Bone of Turkey

Bone of Turkey

Bone of Turkey

She never cooked until the age of 57. She did not need to learn cooking; after all she was a princess. Her first dish turned out to be a work of art, not that it was smashing tasty, or beautifully presented, but because she had an eye to turn even trash into art. This is the story of a Turkish artist, turned into a princess, and how she started her series of sculptures.

This story is true, but only partly, many details are missing. Here is a longer version: The late Iraqi Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid was born as a Turkish girl, with the name Fahrünissa Şakir, into an Ottoman elite family in Istanbul, and raised in Büyükada, known as Prince’s Island, just off the coast of Istanbul. She led a myriad of intriguing lives. As said, she did not need to cook, not because she was a princess but as she was raised in a well-off big family with plenty of maids to take care of the daily housework. The family was full of creative people, but they never lacked drama. At the tender age of 12 her father was shot dead by her brother Cevat Şakir (who would later become an eminent writer in banishment), this was a blast all family members suffered throughout all their lives. She found refuge in painting, but did not intend to become an artist until later in life. She got married to Turkish novelist İzzet Melih Devrim with whom she had three children, of whom the youngest died in infantry. She led a colorful life as a modern woman in the young Turkish Republic together with her first husband, often appearing within the close circle of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic. In one such occasion, the letter “Ü”, that is “U” with umlauts, was created after her name Fahrünissa, and accepted into the modern Turkish alphabets, which replaced the Perso-Arabic script.

She did not hesitate to leave her life in Turkey to marry the Iraqi diplomat Prince Zeid Al-Hussein, who was then the ambassador of Iraq in Turkey. She would later change her name to Fahrelnissa, the Arabicized version of her name. Becoming a princess by marriage, she set sail to an interesting life in European capitals. Needless to say, she did not need to cook as an ambassador’s wife either.

She was interested in art at an early age. In the 1940s she was introduced to the d-group of artist central to the development of modern art in Turkey. She was a pioneer in huge-scale abstract paintings in the late 1940s through 1960s; she had several exhibits in London, Paris, Berlin, and Istanbul. But being a female Muslim artist making abstract paintings, she was swept aside from the history of contemporary painting.

Coming back to how the turkey bone inspired her art, it starts with the military coup in Iraq in 1958. The coup caused a drastic change in Zeid’s life as her husband’s family was assassinated, and they were deprived of their status. No longer having the benefits of an ambassador’s life, she had to learn how to cook. Her very first attempt was as ambitious as her paintings, a big whole turkey for Christmas. When she was dumping the remains of the turkey, the carcass captured her eye, as a sculpturesque piece too beautiful to waste. That is how she started to create what she named “paléokystallos” sculptures made from painted poultry bones and cast in resin. Who would ever guess a feast of turkey from an inexperienced cook would be turned into an experimental artwork late in the 1950s that would be on display in exhibitions in Tate Modern in London or Kunsthalle in Berlin after a lapse of 60 years?

Now that this week is the time for a feast of turkey on Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 23, make sure not to throw away your turkey bone this year; it has the potential to turn into a work of art!

Note down: If visiting Berlin these days, take a look at the retrospective exhibition of Fahrelnissa Zeid at Deutsche Bank KunstHalle where the first turkey bone sculpture and other “paléokystallos” sculptures will be on display. The exhibition was previously at the Tate Modern, and will be open until March 25, 2018.


Recipe of the Week: When trying to cope with a huge turkey, a simple dessert comes to the rescue. This recipe is easy and satisfying that it will become your winter favorite. Choose smallish apples, Amasya variety works best in Turkey; core apples but do not peel them. Prepare a mixture of any chopped dried fruits, such as figs, apricots, dates, sultanas, black grapes, prunes; a handful or a few of each will be more than enough, add a few chopped walnuts as well, it should add to about 2- 2½ cups enough for a dozen apples. Sweeten with one or two tablespoons of honey or molasses, season with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Fill each apple with the fruit mixture, top with a walnut half and a knob of butter. Bake for 45-50 minutes at 180°C, serve warm with chilled whipped cream.


Fork of the Week: Dried fruits are great to adorn a Thanksgiving table. The usual address is Malatya Pazarı, which has several branches in many cities. Never go for the sugared imported ones, but look for the local dried fruits which are fantastic, dried black grapes, sun-dried apricots, wild purple figs or yellow Aydın figs, slightly pressed while drying, hung dried persimmons, all are just right for a lavish Thanksgiving feast. The original shop at the Spice Bazaar, (Mısır Çarşısı aka Egyptian Bazaar) stocks also whole dried bunches of black grapes, which will decorate your table wonderfully.


Cork of the Week: If Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November, just a week before is the Beaujolais Nouveau time on the third Thursday of November. Produced by Gamay grapes in Beaujolais region of France, it is surely the most popular “Vin de Primeur,” the new freshly fermented wine of the season. In France, the excitement is at its peak at 12:01 a.m., late at night on Wednesday, when the first bottles are released. In Turkey the only Vin de Primeur is produced by the Kavaklıdere winery with indigenous grapes, Öküzgözü for red, Sultaniye for white, so both has a distinctive local character. Kavaklıdere Primeur 2017 is released now, for your Thanksgiving feast start with the zesty white resembling Portugese vinho verde, and continued with the lively red, having pieces of banana, cinnamon and cherry, perfect for a fall table with roast turkey.

Aylin Öney Tan, Fork and Cork, Food,