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A King’s Confectioner in Istanbul
2003 / JULY

In 1832 the European powers selected the 18 year-old Prince Otto of Bavaria as the first king of Greece. King Otto I arrived in his new homeland with his German household, including his royal confectioner, Friedrich Unger, who was delighted at this opportunity to learn about the legendary confectionery of the Orient. Unger commenced his research in Athens and Nauplia, where the local people advised him to visit Istanbul, the centre of the confectionery trade. Unger resolved to make the journey at the first opportunity. Friedrich Unger sailed from Athens on 27 July 1835, intending to go overland from Izmir, but the ship ran aground as it neared the harbour, and the passengers were rescued by an English steamer on its way to Istanbul. Unger regretted seeing nothing of Izmir, but the Dardanelles and other sights of the voyage made up for this disappointment.

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A King’s Confectioner in Istanbul
2003 / JULY

Unger described 'the alluring sight of the majestic metropolis of Constantinople so splendidly situated on the boundary of two continents, with its wonderful mosque domes, innumerable graceful minarets and houses, above which rise dark cypresses... The harbour of the Golden Horn received us, astonishing us with its forest of masts decorated with the flags of all nations, and the lively bustle of barges crossing the rippling waters.' After visiting the most famous sights of Istanbul, Unger devoted the rest of his stay 'to acquainting myself with the Oriental craft of confectionery.' In his book Confectionery of the Orient published in 1838 Unger described a typical confectioneryt workshop: 'The real Turkish sugar baker (schekerdschi) has set up his shop on the ground floor of his house. It is decorated with pleasant symmetry, glasses arranged in consideration of colour containing the different products of his art. With folded legs and in sober silence the delicacy-artist sits among his sweet treasures.'

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A King’s Confectioner in Istanbul
2003 / JULY
Unger was particularly desirous of seeing the confectionery kitchens at Besiktas Palace, then official residence of Sultan Mahmud II, but 'neither money nor good words, however little I spared both, sufficed to secure my admittance. Therefore I had to make do with a visit to the imperial confectioneryn laboratory in the Old Palace, residence of the sultn'sn mother.' The Old Palace was Topkapi, where Unger found the confectioners at work in a kitchen on the opposite side of the Second Court to the main domed kitchens. This kitchen is no longer standing today, and Unger's brief description is the only one in existence. An engraving by Antoine-Ignace Melling dating from the reign of Selim III (1789-1807) shows a score of figures carrying trays on their heads emerging in file from a door beneath the arcade on the northwest side of the courtyard.
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A King’s Confectioner in Istanbul
2003 / JULY

In the light of Unger's evidence they must be carrying confectionery of some kind, and such large quantities suggest a ceremony involving sweet dishes. One possibility that comes to mind is the Baklava Procession, when trays of baklava were presented to the janissaries during Ramazan. Unger's book of 97 confections is an outstanding documentary source for the history of Turkish confectionery. That a professional confectioner should have watched confectioners at work and compiled recipes at this period is a remarkable piece of good fortune. With his specialised knowledge Unger was able to understand what he saw in a way that no casual observer could have done.

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A King’s Confectioner in Istanbul
2003 / JULY

One of the most interesting confections that Unger saw was lohuk, the prototype of fondant, and it was probably he who introduced this sweetmeat to Europe, where it became fashionable in the mid-19th century. Unger's recipes for Turkish delight and orange flavoured lohuk are given here.

* Priscilla Mary Isin is a researcher into Turkish culinary history, and editor of a new English edition of Friedrich Unger's book recently published by Kegan Paul.
Translation: Emel Çelebi

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