The tastes of winter

As we welcome winter, we are seduced by the sweet smell of fresh field-grown tomatoes. The scent of cauliflower and celeriac mingle at the markets. Summer is over and crunchy chestnuts are already roasting on the grill.

While we leave the hot weather behind, nature gradually prepares for a new order. Raised by traditional methods, fragrant field-grown tomatoes appear in greengrocers’ bins and outdoor markets. The concept of field tomatoes means they were grown in a natural, hormone-free environment. Not quite ripe, these tomatoes appear towards the middle of September, about the same time as quince and pomegranates. While quince blossom is the harbinger of summer, its fruit is a sure sign of autumn. Fruits and vegetables such as pomegranates, apples, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower and celeriac (known in Ottoman culture as the ‘winter artichoke’) begin to turn up in the markets. The fishing season also gets underway in mid-August when the live fish at the fishmongers’ stalls and the shrill cries of the fishmongers spread cheer through the marketplace. The cucumber and sweet corn vendors of summer give way now to roasted chestnuts followed by piping hot sahlep and boza drinks as the weather turns colder. 

But when nature begins to signal the transition to winter, people have still not given up on summer. For only gradually do they again get used to winter and its cold when nature has not yet changed color. Wise nature therefore sends the nutriments the human metabolism needs for the cold to the markets well in advance. The message here is simple: the season is changing so take another look at what you’re eating!

Experiencing fall in a mega city like Istanbul is no figment of the imagination. When you go to the forests on either side of Istanbul at the end of September, the chestnuts in their prickly globes are hanging on the trees just waiting to be picked. In just a couple weeks the ground will be covered with their husks. And it’s not just chestnuts that grow in these woods. Walnuts, hazelnuts, arbutus and wild pears and plums are also waiting to be gathered come September. 

And if fall starts out rainy, there will be many varieties of mushrooms as well.

The picture painted by the people of Anatolia as they prepare for winter takes us back thousands of years. Enormous labor is expended at harvest time to produce foods that will be sources of nourishment through the harsh winter months. The people of Anatolia turn these preparations into a time of great joy with their festivals and feasts, which, if you ask me, are major gastronomic events that have been going on for centuries and need to be followed closely by the whole world.

The food produced at the end of the harvest in Anatolia will cheer kitchens all winter long till the coming of spring. Autumn is a beautiful transitional season that prepares people for winter. No matter how sad the end of summer may seem, the delectable tastes of autumn inure people to the return of cold weather. In Anatolia especially, social gatherings bring people together at this time of year. These gatherings are based on certain food offerings by which they are also known. One, for example, is the ‘helva party’, an Anatolian tradition today as it was in Turkish communities long ago. The men of the village assembly come together and a taffy-like helva known as ‘çekme’ is made. A group of five to ten pull on the sugary mass, reciting verses and singing folk songs all the while. Once the helva is made it is divided up by hand and distributed to all present and pleasant conversation ensues. Originating in the countryside, helva parties in time became a major entertainment of the Ottoman palace elite as well.  

During the Tulip period in the early 18th century, the ‘sa’dabat’ and ‘çerag^an’ outings of summer gave way in winter to helva parties, which were as popular as weddings with the Ottoman elite, to the point that organizing a helva party became a sign of status.  Attended by musicians, poets and wits, these gatherings included many other refreshments besides helva. A common activity on cold winter nights, these congenial gatherings ceased with the disappearance of the guild organizations, although they do continue in some form in various parts of Anatolia today. And who knows? Perhaps this pleasant tradition will be revived one day in our big cities.

Cold Stuffed Celerıac Wrapped In Grape Leaves
8 celeriacs*
8 grape leaves, soaked in water to remove the brine
2 tomatoes
Waxed paper
* The celeriacs should be peeled and hollowed out with a knife and left in water to which some lemon juice has been added to prevent discoloring.

Ingredients for the 'dolma' stuffing:
250 gr rice
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp currants
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
2 tbsp salt
750 gr onions
1 tbsp dried mint
1/4 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/4 bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
1 cup virgin olive oil

Soak the rice in lukewarm water. Pour the olive oil in a pot and brown the pine nuts. Add the finely chopped onion and continue browning for 20-25 minutes. Rinse and drain the rice and add to the pot, mixing for 10 minutes. Add the currants and spices, then add water and let steep. When cool, add the chopped parsley and dill. Fill the celeriacs with the stuffing. Top each one with a tomato slice 'cap' and wrap in the grape leaves. Then wrap the wrapped celeriacs in waxed paper and arrange on a baking sheet. Prepare a mixture of water, lemon juice, olive oil, add sugar and salt, and pour over the celeriacs. Bake in a 150C oven for 45 minutes. Cool and serve.

Meat-Stuffed Leeks
5 large leeks
100 gr ground lamb
100 gr ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes
3 tbsp rice
1/4 bunch fresh mint
1/4 bunch Italian parsley
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp butter
For the 'terbiye'
(egg-lemon sauce):
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp yoghurt
juice of half a lemon
1 egg

Preparation of the filling:
Chop the onion finely and rub with salt. Add the ground meat, salt, pepper, chopped tomatoes, parsley and fresh mint and knead well. Wash and drain the rice and add to the mixture. Add one-fourth cup of water.

Cut the leeks in 10 cm long pieces and parboil for 5 minutes. Hollow out the centers of the leeks to form tubes and stuff with the filling. Then arrange in a pot. Add the two tablespoons of butter, salt, pepper and water or meat stock and cook for about 25 minutes. When almost cooked add the 'terbiye'. Mix the yoghurt, flour and lemon juice and slowly add two ladlefuls of the hot dolma juices. Add slowly to prevent curdling. Return to the dolma pot, bring to a boil and serve.

Baked Quince
4 quinces
1 kg granulated sugar
200 gr water
Peel the quinces and divide in half. Carve out the insides, wrap the seeds in a cheesecloth bag and boil in water for 5 minutes with the quinces. Arrange the quince halves on a baking sheet and add the seeds, granulated sugar and water. Bake in a 150C oven for two hours and let cool. Serve with clotted cream.