Variations on a Fanouropita

Ashley Denny Petch 

The lost and found cake


The Changeling

Kostas’ family changed Max’s name when he returned. The only suitable name for him now was Heracles. After all, he had been to the underworld and back.

The instructions for a Fanouropita are simple, but strict. One must use seven or nine ingredients, never eight. Flour, orange juice, sugar, olive oil, some spices, fruit and nuts. A humble cake that promises the recovery of lost items.

But of course, Max was no ordinary lost item. How fervent a supplication is required to recover a soul? This particular cake needed something extraordinary. Something life-giving.

Kostas’ Yiayia never revealed to her family what that special extra ingredient was, but they knew that whatever it was, it had been undertaken with great sacrifice. Kostas always remembered a metallic smell lingering in the air. As for Yiayia, she never stepped foot in her kitchen again. And when Max-Hercales sauntered by, seemingly unphased by his perilous journey, she shuddered and fled the room, believing that she really had raised him from the dead.

As a child, Kostas had witnessed this miracle of baking and thought nothing of the impossibility. His beloved pet lab had returned! He naturally assumed that the newfound white ring of fur around his tail, absent before, was simply the mark where Saint Fanourios’ gentle guiding hand had pulled the dog back from the other side.


When she met Nikos, she fell in love with his hair and then him, in that order. It was long, dark, and wavy, cascading down his broad shoulders - she thought he was a handsome mermaid. Around 40, his hair started thinning. They both noticed. He cut it shorter so as not to emphasize this slow, sad erosion. And then it started disappearing at the top of his head, and to preserve some semblance of normalcy, he kept growing the hair on the sides of his head. Now he was a clown.

She couldn’t stand the sight of him, so she bought him a knock-off Yankees’ baseball cap from the periptero around the corner. She asked him to keep it on at all times, even in bed. Especially in bed.

Her last hope was the Fanouropita. She treated every ingredient with precious, reverent intent. As she whisked the orange juice into the sugar and olive oil, she shut her eyes tightly, imagining her husband with his hair recovered, whole again.

She fed him seven slices. One in the morning with his coffee, and one just before bed. She never explained the ritual, and he never asked. At night, while he slept, she’d gingerly remove the baseball cap and inspect his head for signs of life.

When she moved out the following week, she left her baking supplies behind.

Eat Your Heart Out, Akis Petretzikis

It’s unbearable to be in Athens on August 27. The heat and the concrete. Sofia spent her days inside. She was always tired. Her thoughts returned again and again to Sylvia Plath. The oven. What a way to go. She lacked the courage to do the same. But since her cowardly mind lingered in the kitchen, why not bake a cake? She could use some intercession.

Maybe she used too much cinnamon on her first attempt. On her second try, she realized that the walnuts and pistachios actually counted as two separate ingredients, totaling 8, thereby voiding the cake. She burned the bottom of her fourth attempt. The seventh cake tasted salty. The tenth was lumpy. She ran out of olive oil on the sixteenth try, and by the twenty-seventh, so had Sklavenitis. By her fifty-ninth attempt, she had cleaned out every grocery store in Exarchia.

Sofia baked furiously and urgently, until she was surrounded by a mountain of broken cakes. An embarrassment of oblations.

It was an attempt to recover a past version of herself. 86 attempts, all told. 86 stupid cakes. She decided they were cursed. Or her kitchen was. She doesn’t even have a gas oven. It’s electric

Ernest Hemingway Bakes a Fanouropita

For sale: used eyeglasses, went blind. 

There’s So Much Crying in Football

Athletes are a notoriously superstitious set, and Stelios was no exception. Before every game, he would tap the corners of both goalposts with his left fist. Three times on the left corner and three times on the right. If the purpose of this ritual was victory, it hadn't exactly been working. Thirty games is a long streak of losses for a football season.

Stelios was the one who insisted on the cake, but it was Yiannis who got the recipe from his wife and it was Akis who offered up his mother’s kitchen. The whole team built the cake together, in hushed tones with the reverence of an Easter liturgy. They huddled around the oven, genuflecting hopefully before the glow of the rising cake. Freshly out of the oven, Christos delicately traced their team name in powdered sugar on the top.

They ate the cake dutifully, in solemn silence.

No one knew how the other teams in the league got wind of their ritual of desperation. They were ridiculed mercilessly. Only Dimitris knew that it was his fault - he had taken some furtive photos and posted them online.

There were threats and insults, and tensions were high at their next game. The shouting escalated into fights, and in the second half, a full-on brawl. The team suffered a twisted ankle, a broken knee, a groin pull, two concussions, and one wrist fracture. Their roster depleted, one more injury would cause the game to be forfeited.

Stelios watched the violence from between his goalposts and shuddered involuntarily. He cursed Saint Fanourios and punched the goal post so hard that he broke his hand

Many Happy Returns

As a teenager, observing from a kitchen stool, Alex had watched her deeply religious mother make the cake when something from the household had been lost. Sometimes they worked, but mostly not. Alex always teased her mom and explained away the successes by virtue of coincidence.

It was a silly superstition and she was in a silly mood. Why not give it a try? Deciding to jumpstart the process, she threw a 10 Euro note off of her 7th floor balcony. Let’s see if it comes back. She headed to the kitchen and started to bake.

Following the rules as she remembered them, she ate one slice herself and then delivered the remaining 6 to nearby friends and family. The fanouropita had turned out perfect. Too perfect, in fact.

That same evening, Dimitris returned the 10 Euros he borrowed last week, which Alex found amusing. In her head, she could hear her Mom’s voice praising Saint Fanourios for his grace.

And then the flood. The next morning, her favourite shirt, one she hadn’t seen in years reappeared from behind her dresser. Her first edition copy of The Brothers Karamazov, which she was certain had been destroyed by the fire on Mitsaion Street, appeared in perfect condition on her bookshelf. And then a long-forgotten postcard from the sister she no longer spoke to. “Kisses from Amorgos”. 

When she woke the next morning and saw the emerald stone winking at her from the kitchen table, she was horrified. Her wedding ring. She knew she had pawned that years ago. But here it was, laying in wait, demanding to not be forgotten.

The days continued like this, every morning a fresh horror of recovery. Desperate for relief, Alex booked a flight to Rhodes to confront the saint himself. When she landed, she went directly to the Agios Fanourios Chapel, fell to her knees and begged for mercy

De Condillac’s Statue Takes his Revenge

Kyrios Lefteris couldn’t remember the recipe. He couldn’t remember the name of the cake, either. Of course, he couldn’t remember anything these days. And it was only going to get worse. The doctor had told him this, but he had forgotten their conversation. As well as his doctor’s name. 

But he could still smell. Actually, he could smell better than he ever could before. As long as he could smell, he could remember.

He recalled the smell of cloves. Definitely cloves. He added five of them. The penetrating smell of citrus persisted - perhaps a lemon? He built the rest of the cake this way, from his sensation of smell, the sediment of his waning consciousness. A memory cake. It looked terrible and it tasted worse. A sugary Tower of Babel.

Nevertheless, he consumed the entire thing with feverish hope. He returned to his lowly-lit office, sat in his corner chair, and waited for the memories to return. Eventually, he got up and carried on with his senseless day, forgetting what he was waiting for.