“You know, child, even as a bride I didn’t get photographed that much!” the old lady tells me, and she bursts out laughing as she separates crocus stigmas, Kozani’s botanical gold, from the plant’s stamens.
It is harvest season here in the village of Krokos (named for the flower) in the regional unit of Kozani in northern Greece; it’s only here, and in the surrounding villages, that Greece produces red saffron.
There’s a mountain of flowers in the old lady’s kitchen, and the whole family is taking part in the sorting. They are all hard at work and so am I, camera in hand.
Since dawn, young and old have been going to the fields, patiently and skillfully collecting the small flowers that have bloomed today.
Afterwards, they return here to place them on a special table that pivots around under large fans; the air current blows away the petals and leaves the flowers’ more precious parts.
Once the stigmas have been separated from the stamens, the next step is drying, which happens in a dark room, usually heated by a wood stove, in order to keep the these red threads’ special properties intact.
Selection and processing must happen on the same day the fresh flowers are collected, and this happens over and over for approximately 20 days in a row during October.
Everyone involved in the harvest follows this demanding schedule, to the point that they sometimes don’t even have time to eat.