Hop heaps pile up for hope

Hop heaps pile up for hope

Late summer is harvest time everywhere. As peasants toil in the fields, their minds are often worried about how the market price figures will be for their crops.  In Turkey, there are cases when most of the crop is left in the field in fear that it won’t be worth the effort to harvest or dumped on roads or rivers for protest. One tiny region in Turkey does not go through such worries. Turkey’s northwestern province of Bilecik in the Marmara region, located in the east of Bursa, most locals are happy to grow hops, which is the most profitable crop to be grown in their lucky region.

In many cases the traditional crops of choice gravitate to staples such as grains, as they give sustenance to locals even if they are not sold, they feed their families and livestock helping to survive till next season. Convincing locals to grow alternative crops outside their comfort zone is not easy, especially the inedible industrial ones. The case with tea cultivation had been one example in the early years of the Turkish Republic. It took great efforts of the state to persuade the stubborn Black Sea people to grow tea, where they remained reluctant though their harsh geography and humid climate that did not leave them with many options. However, Bilecik is situated in lush green geography, suitable to grow almost anything from grains to fruits, from legumes to vegetables. Interestingly hop seems to be the safest bet for many as the principal buyer is only a stone throw away and they have their agreement, which is fixed in 10-year intervals beforehand, their yield estimated and their income secured. Especially, the villagers of Pazaryeri district are now mostly hop growers, busy harvesting these days in late August till early September.

Hop cultivation in Bilecik, Pazaryeri was initiated by the Anadolu Efes Group in the early 1970s. The very first hop cultivation trials were started by the state-owned Atatürk Orman Çiftliği back in 1935 by trying to cultivate Czechoslovakian hop. The first attempts failed, during World War II, import of hop was impossible and wild hop remained the only choice. In 1955, the Ministry of Agriculture took the task of research on hop agriculture and started testing 14 imported hop varietals in various locations, and finally, after a five-year testing period, Bilecik was chosen as the best suitable spot. In the light of this research, Anadolu Efes Group invested in the region to create a win-win scheme both for the company sustaining their 60 percent of their annual supply in their brewing industry and providing a guaranteed income for the growers.

Hop is an interesting plant. Humus lupulus in Latin, it is a true climber often regarded as a vine but actually is a bine, which clings to surfaces with its stiff sticky hairs that aids climbing high up. The plant looks like the ambitiously growing bean of the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, reaching as high as seven or eight meters that one can easily imagine watching it grow. Every year the plant collapses back to its rhizome form, so it is a repetitious growth cycle every single year.  Today, hop stands for hope for Pazaryeri growers, every single year their trust on the plant is renewed, bringing more growers shifting to base their hopes in hops. Hopefully, it will be a sustainable agriculture model for many other cases, just what we need in the blurry times of a doubtful future.

Recipe of the Week:

This recipe was developed over time in our kitchen adapting to a variety of tastes, one ingredient remaining unchanged, lots of pours of beer, the hoppier the better. Here is the chicken version, which goes well with pale ales or IPA’s. In a nonstick pan, seal boneless chicken thighs on both sides until well browned, salt and season, and set aside chicken pieces in a plate keeping warm. In the same pan, add about three onions, half-moon sliced, add one teaspoon salt and sauté until golden. Return the chicken pieces back to the pan.  Add herbs and spices of your choice. I use caraway and coriander seeds with a few sprinkles of Chinese five-spice powder, or just caraway seeds for a decidedly Bayerisch touch, but for a Mediterranean feel, go for fresh rosemary or marjoram. Now the indispensable ingredient, top the pan with beer until chicken pieces are almost covered. Cover and cook for about five minutes or until the beer is reduced to a thick sauce.  Pair it with beer you used for cooking, well chilled of course, and enjoy the hot-cool contrast of the hoppy taste.

Cork of the Week:

I am overly excited when seasonal special edition appears in the market and now feel equally sorry for having missed the white opaque cool bottle of the summer blue edition I kept searching for in my neighborhood.  Finally, I learned that stocks ran out this summer, so grab a few bottles if you are lucky to find them. The same will soon happen for unfiltered IPA, so stock some to end summer in a hoppy happy way.

Fork of the Week:

Anything fried really goes well with beer.

In Bilecik, at a table set elegantly in between rows of hop vines, I devoured copious amounts of fried okra with +1 series of beers, fermented one day extra with malt, hence the deeper taste. The patent, which was first developed in Turkey, is a method that is waiting to be added as a new technique to the world’s brewing industry.

Aylin Öney Tan,