According to Greek mythology, the olive tree became a symbol of peace and victory when two gods, Poseidon and Athena, competed for the title of reigning deity of Athens. Poseidon, the god of the sea, laid his claim by striking his mighty trident into the wall of the Acropolis and from it sprung a well of brackish water. But it was the goddess of wisdom and skill who won possession of the city by offering a more beneficial and gracious gift to the land. She knelt beside the pool of water and planted an olive branch that would grow to become a tree. It is the same act of benevolent gift giving deeply rooted in Greek culture that makes Anna Troussas one of our most unique and elegant vendors at the ENFM. Her authentic Greek cookies, breads, and pastries are prepared with the most quality ingredients that keep customers returning, and the love she puts into her work springs from a tradition that can be tasted in every bite.
Anna was born in Hunstville, AL, where her father, Nick Koralis, was working for IBM. He met his soon-to-be wife, Carol, and the couple moved to Tallahassee, FL, where Anna grew-up. Though her father was born and raised in Greece, Anna had never visited the island until the three family members traveled there for a vacation. By the end of the trip Anna declared that she would be staying when her family returned home to America. She found a job, purchased a car, enjoyed the culture, drank coffee, and what was supposed to last only a summer grew to become 3 years of Anna immersing herself in the country of heritage. Within that time, she met and married her husband, Spyro Troussas, and the couple moved back to the States in 2011. They settled in Franklin, TN, where her parents and sister Christina had relocated.
I asked Anna about the significance of cookies and pastries in Greek culture and cuisine. “It’s all about coffee, ” she begins. ” We love our coffee in Greece, and we love to spend time with each other. It’s about taking the time out of your schedule to sit and enjoy coffee and a conversation with someone, and cookies pare a perfect pairing. ”
It is this experience and knowledge of Greek culture and cuisine that equipped her to begin baking seriously when she arrived back in the States. She had always baked for friends, but she had a desire to do more and was encouraged by them to start her own business. She first applied to the Franklin Farmers’ Market and was surprised when her application was accepted. Within 2 weeks, Anna created her menu, finalized her recipes, and developed her packaging. She works out of her home kitchen in Franklin and sells at 3 Nashville markets: East Nashville, Franklin, and Hip Donelson. Her mother Carol supports the bakery in every way she can and Anna even Skype’s with Nikoleta, her enthusiastic mother-in-law from Greece, who offers advice and guidance in Anna’s work.
Like many, Anna comes from a long line of women who pride themselves in their abilities to prepare food. It is the way they show love and care for their families and friends and it is extremely prominent within Greek tradition, Anna says. There is a myriad of female characters who have influenced her work and recipes with history and stories behind them. Most recipes Anna has created herself, but one in particular she did not. Her favorite cookie, the coffee cookie. Anna obtained the recipe from her aunt (or theia) Popi, who immigrated to America from Greece to be married to a man she barely knew. Popi never learned to read, write, or drive a car, Anna recounts, but she was known for her delicious coffee cookies. She prided herself for these cookies , and Anna fondly remembers them as a child. Similar to a biscotti in shape and texture, they are traditionally topped with sesame seeds and filled in the center with a layer of cinnamon. When Popi passed, Anna was determined to pass on her aunt’s love by learning the recipe and giving the cookies as gifts, she says. “I have one every morning with my coffee. Well, maybe more than one, ” she says with a smile.
Another popular item is the traditional koulourakia, which are simple twisted butter cookies that are sold in lovely cellophane pouches . Her handy-work is so meticulous and perfect that they resemble something found in a specialty store, yet each one is prepared and hand-twisted by Anna. “I’ve been making these cookies almost my entire life, ” Carol says, “but not even I can help her. Mine just don’t measure up. ” She also offers a powdered-sugar coated almond cookie that is a favorite amongst children, and a traditional sweet Easter bread that is made with a spice found only on the Greek island of Xios.
Though all of Anna’s treats are, her famous baklava stands out the most. A popular Greek pastry made of gooey layers of phylo dough, nuts, and often times honey, baklava is a decadent dessert. Anna uses a combination of walnuts, almonds, and pecans, and makes a chocolate variety as well. She even sells baklava in a jar, which is beautifully packaged with a pewter ribbon and perfect to give as a gift. It can be purchased individually or purchased in lovely gift baskets with her other assorted baked goods.
She also delivers to customers who can no longer make the markets, and with the ENFM ending its 2014 season, she is not opposed to making deliveries. “This has been my dream since I was a child, and I’m very happy about it, ” she says. “It means something to me that my customers love my stuff. If I can bring them some happiness, I will. I’m so thankful.”
We’re thankful for you, too, Anna.
If you are interested in keeping up with Anna and the Olive Tree Bakery, please “like” her Facebook page at http://tinyurl.com/theolivebranchbakery.
About the author: Rebecah Boynton has a BS in horticulture from Auburn University. She is a writer, an advocate, and volunteers at the East Nashville Farmers’ Market.