We begin with a charming note from P S Archer of Crickhowell, Powys, who found this titbit in that indispensable work of reference from the 1880s, Enquire Within upon Everything. 'Question: why is mint eaten with pea soup? Answer: The properties of mint are stomachic and antispasmodic. It is therefore useful to prevent the flatulencies that might arise, especially from soups made of green or dried peas.'
Maria Aaranis, a journalist for the Greek newspaper Kathimerini and a student of food history, writes from Athens: 'Mint is a traditional herb of our country. Our ancestors in classic years, and later during Byzantium, considered it effective for liver, heart or stomach diseases . . . Wild mint, it was believed, was an aphrodisiac. And, if someone was bitten by a mad dog, they used a salve of mint leaves as a cure. Even nowadays, you see a pot of mint in most Athenian balconies and windows.'
Here is her recipe for minted meat balls, for which she will receive a bottle of Cabernet Franc 1990 Family Reserve from Francis Ford Coppola's estate in Napa Valley, California, imported by Reid Wines, of Hallatrow, near Bristol.
Ingredients: good olive oil
8oz (225g) minced pork
8oz (225g) minced veal
3oz (85g) breadcrumbs
4tsp ouzo (or any pastis)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 ripe tomato, skinned
1 great palmful each of fresh mint and parsley leaves, about 1oz (28g) each
salt and freshly ground pepper
Preparation: Mix 2-3tbs olive oil with the rest of the ingredients, including juice from the chopped tomato, season, cover and leave to marinate for 2-6 hours. Form meat-balls: you should have about 12. Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C/gas 4. Smear a baking tin generously with more olive oil. Ensuring the meatballs are at room temperature, bake covered in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, then uncovered for the last 10. Garnish with fresh mint leaves. Serve with a tomato salsa and a large green salad.
Next week, more mint. New recipes, stating the source, should be sent to: Emily Green, Recipe, Weekend Features, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB. The prize will be more of Mr Coppola's wine.