Moms N’ Roses
Aylin Öney Tan
When Mother’s Day comes, the right flower to gift to mom seems to be a bunch of garden roses. When on a serious date, or proposing or whatever, it has to be a single perfectly sculpted long-stemmed red rose. When the spring table is adorned with scented roses, it is a setting for guaranteed satisfaction where the tastes seem to be better. But what is in a rose that makes it so appealing, or so ideal for such special occasions? It may be a combination of beauty, perfection and innocence, but beyond everything, it is the scent of the rose that has the magnetic power of captivating hearts and minds.
The rose was a frequently referred-to topic at the recent Smell and Taste Summit organized in Istanbul, interestingly not in scent-focused talks, but in taste panels, especially in the talks of scholars who gave presentations on Ottoman medical and culinary history.
The rose holds a unique place in Turkish art and history. Flowers in general have a much-acclaimed significance being the subject of poems, hymns and enchanted tales, but it is the rose that is the ultimate symbol of elegance, sanctity and love. Beyond literature, the rose is more than a rose in Turkish culinary arts; they are cherished for their fragrance, healing and cosmetic properties and above all for their delicate taste. Roses are used in producing rose oil and rose water, as well as in confectionary sherbets, jams and many rose-flavored sweets including the famous Turkish delight.
Rose water was a household ingredient in Ottoman times, sprinkled on guests’ hands, especially when coffee was served, probably because the rose scent has a calming effect to balance the agitating power of caffeine.
Professor Ayten Altıntaş, an expert in the history of Ottoman medicine, claims that rose scent has sedative properties; in mental asylums there were special caretakers called “güllabici,” litarally translated as “rose-water carriers” who would try to calm down patients having tantrums by dousing rose water on them. Similarly, rose water is offered abundantly to guests who visit a funeral house to pay their condolences, again to lift the spirits and relieve the sorrow. In general, it can easily be said that rose water is associated with a sense of wellbeing. One can presumably say that the much-loved “kolonya,” eau de cologne-sprinkling habit in Turkey stems from this fondness for rose water.
Rose water becomes even more abundantly noticeable on Ramadan days. In our memories, the rose scent is unconsciously related with religion. The rose was believed to be the favorite flower of Prophet Muhammad, and it was praised in the works of Ibn Sina, the famous polymath, physician and medicinal expert of the Islamic world, known in the West as Avicenna. Ibn Sina attributed great importance to the therapeutic properties of the rose, suggesting that the rose addresses the soul with its exquisite fragrance. He also believed that it is beneficial against fainting, can calm rapid heartbeats and moreover improves the brain’s cognitive power, enhancing comprehension and strengthening memory.
Professor Altıntaş says that was the best kept secret of imams: rose oil was dropped on the pages of the Quran to boost memorization; in that way, it was easier to recite the holy book from memory. Last but not least, güllaç is definitely the crown -jewel sweet of Ramadan. Deriving its name from the rose, güllaç means rose food, originally “güllü aş,” literally “food with roses.” The paper-thin sheets of starch wafers are soaked and swelled in rose-scented sweetened milk. It is simple and elegant. It is like mother’s scent combined with mother’s milk, ultimately soothing like a cradle that sways you safely above the clouds.
Roses are like mothers; with their sweet fragrance, they are as comforting as a mother’s embrace. Salute mothers not only for a single day, but every day, at every occasion and whenever you smell a rose!
Fork of the Week: Neolokal restaurant in Istanbul makes occasional four-hand pop-up dinners with world famous chefs from around the world, together with their talented creative chef Maksut Aşkar, who I like to call the magical flying carpet of Turkish cuisine. One recent pop-up was with Josean Alija, chef of Nerua Restaurant at the Guggenheim Bilbao, famous for its sublime, simple yet elegant cuisine and pure tastes. I was lucky to attend the dinner but even more lucky to accompany them in their visit to the Spice Bazaar. Upon tasting the güllaç at Pandeli restaurant prepared by chef Bayram Karaçam, Josean ordered packages of güllaç sheets, obviously intrigued by the ingredient, already developing his own recipes in his mind. I’m volunteering for the tasting and promise to carry loads more to Bilbao, even more so if Maksut flies over there to do another four-hands presenting his own güllaç version. Meanwhile, you can create your own versions. I suggest using the best of the best and most classic güllaç wafers by Saffet Abdullah. Check their site for güllaç recipes, but I’d cut the sugar by half or even more. To my taste 200 grams of sugar per liter of milk is just right. http://www.saffetabdullah.com.tr/eng/recipes.php
Cork of the Week: When talking about roses, suggesting rosé wines is inevitable. Starting from almost white, Allure 2018 by Kayra is a right choice; it is practically a Blanc de Noir made with red Kalecik Karası grapes, with only a slight pinkish tint. If you wish for a more rosy pink, keep in mind that Prodom Rosé 2018 received 86 points in the recent Master Class tastings in Istanbul, and LA Smyrna Blush 2018 got a bronze medal at the International Wine Challenge in London.