An important part of the red sauce in this dish is played by the spices that are used – bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg etc. as well as of course, the cook’s talent.
The variety of spice mixes is particular to Corfu and rich old families from the days of Venetian rule used to employ cooks, every one of which had her own personal spice mixes for the various dishes she prepared. These mixes were called “spetsieriko” because they were made to order by a “spetsieri,” in other words a pharmacist.
In those days herbs and spices were not used only to improve the taste of food but mainly to preserve it, and as a consequence the spice trade brought incredible revenues to the Venetians. The pharmacists (medicine grinders) of those days followed the rules of pharmacology as handed down from the days of Hippocrates and Galen. Traditional herbalists, they based their methods on the knowledge of which herbs and spices protect and heal the human body, which had the power to curb inflammations, tone the body and act as antiseptics.
Nowadays herbal remedies have been replaced by industrial chemicals, but the medicine grinders carry on preparing the ingredients for Corfu’s extraordinary old recipes.
The best “spetsieriko” is said to be made at the oldest pharmacy in town at 56 George Theotoki Avenue, “Karmela’s Pharmacy“. On display inside is a book, The Historical Pharmacies of Greece, which includes the pharmacy of Karmela Deleonardou (founded in 1850) and relates its history in detail. Although the pharmacy has moved from its original address, all its contents (bookcases, cabinets, jars and vials) are the originals and they create an atmosphere of bygone days.
It is here that Carmela prepares her “spetsieriko” combining 15 different ingredients and faithful customers go there every day to buy it.