Masters of Mother Earth
Women’s power overcomes all. It’s not for nothing that the earth, which feeds humankind, is called “mother,” in Turkish “Toprak Ana.” “Mother Earth” is nurturing. She gives life and is the source of the existence of all living creatures. Who masters the earth and works the soil is mostly women. In Anatolia, women take part in all steps of working the land, harvesting its bounty, and furthermore, they are the ones who prepare all foodstuffs, whether for stocking the pantry or for bringing the soup to the table. It is women who cook the blessings of the Earth by the stove, prepare winter supplies, roll the thinnest sheets of flatbread, make tomato paste, and stand hours near the open fire to reduce grape molasses. The kitchen culture lives on at the hands of women; passed down from mother to daughter, from grandmother to grandchild.
However, when it comes to being a restaurateur in the kitchen business, it seems like that it is always male chefs dominating the sector. Women are usually considered not fit to do the heavy workload of a professional kitchen, despite the fact that there is even a tradition in Anatolia of women cooks preparing food in wedding celebrations. Moreover, some of the fine works in kitchens always have been left to women. Have you ever seen a man folding “mantı,” the minuscule Turkish dumplings, or rolling out “gözleme,” the thin flatbread folded with fillings of sorts, or wrapping “dolma” or “sarma,” the stuffed vine leaves? These are dishes left solely to the mastery of women. Each tiny “mantı” folded with the same precise perfection or “sarma” rolled with loving embrace are always from the hands of mothers and neighbor aunties, who are affectionately called “teyze,” the word for aunt in Turkish, even though they are not relatives. It is the same group of neighbor “aunties” that unite their workforce and wise expertise in making the homeliest of all winter provisions, “tarhana;” a dried soup mix. The magic of homemade “tarhana” is different, especially abroad -- the smell of home yearned deeply, a warm mother’s embrace itself.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, everyone started to adopt methods of ordering local products. There are many options available in the market. Some are options collected from local producers by white collars, which are formed by urbanites, while some are establishments formed directly by local producers. But the most precious are women cooperatives that have recently thrived. It is infinitely valuable for women to come together to produce food and earn their family’s keep by marketing these. The women save up every penny that they make for their children’s future - either for their daughter’s dowry or their son’s wedding - but first and foremost, they set aside the money to get their children through school, spending nothing for themselves. Women’s cooperatives not only enable a woman to form an economic power, but also create an environment to socialize and get together. In many cases, they provide kindergarten opportunities for the care of small children. Women’s cooperatives form a new model for women to get out of their house and take part in the production and social life. What needs to be celebrated during Women’s Day are the anonymous heroes of women’s cooperatives and associations that are progressing across all corners of this country. The true masters of earth and nature are surely these women.
Seven wonders of women’s cooperation
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a project aiming to support seven women organizations from seven regions, seven provinces. The project was initiated in 2018 by Hilton İstanbul Bosphorus Hotel, titled “Yerel Mutfak-Global Lezzet,” which can be translated as “Local Kitchens-Global Tastes,” aiming to incorporate regional cuisines of Turkey to the repertoire of the hotel’s kitchen, making it accessible to the international guests. They did several events, each time hosting a different region in their Lalezar restaurant, bringing also these aunties to work in their hotel’s kitchen to teach chefs their home cooking; the authentic taste of their local cuisines. The project was a mastermind of two women; Şule Kadak, the communication consultant from Sade İletişim, and Ferah Diba Yağan, the commercial director of Hilton İstanbul Bosphorus. It was a brilliant idea that could lead to an inventory of Anatolian regional cuisines, but alas, it was halted abruptly due to the pandemic. Or so we thought!
Last Saturday, they arranged a great get-together, this time thanks to zoom technology; it was possible to bring together all these women together for the first time. They never had the opportunity to see each other, as they always had their own weeks of taking over the hotel kitchen but never have been in the same place at the same time. After listening to their stories, I felt like calling them “Seven Wonders of Women,” most have heartbreaking stories, but their cheerful attitude is contagious. This joyfulness was apparently stemming from their success and empowerment, in a way realizing their dreams that once seemed impossible to achieve. We also tasted their recipes sent to our homes in jars, prepared by Hilton’s chef Savaş Özkılıç, the only male person in our all-women get-together, accompanied with wine sent by Neptün Soyer from Seferihisar, a bottle of sublime single-vineyard Syrah from Ayda, Seferihisar. Some women ended up singing during our convivial virtual table, a more effective and natural way of conveying emotions beyond words.
Here is the list of seven women wonders; we wish it to be 77 and beyond in the nearest future possible. Trabzon: Holefter & Ligene Women’s Solidarity Association; Adana: Kınalı Eller (Hennaed Hands), Salmanbeyli Women’s Development Association; Kars: Hanımeli Kars Kitchen; İzmir, Seferihisar: Hıdirlik Agricultural Development Cooperative; Antakya: Defne Women’s Initiative; Mardin: GAP Medrese Gül ÇATOM and Giresun: Şeyhli District Beautification and Development Association.