Fall is for flavor

Fall is for flavor

I was dragging my feet early in the morning to the local market place with a group of foodies along with me. My eyes half-open, I was not even fully awake. It was a 15-minute walk from our countryside hotel, too long for my pre-breakfast, pre-coffee body after a long night of feasting. When the first stalls started to appear all of a sudden my eyes were wide open. A man was selling morel mushrooms, all in perfect condition. Another lady in our group jumped with joy when she found a long-lost rice variety of her childhood. It was the small almost translucent rice with pink streaks, the one that used to be the favorite of our grandmas. Now I was fully awake and active, scanning every stall to find a hidden treasure.

That small market place last spring in Daday made me want to return as soon as possible. I was leading a gastronomy tour by Fest, a leading travel agent that specializes in well-constructed culture-oriented boutique tours, and Kastamonu was their new gastronomy tour destination. When it comes to gastronomy, few would list Kastamonu as a top priority destination though it has an interesting cuisine incredibly rich in a diverse range of products. I had the chance to turn back last week, just to see that fall is even better for such a food treasure hunt safari in markets. Saturday market in the city of Kastamonu was full of fall flavors; this time it was not morels as they only appear in spring, but all other autumn mushrooms, plus there were wild fruits from the nearby forests such as hawthorns, wild plums, thorn apples, rosehips etc. The more exciting was all the sugarless pastes and marmalades made with them, especially the sweet sour plum fruit leathers, so rich yet so fresh with a lovely tang.

Kastamonu has many products with geographical indication and dishes having designation with origin listed by the Patent Institute in Ankara, the government authority responsible for giving appellation labels. The rice that made people in my group excited is one of them, the Tosya rice, once widely popular, now a rarity. But the most renowned product of the town must be the siyez, an ancient wheat variety, Triticum monococcum, actually the oldest wheat variety that was domesticated by mankind. Siyez was little recognized until a few decades ago, almost on the verge of extinction.

Fall is for flavor

In Kastamonu it was mostly grown as fodder, with a little portion kept aside for the own consumption of peasants, mainly consumed in the form of bulgur. Somehow it was not considered of commercial value as other wheat later-developed varieties dominated the market.

In the recent years, siyez became a fad, the most sought after product in the Turkish market. The reason mostly was dietary concerns; it was the new miracle grain, low in gluten and high in proteins. Almost instantly it became the most recommended functional food by doctors, dieticians, phytotherapists who appeared in TV shows bragging about the virtues of the grain. Chefs were not short of joining this craze; all of a sudden it was in the menus of high-end restaurants with fashionable hybrid dish names such as siyez risotto. When in Kastamonu, you cannot avoid products made with this miracle grain; the list is endless, 100 percent siyez flour breads, new Italian-style pastas along with traditional bulgur, cookies, savory crackers and so on. Even the local specialty çekme helva, the surprisingly flaky, melt-in-the-mouth delicate sweet morsels, made with rolling pulled sugar threads in a flour and butter mixture, has the siyez version, resulting in a more nutty wholesome taste.

Another very famous product of Kastamonu is the one that is almost impossible to avoid once you set foot in the city: The garlic! The local grown in Taşköprü district is considered the best in the world, exceptionally high in selenium, iron and sulphur content due to the soil composition of the territory. When we visited the city in early spring, it was the only time when the garlic was not available, but in autumn months mounds of garlic are everywhere, in braided bundles, peeled in vacuum packs, even the black garlic referred to as the black gold by locals. Black garlic is another new health food fad, fermented in humid warm chambers for 45 to 90 days, resulting in a creamy pulp, almost sweet, reminiscent of dried prunes and completely devoid of the strong garlic odor. But, of course, I must admit that a visit to the city there is no escape from that haunting smell that seems like chasing one around every corner. That might be because pastırma, the local pastrami, and sucuk - fermented sausages - are also boosting with garlicky flavors as copious amounts of the stuff. One cannot resist buying all, but I must warn you, your suitcases may remain smelling very, very garlicky for a long time.

Autumn leaves started to keep falling. Now it is time to savor the flavors of fall, the winter provisions that make the best of the bounty of summer month. Last week I left Kastamonu market without the garlic bundles but with a colorful hawthorn necklace resembling deep red coral and bright yellow amber beads.

I cannot wait to return to Kastamonu, may be to hunt for porcini mushrooms, pick barberries in the forest or seek to find the rare barberry extract that is almost like a magic potion. They say that the market I missed on Sundays in Devrekhane district is even better, definitely worth a detour with lots of villagers selling their own produce. Who knows, a detour might be very soon!