Gastronomic gifts

Gastronomic gifts

Gift-giving season is in! When December comes, a weird kind of anxiety begins in my family. What to do for Weihnachten? Shall we lift the gift obligation and just have a festive dinner, or shall we continue with our gift-giving tradition? This German habit of taking Christmas very seriously is the legacy of my grandmother, a German-born magnificent lady who took that single night of the year as a true occasion to gather all the family together. Married to a Salonika-born Turkish man, and having raised six children in Turkey, she ended up even taking the Turkish side in national football games when there was a match between Turkey and Germany, so she became pretty Turkish in many senses, but on Weinachten night she was totally back to her German upbringing. 

The most fun part of the night was “Geschenke” opening time, where she theatrically announced each gift from whom to whom, making the funniest and most dramatic remarks. Each member of the family had to give a personal gift to all others, considering the six children, with more than a dozen of grandchildren and spouses or whatevers, the gift-giving session lasted for hours, usually turning into a performing phenomenon, fueled by her unmatched talent in dramaturgic skills. We all remember those magical nights fondly, but after she passed away, our wonderful Weihnachten nights faded by time, this gift-giving session was never the same, and we ended up even discussing to forget about this gift-giving session all together. After all we could never get even closer to the performance of the olden times and this task of finding the right gift to the right person needed a lot of creative thinking and time, in these hectic times no one seems to have the patience for such things. The stark truth was our once glorious gift session was doomed to become a burden for many. Long ago I had my own “escape” solution, I started making culinary gifts, jams, preserves, cakes, cookies or whatever, packaging them elaborately, and that was it. This meant several nights toiling in the kitchen, but I was happy, they were happy, and that was it. 

This year it is problematic. I no longer have a proper kitchen in my new makeshift arrangement living conditions. This means I do not have gift plan. 

All of a sudden I realized that there were so many people like myself, sort of urban nomads, which do not have the right facilities to make their own of food gifts. However, we all know that a good gastronomic gift wins hearts, much better than a soulless gift of a new pair of gloves or a scarf, a sweater or a shawl. 

So better to pick a gastronomic gift, next best to homemade is a carefully chosen one, either a premium product, or a beautifully designed item, they will surely be well consumed, well used and well taken. Here are a few suggestions, for stocking up your pantry, library or cupboard, all gastronomic gifts surely to be well received. 

For the Pantry: Etrog is for citrus lovers, an Adana-based small family-owned producer that describe their brand as ethnic and spiritual citrus confectionary. They make the most exquisite citrus jams and preserves from citron to bitter oranges, from kumquats to bergamot, all from their own citrus fruit orchards. Each of their preserves is inspired from history, diverse cultures and religions, myths, legends and folk stories and creatively named such as Cedro, Vortan Garmir, Hagar, Freya, El Camino, Miryam and Temeris, paying tribute to all of the cultures from the history of mankind. These preserves will bring sunshine to your winter table, either enjoyed in breakfast with good butter or clotted cream, or festively adorning your desserts or Christmas cakes like twinkling stars with their jewel-like appearance. 

For the Library: Two books that excited me this year are still on my bedside, I browse through the pages of both books from time to time, hoping that time will come when I can spare the time to read them from front page to back cover. Interestingly both books, though being worlds apart in their themes, somehow merge together in my mind; perhaps they both delve into formerly unwritten stories and paths of the past. First one came from Demet Güzey, a Turkish writer residing in Verona, Italy, a writer and lecturer on food and culture, also an avid trekker who climbed many mountains including Mont Blanc and Mount Ararat. Her book, which arrived last January, “Food on Foot- A History of Eating on Trails and in the Wild” by Rowman & Littlefield offers a fun and interesting read on the social and cultural history, developments and challenges in food on trails end in the wild. Food is essential accompanying the traveler high up in the mountains, under scorching sun in desert travel, tiresome never-ending pilgrimage trails, becomes a survival provision for the soldier in the battleground, and now it is a destination marker for street food lovers. The book is for a must-read for adventurers, the ones who travel for food, or trekkers and trailers who will explore food with a different eye. 

My second book is by the Berlin-based historian Peter Heine, a professor of Islamic studies, “The Culinary Crescent-A History of Middle Eastern Cuisine,” by Gingko Press. History and food are my passionate topics; for my mother Professor Gönül Öney, being an eminent art historian, and for myself, being a keen researcher on food, this book has been a gift, not only as a reference book, but also as a delightful reading, and packed with over 70 historical recipes to experiment. It will also be a good gift to anyone interested in the history of food, or to chefs and cooks who seek inspirations from history in creating their signature dishes, a rising trend especially among young Turkish chefs who seem to be lost in the intricate alleys of our multilayered past. I will definitely keep this book within close reach at all times in 2019.

For the Cupboard: What is more fitting to the cupboard than perfect coffee cups? Özlem Tuna is a ceramic artist who designs the most elegant handmade cups, each packed brilliantly in boxes safe to be shipped overseas. Her new line 2018 Empress Collection, inspired from the Byzantine Queen Theodora, is ideal for festive tables, either when enjoying coffee with Christmas delight or Weihnachten Plätzchen, or ending a family feast in the most royal way possible. Empress World, inspired by copper hammering techniques of coppersmiths, consists of coffee cups, bowls and trays that can be arranged in multiple combinations in service. Empress Jewel is indeed the jewel-in-the-crown, making use of 18 k gold, 925 k silver, porcelain micro mosaics and diamonds. Empress Orient pays tribute to the hospitality tradition of the Middle East, taking a modern approach fusing the tea and coffee cultures. 

Orders can be made online, or visit the showroom on Çukurcuma Caddesi, No: 36, Firuzağa Mh, Beyoğlu, Istanbul.