Lush and local

Lush and local

Lush and local “What makes food “local?” And why does “the local” matter when we speak of food?” This was how Melissa Caldwell, the editor of Gastronomica, reflected on the relationship between the locality of food, the sizzling hot topic of the culinary circles. She was asking these questions in her editorial in the latest summer issue of the quarterly journal of food and culture. She went on to ponder further:

“These are questions that vex scholars, farmers, activists, commercial food producers and ordinary people alike. Desires to protect “local” cultures and unique traditions against globalization, to call attention to the particular landscapes and communities in which food production and consumption occur, or to recognize and experience a unique flavor palate believed to emanate from a specific locale are all embedded within concerns that ‘the local’ is a place that exists and that informs the values and qualities attached to food.” 

I never expected I was going to quote Caldwell’s exact words when I was invited to a lunch to taste the dishes created by Chef Vedat Başaran making use of the new fruit juices launched by Tropicana. I was sort of biased, not being familiar popular U.S. juice brands; the name suggested to me cheesy beach side cocktails served with colorful paper umbrellas. While listening to their ideas, how they named their new juice series, and how they aimed at emphasizing the importance of local, my prejudice started to wither away. There was an insistent reference to collaborating with anthropologists, designers and experts on consumer behavior, etc. The company apparently had conducted a vast survey studying the potentials of fruit juices in Turkey, without disregarding the social and cultural contexts. They tried to understand how people associated themselves with particular fruit varieties native to their hometowns. Fruits are like symbols of identity. Now that meant something, this was a fresh approach, as fresh as the fruits they were passionately talking about, in a country where most fruits originated.

To my astonishment the key anthropologist in collaboration involved in this fresh approach turned out to be Melissa Caldwell. The wisdom and knowledge behind local agricultural practices are invaluable, and Caldwell and Gastronomica stand firm behind such principles. There is a reason why a particular produce is famed in a particular place but not the other. Most Anatolian towns grow good cherries, almost all have their own cherry festivals, but some localities stand out with their exceedingly high quality. The same goes for apples and pomegranates. Every particular local variety has its own particular properties. Pomegranates in particular can vary from acidy astringent to syrupy sweet, some mouth puckering from rich tannins, with a color range from ruby red to a translucent creamy white.

Some regional fruits are so special that the cities where they grow are usually famed for these specific fruits – Bursa for peaches, Amasya for apples and Malatya for apricots. People in Turkey are very fond of their origins in terms of regional ancestry. After all, Anatolia has always been known for its lush fruit groves and luscious fruits, always mentioned in travelers’ accounts. And in that sense, Tropicana conquers the hearts, minds and palates of Turkey’s peoples by striking the regional chord. It is also a clever marketing strategy; I could not help but wonder how on earth any other juice company did not come up this idea before. Probably, because they contribute to production all over the country, moreover most importantly, Tropicana does invest in sustainable fruit groves all around Turkey. Their campaign in sustaining and developing fruit farming includes a project on gardening schools, teaching farmers how to maintain and graft fruit trees. 

It is interesting that the leading fruit juice company in the world, owned by the giant corporate PepsiCo, invests in local crops, not for sheer profit, but for local identity. 

Is it really happening, or even possible, that the global can go local and make local produce globally popular?

Bite of the week

Recipe of the Week: Using fruit juices in recipes is a brilliant idea we keep forgetting about. Some Tropicana juices are so thick that they can be used as fruit pulp or puree to make sweet or savory sauces. Just by reducing the juices and adjusting a bit of the seasoning you can have an instant sauce with thick nectars like quince, peach or apricot. All are slightly sweetened, but can match up with wild game and fowls with an addition of salt and some spice or chilies. Here is a recipe that can be used as a sauce with game or fowl. Sautee 1 clove of crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds in 2 tablespoons of butter – take care not the burn the garlic – add 1 lt of quince juice with 1 teaspoon salt, simmer until it is reduced by half. Adjust seasoning; you may add a bit of black pepper or hot chili pepper. Serve as a sauce.

Cork of the Week: Well I must admit that, some of the Tropicana are totally fit for cocktails; I can imagine a perfect cosmopolitan with their clear pomegranate juice. Although it’s a bit watery compared with some brands, it’s far less sweet and rich with the tannins of pomegranate skins. The Çanakkale tomato is ideal for a Bloody Mary, but my real discovery is the Silifke Çilek, the strawberry nectar. For a smooth and silky Strawberry Colada just use Silifke Çilek instead of pineapple juice in your favorite Colada recipe.

Fork of the Week: Fruit and meat stews constitute an almost forgotten category in Turkish cuisine. Few restaurants try to bring these dishes back; the pioneer in this trend was Çiya at Kadıköy. Dishes at Çiya change according to season, these days apple & lamb stew is in the menu, soon quince stews will appear.