Artichoke calendar

Artichoke calendar

Artichoke calendar

When May comes, for Istanbul the artichoke season has officially started. May must be the most beautiful month of the spring season. May means lots of greens and fresh flavors on the tables. It also means youth and renewal. In fact, the word “Maius,” which gives this month its name, stands for growth in Latin. In Roman mythology, the goddess Maia is the symbol of growth and greenery. It is not for nothing that Atatürk named May 19 as Youth and Sports Day. Hıdırellez, the foremost spring festival, sort of a May Day in Turkish tradition, will be celebrated next weekend on May 5-6. On the night of May 5, people will jump over the fire to get purified and leave the old year’s troubles behind, and on May 6, they will have a picnic in the open fields in the countryside, joyfully transitioning from winter days to summer days. In the past, the folk calendar was divided into summer and winter, the period starting from May 6 until Nov. 7 was called Hızır Days, aka the verdant days, this green period was considered the summer season, and the period from Nov. 8 to May 5 was called Kasım Days, the winter period until next Hıdırellez.

May is the month where tables are adorned with fresh vegetables like artichokes and of course with succulent lamb dishes. In the old days, it was considered a sin to slaughter a lamb in Istanbul until Hıdırellez day. Muslim butchers would never sell lamb meat, but when Hıdırellez came, lamb dishes adorned the tables; in a sense, the lamb season was officially opened. For example, Sultan Abdülhamit’s annual spring feast for soldiers and high school students in Kağıthane used to include stuffed lamb, accompanied by dishes such as pilaf with lamb, artichokes with olive oil, green salad followed by semolina halva with milk. As this menu demonstrates it was a must to have both lamb and artichokes as the main meat and vegetable choice to celebrate the spring.

Artichoke days

I might be a true artichoke fanatic. I don’t even remember when and how I started to love artichokes. Artichokes were very hard to find in Ankara where I grew up, but they were always present on our table when in season. Even when not available fresh, we would buy preserved artichokes in glass jars from the only shop that would stock them, namely Rifat Minare, making their own conserves right from their farm. Maybe my first true love for artichokes was formed in Istanbul because we traveled back and forth to Istanbul a lot as family, and then it was deepened when my parents moved to Izmir where artichokes are much loved. Istanbul cuisine undoubtedly has the most refined artichoke dishes. The fat fleshed Bayrampaşa variety coaster-sized artichoke bottoms are sold stripped from their leaves, like little saucers, ready to be cooked, a great commodity for home cooks as cleaning artichokes is a hassle.

Artichoke is actually a flower as we all know, they are the blooms of passion of all the countries around the Mediterranean, its season marches from south to north. In Türkiye, the artichoke blossoms first bloom in the Mediterranean region, and then move towards the Aegean coast, reach their peak in Istanbul, it is undoubtedly the shared favorite of the spring table in a vast geography.

The blooming time of this flower varies from climate to climate, and the ideal time differs in each region. Just like the cherry blossom Sakura days in Japan, artichoke days move from south to north, and nowadays, thanks to quicker means of transport, fresh artichokes can be available for almost all four seasons of the year. In our country, the first artichokes come from the south, from Hatay, Adana, Antalya and even Cyprus artichokes can come into play. Some of the artichokes grown in the south go directly to other countries, for example even to Russia, which does not normally have artichokes in its culture, but now is a serious artichoke buyer. The so called “sakız enginar,” a tasty variety which has a tulip-like form, artichokes of Aegean region, start to appear in the İzmir and Aydın region in April. The area around Torbalı and Urla has become a serious artichoke production area. This year Urla celebrated artichoke days on April 28-30. Moving north, the artichoke season continues in Bursa with the famed Bayrampaşa artichoke. May-June is the ideal time for the broad-based fleshy Bayrampaşa artichoke, which is preferred by the classic Istanbul cuisine which also grows abundantly in the districts around Istanbul. When I recently called “Enginar Dünyası” (literally, Artichoke World), a tiny shop frequented by artichoke lovers in Kurtuluş district, informs us that artichokes are now cultivated in many places starting from Adapazarı to Bolu, where their season extends till July-August. They also have their artichoke growers in places like Taraklı and Göynük, so they can offer their customers fresh field artichokes until the end of summer. By the way, let us inform you that the Taraklı artichoke received Geographical Indication about five months ago.

Fork of the Week: We have many addresses for artichoke lovers. If you go to Urla, at Beğendik Abi, enjoy all kinds of artichokes either cooked with meat and or braised in olive oil. OD Urla has the daintiest plates made with baby artichokes, not only to savor, but also to enjoy as a joy for the eye. I heard that the restaurant of Alavya Boutique hotel in Alaçatı has a new spring menu totally dedicated to artichokes, which is in my top list to try. Ayna Cunda in Ayvalık has written a book on 40 kinds of artichoke dishes, every single variety should be tasted. Visitors to Bodrum should head to Lika, the new restaurant of Bird Cage 33 boutique hotel, the menu created by Sara Tabrizi is not to be missed, and her artichoke pâté is exceptional. The signature artichoke dish of Alaf in Istanbul blooms like a pretty flower, almost too pretty to eat. And the breaking news, the new BİZ Istanbul restaurant to be opened to public on May 6, just the day of Hıdırellez, which is situated at the rooftop of AKM, Atatürk Cultural Centre, has phenomenal artichoke soup, a velvety delight with tiny artichoke morsels as soft as Turkish delight.

Aylin Öney Tan,