Cypriot Koliva - Wheat berry memorial food
Koliva is the sweet offering we make to commemorate our loved ones who have passed at their funeral or their memorial (mnimosino). As well as on some other occasions, for example during Lent. Koliva are prepared and taken to the church service to be blessed during the prayers for the dead. We then scoop them into paper bags to distribute to the church goers after the liturgy. At that point we say «Αιωνία τους η μνήμη», meaning “May their memory be eternal”. Making koliva is a common custom within the Orthodox population. I talked to a few other cultures through social media, who told me they make koliva in a similar way also.
600 g whole wheat grains
200 g almonds
800 g pomegranates, 4 small pomegranates
150 g sesame seeds
300 g sultanas
2 tsp aniseed
2 tsp cinnamon
Two days before the memorial
- Wash and soak the wheat grains in a bowl covered with water for at least 12 hours and the almonds in a separate bowl for at least 24 hours.
- Boil the wheat berries for about 30min or until you see a couple expanding and splitting in half. Strain them and allow them to cool in a colander. Once they are cooled use a clean towel or paper towel on a tray and lay out the wheat. Place the tray uncovered in the fridge so that the wheat berries can dry.
- Keep the almonds in the water to keep them hydrated while you peel each kernel by squeezing it between your fingers. At that point the actual kernel will split in half also otherwise use the end of a knife to separate the kernel into its two halves, like the photo above. Store the peeled halved almonds in a bowl covered with water so they can stay white, plump, crisp and hydrated. Keep them in the fridge.
Wash the sesame seeds and sultanas with tap water. Leave them in separate colanders over a bowl in the fridge to dry. Deseed the pomegranates and store them in an airtight container in the fridge.
- You may assemble the koliva from the night before and just keep them covered in the fridge covered. If you want to do that simply shift the timeline back and start the process a day earlier. Otherwise, the morning of the memorial service allocate some time to do so.
- Before you assemble decide how you want to decorate the koliva. For example decide what you will use to shape a cross and/or the person’s name and what you will use to cover the rest of the areas. Use my image as a guide but you may get as creative as you like.
- Keep some of almonds (after you strain them), sesame seeds, sultanas and pomegranates and mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Once the ingredients are mixed, pile the mixture evenly on a rectangular or oval tray with raised ends. Then decorate the surface, cover carefully and take to church for the blessing.