Local is better
Time for Christmas shopping! Edible gifts are the best, more so if lovingly homemade by the gift giver. Next best is carefully chosen special gifts, a hamper full of the best artisanal produce is ideal. This year I received such a hamper full of carefully chosen items from across the country, but it was not for Christmas or New Year, it was for the nationally celebrated “Week of Domestic Goods,” a week dedicated to celebrating local produce.
It is a week that used to have a mark on every child about half a century ago, my generation remembers all the toil and fun, and sometimes the misery in putting together the grand final day at the end of the week. At the primary school, or even at the kindergarten, we would dress as local fruits and vegetables, obviously not as potatoes or onions, but rather more sophisticated locally grown items like bananas and tangerines. All novel products then, such fruits were chosen to showcase proudly that we are a self-sustained country capable of growing such goods.
Then there were the usuals, grapes, figs and apricots, of course in dried form, together with hazelnuts and walnuts. These used to be the snacks for school children anyway, I cannot believe how we switched from those healthy nibbles to sugar-rich sweet treats. Coming back to represent the mighty “Domestic Goods,” it was actually our mothers who toiled to cut out colored cardboards to make us appear as bananas or tangerines, but there was always a more talented mother who would put other kids in deep jealousy. The misery culminated when we could not memorize the verses and poems, usually it was the boys that would break in tears, feeling utterly stupid when they could not merely recite four simple lines. The fun part was to be exempt from all the boring lessons, especially when chosen as one of the privileged few to perform on stage representing a local produce. I was once a tangerine, plump and bright. Oh, those were the good old days!
I find the timing of the domestic goods week perfect, Dec. 12-18, towards the end of the year, well after all the harvest is over, when all the bounty of nature are turned into delectable products and winter provisions are fully ready to savor. But the reason for choosing the date as such has another story.
The history of the week dates back to the Izmir Economy Congress which was convened in February-March 1923, even before the announcement of the republic on Oct. 29 the same year. After the economic bottleneck following the First World War, and the country being devastated with the Turkish War of Independence, it was aimed to prevent the flow of money to foreign countries and to create awareness of social attitudes. The congress under the presidency of Atatürk made several decisions, the most important was to produce and use domestic goods, to protect the independence of the country. The manifesto was to be a self-sufficient, self-sustained country to be a fully independent country, and true independence could only be achieved by being entirely economically independent. The first decade of the young republic was devoted to proving to be so.
Later in the decade, İsmet İnönü, the prime minister of the period, made a speech in the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye on Dec. 12, 1929. In his speech, he talked about the national economy, emphasizing the importance of domestic goods. This is why Dec. 12 is the day dedicated to local produce, and starting from 1946, the whole week started to be celebrated as the week of local products. We can say that Türkiye was a pioneer in discovering locavorism, a very trendy concept nowadays.
Unfortunately, we may have had a good start, but the situation today seems to be grim. We even import lentils from Canada, shame when we think of the fact that lentils are native to Anatolia. Anyway, let’s look on the bright side. We have an amazing range of wonderful products to gift each other. From pomegranates, the symbol of bounty, to citrusy delights, from dried fruits or nuts to olives and amazing olive oils, the Christmas and New Year hampers can be full of local delights.
Tastes of the Week:
Here is a short list when it comes to giftable delectable local goods. Always a favorite, Punica pomegranate extract is the best one can find; the filtered one is fruity, ideal to use in desserts and cocktails, and the unfiltered one is more complex and tannic, ideal for savory dishes and mezes. The extract is made with a coupage of three different pomegranate varieties, and reduced without boiling to retain its fruity quality.
Another good gift is olive oil, of course, the special ones, not the ones that come in plastic bottles in supermarkets. Especially when chosen from the single olive varieties of different terroirs, a drop of olive oil can do miracles in a dish. Drop by Drop (DBD) owned by Murat Ergin and Fatih Demirkol is a very special olive oil, this year extracted under the supervision of Elvan Uysal Bottoni, a Rome-based Turkish olive oil expert taster. The design of the dark bottle is pretty to be a gift, but the real gem is hidden inside. One can choose from Memecik, Yamalak, or Domat olive varieties, or a blend bottle, all early harvest extra virgin olive oils.
Memecik variety has options, the one wild from the mountains “Memecik Dağ” is especially intriguing, an oil that captures one of the highest expressions of the rich scent spectrum of the Memecik olive variety. Aromas of green tomatoes, tomato leaves, green apples and plums are unique to this variety, which are first felt on the nose, and then these exhilarating green notes are followed by a wide family of scents, from artichoke stems to laurels, to endless herbs from the mountain, even having a hint of freshly baked bread. Mountain Memecik is like a harmonious orchestra where tomatoes and apples play a single note, as all other flavors are balanced with each other.
No gift box is complete without sweets, and Etrog- is the brand that I call “Jewels in a Jar,” my choice of gift every single year. Their fruit preserves from citrus fruit varieties are just right to have on your festive breakfast table, adorn your desserts, or go into your fruit cakes. I am particularly fond of Voltan Garmir, the blood orange preserves, and Hagar, the whole preserved kumquats, perfect to top any dessert like a jewel on the crown. All products can be found in selected gourmet shops and delicatessens and prime supermarkets.