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  • Ottoman fruit Syrups

    Syrups made from fresh fruit were an indispensable beverage in Ottoman palace cuisine as well as among the common people and were traditionally served to guests. Despite being on the brink of oblivion today, they still find a place on the table wherever authentic Ottoman cuisine is served.

    The importance of beverages in world cuisines is indisputable. Human beings developed their models of nutrition step by step over time from the edible plants they found in nature, and beverages were no exception. Over the millennia many factors naturally played a key role in turning beverages from mere thirst-quenching aids to drinks consumed with pleasure. The prime role of the world’s religions especially in the evolution of both food and beverages cannot be underestimated. Due to the Islamic ban on alcohol, for example, beverages in the Islamic world tended to consist of fruit juices and syrups. Fruit juice is of course consumed all over the world, but the fresh fruit syrups known as ‘şerbet’ appeared and were consumed in quantity among the Muslim communities of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and Central Asia.

    Served in gold vessels
    In the Ottoman Empire, ‘şerbet’ or fresh fruit syrup was accorded such respect that it was served in special gilded metal vessels. This is just one indication of its importance in Turkish cuisine. What other beverage in the world is accorded such distinction? Today however fruit syrup has been relegated to being a cultural heritage object, symbolically served only on Ramazan. The culture of ‘şerbet’ (and it must be defined as a culture because our forefathers in their everyday life developed traditional forms of behavior that were identified or synonymous with it) has unfortunately degenerated today to the point that its cultural dimension has been lost.

    From Syrup to Sorbet
    The Turkish word ‘şerbet’ is thought to derive from the Arabic verb ‘sharban’ meaning ‘to drink’. The Turkish ‘şurup’ (syrup), meanwhile, from which şerbet is prepared, was borrowed unchanged from the Arabic. In old Arabic, şurup meant ‘şerbet, or a beverage sweetened with sugar. But in the Arab lands bordering on Anatolia the word ‘şerbet’ is still used as it was by the Ottomans of old.

    English travelers and envoys made the acquaintance of şerbet in the Ottoman period and borrowed the word directly into their own languages, thereby universalizing it. The renowned food historian Alan Davidson reports that ‘şerbet’ entered the Italian language as ‘sorbetto’ during the period of Ottoman-Byzantine-Venetian relations.

    Picking up the technique, the French and Italians developed a form of iced şerbet similar to that made by the Ottomans with snow or ice and called it ‘sorbet’. Thanks to French influence, the sorbet we know today has taken on a traditional dimension in all the world’s cuisines. Especially when upscale menus rich in flavors are served, the complex array of tastes can numb the palate. A sorbet is therefore offered before the main entrée to cleanse the palate and prepare it for the next course.

    The magical combination of sugar and water
    The main ingredients of şerbet are sugar and water. The widespread use of sugar especially and, simultaneously, its use as a method of preserving food ensured the appearance of jams, fruit syrups and, eventually, şerbet, which is prepared from şurup or syrup as a base. Fruits are picked fresh, boiled in sugar water, cooled when they reach a certain consistency and stored in glass jars. To make şerbet, the syrup is diluted with one-third water. Some of the additives used include the blossoms, roots, skins or rinds, and seeds of plants as well as dried fruits, sheets of dried fruit pulp (pestil), Turkish molasses (pekmez), thick, sour fruit syrups, honey and vinegar. Şerbet is usually  drunk chilled in summer but served hot in winter.

    Flower Şerbets
    The ‘Helvane’ or special Ottoman palace kitchen that was added for making sweets operated as a virtual laboratory for syrups, şerbets and desserts in general. The favorite palace şerbets were those made from flowers such as roses, lilies, violets, jonquils, jasmine, wild mignonette, oleaster and water lilies.  Among them, the şerbet made from water lilies that grow in fresh water in very small numbers was a recipe to boggle the mind!

    According such importance to the making of şerbet, the Ottoman Palace naturally employed a set of expensive utensils crafted with the skill of a jeweler for preparing and serving it.

    Despite the inevitable divide between palace cuisine and the food of the common people, when it came to şerbet the gulf was not deep at all. For şerbet was an important refreshment that was immediately offered to guests in every household.

    Clearly many factors underlie the demise of such a culture over time. But what we have actually lost is the whole web of climatic and human relations of the geography in which we live, and which gave rise to the culture of şerbet over the centuries.

    Recipes

    Strawberry syrup
    Ingredients:
    500 gr strawberries
    1 liter of water
    130 gr granulated sugar

    Preparation:
    Wash and hull the strawberries, then mix with the sugar and let stand in the refrigerator overnight. Place in a pot with water and let simmer over low heat for five minutes. Then cool. When cool, strain through a piece of cheesecloth and serve chilled.

    Black mulberry syrup

    Ingredients:
    500 gr black mulberries
    130 gr granulated sugar
    1 liter of water

    Preparation:
    Pick over and wash the mulberries, then mix with the sugar and let stand in the refrigerator overnight. Place in a pot with the water and let simmer over low heat for five minutes. Then cool. When cool, strain through a piece of cheesecloth and serve chilled.

    Rose syrup

    Ingredients:
    500 gr rose petals
    130 gr granulated sugar
    1 liter of water

    Preparation:
    Rub the rose petals with sugar. Let stand 2-3 hours until color and aroma are well blended. Add the water and let simmer over low heat for 3 minutes. Then cool. Strain through a piece of cheesecloth and serve chilled.

    Raspberry syrup

    Ingredients:
    500 gr raspberries
    130 gr granulated sugar
    1 stick of cinnamon
    1 liter of water

    Preparation:
    Pick over and wash the raspberries, then mix with the sugar and let stand 2-3 hours. Add the water and cinnamon stick, bring to a boil and let simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a strainer. Serve chilled. Fresh raspberries may be added when serving.

    Cornelian cherry syrup

    Ingredients:
    500 gr cornelian cherries
    300 gr granulated sugar
    2 tbsp lemon juice
    1 liter of water

    Preparation:
    Wash the cornelian cherries, place in a pot with half the water and boil until cooked. Strain through a strainer, crushing the fruit and saving the juice. Boil the other half of the water with the sugar. When it comes to a boil, add the fruit juice and bring back to the boil. Add the lemon juice, remove from the heat and let cool. Serve chilled.