Fruity Festive Feasts

              The famous seasonal pudding aşure often called Noah's pudding in English is a glorious mic of dried fruits and nuts adorning an otherwise humble wheat berry pudding, and is often served during Muharram, the first month of the İslamic calendar. Similarly, the jewish Tu b'shvat seder table is all about dried fruits and nuts, welcoming spring and the blooming of trees. And, of course, dried fruit makes for delicious fruit cakes, figgy puddings, plum puddings, and mince pies all perfect for christmas.

              These celebrations partly stem from the practices of ancient agrarian communities, an dried fruits are a key component of dishes marking the cycle of seasons. Turkey's role as a major producer of dried fruits and the world's leading exporter of raisins, dried figs, and apricots is rooted in a long standing Anatolian tradition. Back in Hittite times, circa 2,000 BC viticulture was highly developed. The city of Melita, todays Malatya, whose name is derived from the hittite word for honey (melit or milit) was famous for its legendary fruit orchards. No wonder that today the city is considered as the capital of apricots, famed for their sweetness.

              Dried figs were favorites of rich and poor alike in ancient Greek and Roman times, Aegean region of Anatolia were long exported from the port Smyrna (today's İzmir) reaching its zenith during Ottoman times. İndeed Anatolian shade dried, seedless white grapes were even named after the ottoman sultan hence the name sultanas and sultaniye grapes now make delicious fruity coupage wines with steely dry Emir grapes. But as far back as Hittite times, grapes were dried as a nutritious sweet, often incorporated into breads and dishes, as well as used for producing wine and molasses.

              Anatolia's grapes whether black whole bunch grapes, seedless black grapes, big prune like black grapes from Horoz Karası, Kilis Karası, or golden brown Besni grapes from south east now amount to an astonishing variety. But this trio is just an elementary introduction to the world of dried fruits in Turkey.

              Black mulberries have recently become populari although white mulberries always used to be snack tucked into pockets of kids going out to play or to school. İn the past, when sugar was scarce and expensive, powdered mulberries were used as a sweetener. Mulberries make an ideal sweet salty contrast when mixed whit leblebi, a snack made from roasted chickpeas. One royal staple ottoman tables were barberries. Still growing wild in the woods around the Kastamonu region, barberries are small narrow berries, tart and slightly sweet. They used to adorn buttery saffron pilafs shining like rubies, fit for the sultan. Now the berries are known as zereşk, typically imported from İran, and have made a comeback on modern tables, ideal to melted butter, and tossed in salads where they give a refreshing tang. They do miracles when infused with liquors like Amaretto or Grand Manier, an are glorious when sprinkled over vanilla ice cream or milky puddings like panna cotta or creme brülee.

              One latest trend is for whole persimmons. Their succulent sweet flesh develops an even deeper sweetness, almost like a date, when hung and dried on string. The fruit was actually known as the date of Trabzon, where dates cannot grow in the rainy climate. Another new fad is to cut thin slices of fruits, such as strawberries, and dry them to a chip like texture. Just like barberries, they perform well in salads, and on cakes, tarts, an cream puddings.
              Dried fruit sweets are often the perfect end to a festive feast. Sucuk usually refers to garlicky, spicy beef Turkish sausage, but cevizli sucuk is also given to sausage shaped sweets made by dipping strings of walnuts in grape juice syrup thickened with starch. The liquid gels around the strings of nuts, and forms a fun snack. Pestil (fruit leathers) are made by pastinf gelatinous grape or mulberry juice onto waxy paper or plastic wrap, and drying them, resulting in silky, chewy, rollable sheets of fruity goodness. These can be folded into triangular parcels stuffed with pistachios to make muska, meaning a talisman.
              They are indeed like talismans of fortune, one feels lucky upon biting one. The same is done with stone fruits where the pulp apricots or prunes are spread out and dried. Cezerye is a mix of black or purple carrots an walnuts, pretty muck like a fruit loaf cut into fingers. İf you are lucky to find a whole cone shaped cezerye, you can decorate it with dried fruits and nuts, and make your own table top edible Chritmas tree to chop down and munch on Christmas Day, and enjoy the rest with mulled wine on Boxing Day.
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