulling together old family recipes, discovering new ones and keeping a record of their visits to the country where their grandparents were born.
“My sister and I love to cook and love to eat,” said Cone. “On our first trip together my sister commented on how we were eating our way across Greece, and I thought that would be a great title for a book. My husband agreed, saying, ‘Yeah, written by the gourouni sisters.’”
“Gourouni” is a Greek endearment meaning “miss piggy.” Their love of food was the connection to their past, to the family who grew up in villages in the Mediterranean country.
“The strongest part of our heritage comes down through the food. Everybody is passionate about eating and cooking,” said Cone.
Dedicated to their family — past, present and future — the book was 12 years in the making. Cone’s sister lives in California, and the two women had only a couple of chances a year to collaborate.
“Our kids called it the alleged cookbook for many years. Even though we vowed that when we were separate we would work on our projects, we discovered we couldn’t work unless we’re sitting across the table from each other,” said Cone. “So that’s why it took us 12 years to get this finally finished. But we persevered.”
During the sisters’ second trip, they visited their favorite tavernas and spoke with many of the chefs about the recipes for the foods they enjoyed eating at each one. And as they traveled they found variations of classic Greek recipes they grew up eating, depending on the region they were visiting.
“We really enjoyed that. Sometimes there are different spices used, or alternative ingredients. In the northern part of Greece, for instance, they use much more butter than olive oil, because they do raise cattle and have more milk products available than the South,” said Cone.
Though the journal entries documenting their experiences were not originally part of their book plan, the sisters began to feel that it was important to include what they did every day, to provide a context for the recipes.
“We wanted it to be an invitation to travel in your mind with us, to be a part of the journey,” Cone said.
Another reason they wanted to record their travels was for the benefit of their children and grandchildren. The sisters remember their parents would come home from traveling and the girls wouldn’t know much about what they had done and seen. The sisters’ accounts, and those of their husbands, which read much like a novel, are printed alongside the comprehensive recipe collection.
After completing the project, the cookbook needed a publisher. According to Cone, the plan was to self-publish.
“We didn’t really know what that meant, except that it would be cheaper,” she said.
Coincidentally, a self-publishing outfit had recently opened a gallery in Randolph, just down the street from Cone’s residence. Cone said it was invaluable to have the face-to-face experience, versus trying to communicate online or over the phone.
“That would have been nightmarish. We ran across so many things that we didn’t expect that we had to correct or change. Korongo Graphics were wonderful,” said Cone.
She did all the artwork in the cookbook, which is a collection of Hellenic adaptation illustrations. Before the cookbook came out, Cone experimented with greeting cards featuring her artwork and one of her recipes on the back.
“Greek cooking is not complicated. Some recipes can be more tedious and take a little while to prepare. It’s quite straightforward,” said Cone. “Lately, I feel like every time we have someone to dinner they ask what we’re having and I say: Page 85, 100 and 203.”
In Montpelier, the book is available at Rivendell Books. Bear Pond Books has a display copy, and the book is available online through Amazon.com and on the sisters’ website: www.beyondbaklava.com.MORE IN Central Vermont
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