Pink and Amber
Candied chestnuts tell the story of the marriage of the oleander pink of caramelized sugar with the amber hue of the chestnut.
Erect and proud, it stood there in the deepest recesses of the centuries-old forest, towering over all the other trees. Its bark moiréd with silver highlights, its deep pink blossoms bursting like fireballs from between its serrated green leaves with a silent scream, “Here I am!”.
Then came the slate grey rain. The green leaves, crawling with ladybugs, turned sadly yellow. Having lived their butterfly-brief lives, the now fading pink blossoms called it a day and fell softly to the earth. And in their place the fruit began to appear, each one inside a thick, dark brown shell. As the firefly-bright summer evening descended over the broad plains where the tribe of Orhan once raced their fine steeds, the brown shells split open. Left behind on the branches were the beautiful fruit, covered with barely perceptible down like the innocent heads of newborn babies. And as the shrieks of swallows rang out in the minarets of Bursa’s green-tiled mosques, they too dropped softly to the ground.
Then came the people. Seeing the amber yellow nuts on the ground, they gathered them up and took them home. They held them over the fire, they dropped them into water. They consumed them to surfeit, murmuring grateful prayers. One of them, eager to enhance his gustatory pleasure, boiled the amber colored fruit with sugar. As he did so, its agate hue turned pale pink. He let it stand in water overnight. As dawn’s red glow spread over Bursa’s vast plains, the people espied the shocking pink honey oozing from the fruit. Reverently, they put the new sweet in their mouths, where it melted on their tongues, redolent of June’s melancholy yellow days, of February’s days without mornings, of amber honey and rosy dawns.
THE MEETING OF CHESTNUT AND SUGAR
You will forgive my panegyric on the candied chestnut, perhaps one of the most exceptional sweets in the whole world. For Bursa’s famous candied chestnuts are more than deserving of our praise. No ordinary sweet, the candied chestnut has a taste that turns the head, a taste produced when the chestnut is sweetened with golden honey by the touch of the human hand. Born of the meeting of chestnut and sugar, it is at least as unique as the chestnut itself. In the labor-intensive preparation of candied chestnuts, the nuts are first hulled. The chestnut is then cooked in water over low heat in its inner shell, which is then peeled off. After being left for a day in the thick sugar-water syrup, the chestnuts are again cooked over a very low fire.
The person who introduced the inimitable taste of the candied chestnut to
Bursa was the late Ali Şakir Tatveren, founder of the ‘Kafkas’ company. Starting out on a very small scale, Ali Tatveren produced his candied chestnuts with meticulous care, turning his Kafkas brand is a household name all over Turkey today. Born in Manastır (modern Bitola) in Macedonia, Ali Şakir Tatveren briefly practiced his profession in Sarıkamış (northeastern Turkey) and the Caucasus. His wife and children took over the company after his death, and the chocolate-covered chestnuts known as ‘Karyoka’ were first produced by his daughter, Yüksel Tatveren.
Next time you bite into a candied chestnut, be sure to take a closer look at the pink highlights in its amber color. For they are the rosy glints of the honey that makes it way to the dining table from the amber shell of the chestnut, that most majestic tree of the once inviolate forest.
We would like to thank Kafkas for providing the recipes and visual materials.