Greek Kolyva (Koliva) (Wheat Berry Memorial Food)

“While this is a mournful memorial food, it is also a much loved treat, patted down in pie tins, blanketed with a thick layer of sugar, and elaborately festooned with silver dragee candies, seeds, and almonds. It is brought to the church for blessing on the third and ninth day of a beloved’s passing, again at forty days, a year, and three years, and also on “Soul Saturday” twice a year. After church the kolyva is poured into a sack or a large bowl, mixing the sugar, decoration, and grain together, and offered around. Children wait for it, paper bags at the ready. Adults, unable to forgo the comfort and memory of it, take handfuls. It is a fine way to honor the deceased with the food of life.”
2hrs 25mins

Ingredients Nutrition


  1. Rinse the wheat berries and place them in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches, along with a few pinches of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the berries are tender and beginning to split but not mushy, about 1 3/4 hours. (Add more water to the pot when the liquid reduces to the level that the wheat no longer floats, and stir from time to time so the berries don’t stick to the bottom.) Drain and set aside in the strainer to cool and dry for at least 1 hour or up to several hours.
  2. Place the cooled wheat berries in a large mixing bowl. Add the sesame and anise seeds, walnuts, slivered almonds, raisins, cinnamon, and the pomegranate seeds. Sift in 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and toss it all together.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a large platter or tray. Sift the remaining confectioners’ sugar over the top to coat it thickly, almost like a frosting. Decorate the top with the whole almonds and the dragees.
  4. To serve, present the platter of decorated kolyva. Then, just before eating, mix it all together. Serves 40.
  5. NOTES: Pomegranate is not always in season, but there really is no substitute for the seed in taste, texture, or symbolism. If it is not available, simply omit it.
  6. Dragees are available in any well stocked large supermarket, usually in the baking aisle.
  7. Kolyva is traditionally prepared the day before the memorial serve, but the wheat berries can ferment if left at room temperature overnight and the sugar can crystallize in a refrigerator’s moist environment. The best pre-preparation method is to boil and refrigerate the wheat berries ahead of time, then add the other ingredients and decorate the kolyva just before it’s needed.
  8. Adventures In Greek Cooking : The Caper and The Olive by Susanna Hoffman.

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