Making flour from white beans in İspir
Wilco Van Herpen
İspir is a two-hour drive away from the center of Erzurum and its beans are of a unique variety.For years now, I have been involved in making television programs in Turkey, and on many occasions, I have managed to be very, very lucky. I seem to somehow find the right kind of people to talk to in front of the camera, I find interesting things to show people and generally the weather is also quite kind to me. This time I had to go to İspir in the province of Erzurum. İspir is a two-hour drive away from the center of Erzurum.
The reason I came to İspir was because of white beans. According to some friends of mine, İspir’s beans are of a unique variety and are worthwhile filming. On the first morning in İspir, my film crew and I left early to film locals harvesting the famous white beans and process them afterwards. On our way to the farm, I saw a beautiful stone house. There was light shining through the trees that surrounded the whole place, several objects that seemed to have been left behind and the fact that I saw what looked like a kitchen made me even more excited about the place. Once I heard that this was (and still is) an old water mill I really got excited. What if it actually were? It might not be impossible, but what if I make flour from the dried white beans and make something from that at the end of my program? I liked the idea, and decided to try to make the food that I prepare for my program there.
Harvesting the beans
At the bottom of a mountain, a farmer was waiting for us with his tractor to take us to the place where he was harvesting the beans. The view that I saw was just splendid. Suddenly, my eyes were drawn to an empty hill. The farmer explained to me that (another) dam would be built there. “Do you know that the climate of Erzurum changed after they built a dam over there?” he asked me. “It is much colder now than prior to the dam’s construction (when it was not as cold)”, he told me. We wanted to start filming when suddenly two of the girls that were working in the field told us that they did not want to be filmed. For us it became an issue as we were there to make a television program, but at the same time wished to respect those who preferred not to appear with their faces visible on television. So there I was, in the middle of this enormous field, with white beans ready to be harvested, but without anyone else other than the farmer working on this vast piece of land.
We finished filming and went down to İspir to have lunch. It was at lunchtime in İspir that the a television crew’s biggest nightmare came true; it started to rain Water came from places that I never thought was possible. It ran over my shirt, trousers and shoes and I felt like a little pussycat that had drowned (an old Dutch saying). Filming then finished for the today and we did not yet have half of the footage that we needed. We sat down, thought a lot, spoke even more and became a little bit depressed. Whatever we planned did not work out and we did not have any alternatives for the problems we faced. “Let’s have a beer”, I told my crew. I know this place near the bridge which sells beer.” We got in the car, drove downtown and found the shop in a second. Once the man understood that we were not locals he wanted to know what we were doing in İspir. After explaining what the purpose of our visit was, as well as our grievances, the guy told me that he might have an answer to our problems. “Go to the famous ice shop in town. There you will find some relatives that can help you”, he told me and off I went. I was not sure if it was going to work out but what did I have to lose? Nothing, at that time. Tomorrow it would rain and today was over.
We met some beautiful people. They knew about “kuru fasulye” (dried white beans), and said that they could help us with the water mill, given that they knew someone who would make food for us. I was more than happy; I wanted to kiss the man on both cheeks. Only an hour earlier we were completely depressed as a crew, and now this guy was saving us.
İlhan met us the next morning. He asked one of his daughters-in-law to make “Muhlama” (a kind of Suisse cheese fondue prepared with cornflower) for us. The Muhlama was beautiful and on a nicely full stomach we went to the water mills. A big group of people were waiting for us, curious about what we were going to do there. Hearing about my plan, some of the people looked worried and surprised. How could someone make flour from white beans? What are you going to do with it? I knew what I wanted but once I got into the water mill I was so taken by the three different water mills. An ingenious water system guided the water toward the mill. There it was divided over one or more channels that ran to the millstones. The stones started turning and slowly I poured in my precious white beans. Grinding sounds rose from the stones and it was not long after this that I saw the first bean flour being thrown out of the two huge stone jaws that crushed the beans.
İlhan invited us to come over to his atelier to prepare kuru fasülye (a kind of baked beans but more delicious) and show me one of his projects.
Via a very slippery road we finally reached his little “factory.” Ilhan proudly showed me around the place. The first thing he definitely wanted to show was something he himself had developed. It was a kind of dry “greenhouse.” Inside this “greenhouse” were a lot of dishes with liquid on them; the juice of a mulberry tree slowly transforming into syrup. During summer, temperatures in the “greenhouse” could reach as high as 75 degrees Celsius. I was very much surprised by the simplicity of this idea.
The “pekmez” he offered me was beautifully rich in taste and with a tantalizing aroma. Some 50 meters away from his sun-dried pekmez workshop, women were gathered around big copper pans. Under every pan there was a wood fire, with big trunks slowly being burnt away, creating a sort of nostalgic scene of how it may have been 100 years ago. By constantly stirring the big pans they thereby prevent the syrup from burning.
I said farewell to him because I had to start my contest with a local woman who was going to make baked beans for me. I, on the contrary, would make a kind of baked beans but with some strange herbs that are not that common. The idea behind the contest was to see: a) if milk gives a different taste to beans when soaked than when they are soaked in water and b) which one would be better: Turkish style baked beans or fusion? I will let you decide; for me, it was yet another lesson in life about life. Always expect the unexpected. A situation might seem to be completely hopeless, yet at the end there is (and should be) hope. My dream is that in Turkey not only the ordinary working class, but also the government, will one day understand the importance of history and the diversity of so many, sometimes delicate, cultures in Turkey.