Spoon sweets are sweet preserves, served in a spoon as a gesture of hospitality in the Balkans, the Middle East, and in Russia. They can be made from almost any fruit, though sour and bitter fruits are especially prized. There are also spoon sweets produced without fruit.
Some of the fruits that are used include seedless grapes, mulberries and other berries, bergamot, apricots, apples, pears, sour and sweet cherries, oranges and kumquats, lemons, grapefruit, tangerines, pomegranates, quinces, figs, prunes, etc. Even soft fruit like melon or watermelon can be thus prepared, although retaining a relatively firm texture is challenging. Other varieties include green, unripe walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and other nuts, or even flower petals like rose. Many fruits or parts of fruits that are normally inedible, such as the various citrus peels and blossoms, or sliced citrus fruits with their peel intact, can be made into sweet, flavourful preserves, as can some vegetables such as baby eggplants or cherry tomatoes. A well-made spoon sweet retains the original shape, colour, aroma and taste of the fruit.
Spoon sweets are usually offered to guests served by the teaspoon in a small china or crystal dish or bowl, with coffee or tea and cold water. Most of the time they are homemade, but nowadays they can also be easily found in most supermarkets; these are more likely to be made with glucose syrup rather than sugar, for reasons of cost.
They can be used as ice cream or yoghurt topping, or in the Western way as a spread on toast for breakfast. Spoon sweets are commonly eaten alone or with cheese.
Spoon sweets (γλυκό του κουταλιού ‘sweet of the spoon’) are popular in Greece and Cyprus, usually served with Greek coffee and a glass of cold water. Most are made of whole fruit, though some kinds are made of pieces or purees.
One typically Greek spoon sweet is the snow-white and intensely aromatic vaníllia (βανίλια, [va’nilja]) which is not made of vanilla, but of mastic resin, for which the Aegean island of Chios is famous. This is usually served as a spoonful of sweet on a table spoon dropped into a tall glass of ice-cold water and popularly called “βανίλια υποβρύχιο”, a “vanilla submarine”. It is a thick, white, sweet paste made industrially by beating mastic resin with table sugar. When cold, it has the consistency of hard caramel candy: it is meant to be licked like a lollipop as, at body temperature, it gradually becomes softer and more chewable. The Greek diaspora introduced this treat to other countries as far away as Japan. It is said to be the official treat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Whole fruit preserves can be found in most Greek and Cypriot homes. They are made by slowly and gently boiling fruit in water and sugar over several hours or days, until the syrup sets. Thus the main prerequisites to making good spoon sweets are said to be “patience and a heavy pot”. Some lemon juice is often added to preserve the fruit’s original colour, as the citric acid prevents oxidation. A small quantity of blanched almonds, slivered or whole, may also be added for crunch, often to apples or grapes. Ingredients variously added during the boiling, and then discarded, include a quill of cinnamon bark, a mint bouquet, or the green, fragrant leaves of the shrub Pelargonium odoratissimum (apple geranium) which add some astringency and a slight aroma of frankincense and is especially popular in the Ionian islands.
The overall method of preparation is essentially the same as that of marmalade, except that fruit pieces remain firm and whole; a well-made spoon sweet is chewy.
Republic of Macedonia
Spoon sweets in the Republic of Macedonia are called “slatko”, which means “sweet” or “delicious”. It is a thin fruit preserve made of fruit or rose petals. Almost any kind of fruit can be used, like fig, orange, and cherry. Traditionally, honoured guests in house are greeted with a spoonful of “slatko”.
Other fresh fruits like raspberries, sweet cherries, watermelon cubes, rose petals, quinces, grapes, skinned apricots halves or quarters, peaches, blueberries, blackberries, red currants can also be used. If a plum slatko is prepared, walnut halves may be added to the mixture, or even inserted into the plums themselves to replace the pits. Frozen berries and fruits may be used too, but the amount of water and the cooking time should be adjusted accordingly.
Recipes for Traditional Greek Spoon Sweets (Preserves)
Spoon sweets are made with fruit and vegetables, cooked with sugar to create a syrup. Because they are so sweet, they are served by the spoonful, hence the name. A traditional offering to guests, spoon sweets can also be used as dessert sauces and condiments.
- Apples in Syrup – Firikia Glyko – Small whole sweet apples in a light syrup make a delightful offering for guests. Cinnamon and cloves add just the right touch of spice.
- Cherry Spoon Sweet – Kerasi Glyko tou Koutaliou – Traditional Greek spoon sweet made with fresh cherries. A delightful small sweet to offer guests. Serve with cold water.
- Grape Spoon Sweet with Slivered Almonds – Glyko Stafyli me Amygthala – This fabulous spoon sweet combines “fruit and nuts” in a new way. Toasted slivers of almonds are added to syrupy grape preserves to create a delicious taste sensation.
- Grated Quince Spoon Sweet – Kythoni Xysto – Quince is a favourite for making sweets. Its natural taste is astringent and not enjoyed by many. Like all Greek preserves, this is more syrupy than many traditional preserves.
- Green Walnut Spoon Sweet with Cinnamon and Cloves – Glyko Karythi – Young green walnuts create one of the most delicious spoon sweets (preserves) in Greece. Green walnuts can generally be found at market in late spring and autumn. This recipe calls for cinnamon and cloves.
- Orange Peel Spoon Sweet – Glyko Portokalaki – Serve this delightful sweet of orange peel in syrup in the traditional way – by the spoonful – or as a dessert sauce with anything chocolate!
- Quince Spoon Sweet – Glyko Kythoni – Raw quince has an astringent taste, but cooked, it’s a delight. Cooking quince with sugar creates a delightful spoon sweet, one of the most famous and well-loved.