Filo: a fairy tale of sorts
Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who had a real taste for Baklava, she ate it for breakfast and tea, with lunch, and often for dinner. She loved the way the phyllo shattered between her teeth, the crumbs left on her delicate fingertips, the earthy perfume as it baked, but most of all she loved the honeyed layers. As her taste grew she demanded the layers become thinner, stacked taller. “Too many to count!” She would say and stomp her pretty pink satin slippered feet against the castle’s thick stone floors.
The princess’s Baklava had to be perfect but what came out of the oven wasn’t always just so and so much Baklava came out of the oven. Four men worked in shifts rolling out the tissue thin sheets of phyllo dough. There was a royal bee keeper, royal wheat fields, and a grove of royal walnuts. Because the princess’s craving could come at any time Baklava was baked all hours of the day and night. On holidays all commerce in the kingdom stopped but still the Baklava was baked. The King was sick of Baklava, the Queen grew tired of it too. The ladies in waiting, the knights, the court, and courtiers all soon pushed their phyllo laden plates away. But not the princess. It was whispered that she smelled of honey, and one bold knight claimed she tasted of it too.
The town’s people could smell Baklava in their sleep but it was forbidden to share it outside the castle walls. If anyone could eat the princess’s Baklava than it would no longer be royal. “I will not share with swine’” she said, meaning the people of the village. The royal hogs had been eating Baklava bits for years.
It was decided that the princess should marry while she was still beautiful. Her’s was a small kingdom with a vital port surrounded by larger kingdoms with larger armies. An alliance was to be formed, negotiations began.
The sticking point was the Baklava: one young prince was allergic to nuts, another to bees, a third claimed a gluten intolerance. The princess threatened to throw herself into the sea if the King denied her only constant companion, her sweet and (mostly) silent best friend. The King threatened to bind the princess to her bedpost and forbid all food and water until she accepted a proposal. The princess knew the king would never follow through on his threat. The king knew his daughter would die before giving in.
One day a fleet of brightly painted ships approached the kingdom. Sturdy ships with gun wales and crimson sails. The kingdom prepared for war but the ships from across the sea came in peace. An emissary came ashore and sought the king’s council: rumors of the beautiful Baklava princess had drifted across the waters. The emissary spoke for his prince across the sea, a king seeking alliance, a prince willing for his royal chambers to smell of honey and nuts, a prince seeking a bride. The ships carried gold and other gifts. The prince was waiting for his emissary to return with the princess. “He’s not here?” the king asked. “No.” The emissary replied. “But I’ve brought an etching.”
Contracts were signed and the princess, accompanied by her ladies in waiting, the phyllo rollers and the bakers — who would all miss their families very much—were packed up and shipped across the sea.
Soon the kingdom began to smell of the usual things, some pleasant surprises like green grass and yeasted breads, others unwelcome like dung and rotting fish. The queen would sometimes eat a small plate of Baklava and weep for her daughter but the rest of the kingdom moved on wondering only fleetingly how the princess fared in foreign land. The princess never came home again but there were children, and etchings.