Monday, October 7, 2013

Greek-Style Kollyva

Kollyva is a basic part of Orthodox Christian life in much of Eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East. Although predating Orthodox Christianity, kollyva today is made in memory of the dead and blessed during memorial services in line with the Lord's saying that "unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain" (John 12:24). Although kollyva can be made with rice or other grains, wheat is traditionally used in making it because of the Gospel passage.
Kollyva for the Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide

In most Orthodox countries kollyva is offered on certain days - St. Demetrius' Saturday, the Soul Saturdays during Lent, and the Day of Rejoicing among them - as well as for funerals and memorials. There are many ways to make kollyva, but the recipe here follows Greek practice in a general way, albeit with modifications I've made over the years since I started making kollyva.

Feel free to follow the recipe or to modify it to suit your tastes - there's no right way to make kollyva, as long as it tastes good ;-)! Over the years I've had everything from kollyva with Jordan almonds to kollyva with candy corn, so be as adventurous as you like. (There may well be as many ways to make kollyva as there are people making it!) If you are making kollyva in memory of a dead loved one or dead loved ones, then while you are preparing it pray as much as you are able for the people you want remembered later in church. God grant them (and all of us) to partake in His heavenly kingdom!

"Greek-Style" Kollyva

1 or 1 1/2 pounds of wheat berries
1/2 cup of sugar or honey
1 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup of golden raisins
1/2 cup of chopped pecans (optional)
2 oranges for zesting or a small splash of orange juice (optional)
2 teaspoons of rose water (optional)
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Nutmeg (to taste)
Cardamom (to taste)
Ginger (to taste)
Powdered cloves (sparingly)
1/2 cup of sesame seeds (approximate)
1 or 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup of powdered sugar (approximate)
1/4 cup of almonds or pecans for decoration (approximate)
Sweet red wine (optional)

1) Lord, bless!
2) Rinse the wheat berries 3 times before placing them in a bowl and covering them with water. Cover the bowl and leave it out overnight (or, if you're making it in the evening, during the day) to soften the wheat berries before cooking.
3) Drain the wheat berries, placed them in a large pot, and cover them with 2 to 3 inches of water and bring it to a boil. If desired add additional cinnamon to the water. Once the water has boiled turn the heat down to keep it gently boiling - stirring regularly and periodically adding hot water - for 2 to 3 hours or until the wheat berries are tender.
4) Once the wheat berries are tender remove the pot from the stove and drain the wheat berries in a colander.
5) In a large bowl thoroughly mix the wheat berries, sugar or honey, walnuts, pecans, golden raisins, cinnamon, hearty dashes of nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger, a couple of quick dashes of powdered clove, and the orange zest or juice.
6) Pour the mixture into a suitable pan or bowl - I generally use one of my old glass punchbowls - and firmly pack it down with your hands or, if it's still hot, with a jar or something similar. The mixture should be tightly packed with as smooth of a surface as possible.
7) Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the wheat berry mixture. I use enough to just barely cover all of the wheat berries, though little bits of brown may be visible here or there.
8) Sprinkle the finely crushed graham crackers over the sesame seeds, covering them thoroughly to create a good base for the powdered sugar.
9) Sift enough powdered sugar over the graham cracker crumbs to thoroughly cover them and provide a white backdrop for decorating. The amount of powdered sugar you need to do this will depend on the width of the bowl or pan you packed the wheat berries into. If you are using a wide pan or are splitting the wheat berries between 2 or 3 bowls, then consider reducing the sugar or honey in the wheat berry mixture by half or more. If you don't you'll end up with some extremely sweet kollyva! (Been there, done that!) Once you have enough powdered sugar sifted onto the graham crackers smooth it down (I generally use the bottom of a measuring cup) to make an even surface for decorating.
10) Decorate the top of the kollyva with a cross or crosses, the initials of the loved one or loved ones for whom it was made, or the initials of the saint in whose honor it is being offered if you are making the kollyva to celebrate your family's patron saint. Be creative! I'm not terribly creative, so I just to decorate my kollyva with a tree of life cross (a simple cross with the ends "sprouting") and either the initials of the person it was made for or of "Memory Eternal."
11) Take the kollyva to church with a bottle of sweet red wine (if desired) to be blessed during the memorial.
12) Following the memorial mix everything up together with a good splash of wine, divvy up the kollyva and wine, and enjoy! Since the kollyva is an offering in memory of your departed love ones it's good for as many people as possible to share in it so that they will benefit from the offering and, hopefully, be reminded to pray for the departed.


  1. Thank you Jonathon! In process of boiling berries...will post pic on FB once I complete. Lord Bless!

    1. I hope it turns out well <3! Memory eternal!