Today, I was going to give you another constellation post, but then I got an awesome package in the post. For now, the constellation post is going to have to wait, because yesterday, I received two big pots of the spoon sweet mastic.

When I was a kid, I visited Greece twice. What I remember most about the tips is eating chocolate flake covered coconut bars and vanilla and strawberry flavored spoon sweets. My mom had a Greek friend whose family would send care packages to her, so I had eaten it before, but it tasted much better when we visited my friend's family in Athens and I had it in their small apartment with a glass of ice cold water during a heat wave. When we got home, we started receiving care packages as well, and there would always be a jar of mastic in there for me.

Once we fell out of touch with my mom's friend, the care packages eventually stopped as well, and I didn't know what the spoon sweet was called: we called it 'lolly spoon', as you're supposed to scoop some of the thick paste onto a spoon and then dip it in cold water before licking the softening paste off of it like a lollipop. I never found it again. I happened to ask a very good friend--and fellow Hellenist--about it who has been to Greece quite often, and also when he was old enough to actually remember this stuff, and he knew right away what I was talking about. As a surprise, he bought two jars at his local Greek convection store and Fed-ex'd them to me.

Spoon sweets are sweet preserves which are generally served as a gesture of hospitality. That's how I got my first lolly spoon. Usually they are made of fruit, and the trick is to preserve the shape or at least the texture of the fruit used. Mastic is a variety of spoon sweet not made out of fruit, but out of a resin called 'Mastic'. In Greece it's called 'Vanilla' (βανίλια), and the treat is called a 'Vanilla Submarine' (βανίλια υποβρύχιο). they come in vanilla flavor, mastic flavor (which tastes a little piney), and strawberry--at least it used to when I was a kid. I haven't been able to locate the strawberry flavor anywhere.

Mastic resin comes from the masic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), which is found most famously on Chios. It's an expensive resin and many products claiming to contain it--including Vanilla--contain mastic essence instead. When I went to Greece, we did buy a tin of the resin tears, but to my child's pallet, it tasted horrible. Then again, I was a terribly fussy eater, and I lived on bread with olive oil for most of the trip.

The resin is said to have medicinal properties and ancient Hellenic writers praised it for its ability to cure intestinal problems, bad breath and as a remedy for snakebites. Hippokrátēs said chewing the resin helped cure the common cold. It was also considered good for the skin. Modern research has shown that mastic contains antioxidants and has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It helps lower total serum cholesterol, and chewing the tears helps prevent tooth decay. Of course, the amount of sugar or glucose syrup in the spoon sweet totally negates that last quality.

I opened both jars yesterday, and tasted them both. I had not tasted the mastic flavored one before, but it might be my favorite. the slightly piney or cedar aftertaste is truly delicious. So, if you're in the area (central part of the Netherlands), let me extend you xenia with a spoon of sweet preserve. I swear you'll feel right at home.