Peace pipe or candy?

Peace pipe or candy?

Aylin Öney Tan -
Peace pipe or candy

The traditional Ottoman candy 'akide' was the sweet seal of agreement between the Janissaries, the Ottoman soldiers and the Ottoman Sultan.

It is time for Thanksgiving, the table of union and peace. The tradition began in 1621, when 51 newcomers to America hosted 90 members of the Wampanoag tribe. The event took place in the fall; the occasion was to celebrate a good harvest of corn. The celebrations lasted three days; among the food consumed were wild fowl (probably turkey) and five deer. This united celebration feast of pilgrims and natives is considered to be the start of Thanksgiving, but it was not until years later that it was hailed as a national holiday.

Initially, similar celebrations took place in Northern states, particularly in New England, whereas Southern states did not have such a tradition. In November 1789, President George Washington declared Thanksgiving a nationally-observed holiday. Later, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln established the holiday’s date in August, but later changed it to the end of November. The month of August seemed to be an appropriate time, as Thanksgiving began as a harvest celebration, but then it would be too early to combine it with Christmas. There was a history related to November; a much more logical time to start the holiday shopping craze.

Actually, in 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to move the date one week earlier, to revive the economy during the Depression, but Congress eventually accepted the last Thursday of November as the official date of Thanksgiving.

Novelties versus Old Flavors

The traditional Thanksgiving dishes can vary a lot throughout the United States. Each state seems to have almost obligatory must-have dishes, but one thing remains unchanged: All basic ingredients have to be native to the American continent. Turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, corn, cranberries; all are truly American tastes that are essential for a traditional table. The quintessential roast is always turkey, as it is the only truly American bird. Then, there are the novelties from the Old World, new tastes for the natives at least, such as the spices and basics for the celebration pie, such as butter, flour and sugar.

Spices, most typically cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and ginger, were among the precious gifts the new-comers brought from their homelands. However, there is another favorite spice on the Thanksgiving table, a new spice that almost combined all the tastes of all other typical festive spices: the allspice. Known also as pimento or Jamaica pepper, or rightly as newspice, the word “allspice” was coined in the English language coincidentally in the year 1621, the very same year as the first Thanksgiving feast. The English probably perceived the taste of this new spice as a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and named it accordingly. In the Turkish language, the naming of this spice remains loyal to its property as a novelty; we name it “yenibahar”, that is the “new spice.” In contemporary Turkish cookery, allspice is a vitally important ingredient for stuffing, alas not for roast turkey, but rather for the ubiquitous dolmas and sarmas, rice-stuffed and rolled vegetable dishes.

Nowadays, one feature of the original Thanksgiving feast, smoking the peace pipe, seems to be the one feature totally excluded from the tradition. Tobacco is another New World crop, introduced to the Old World after the Columbian exchange. Like the bird turkey, it was more than welcome in Turkey, then the Ottoman land, and it became the main incoming of peasants. Here in Turkey, smoking became a social habit, even leading to expressions like “Smoke like a Turk”. Smoking idly together with people can be a peaceful act, but it never had the role of the peace pipe here. However, we do have a substitute for a peace promise: a candy. The traditional Ottoman candy “akide,” gets its name from the word “akit,” meaning agreement, commitment or even a contract. It was the sweet seal of agreement between the Janissaries, the Ottoman soldiers and the Ottoman Sultan. This hard candy of assorted flavors was served to the Janissaries on the day of the quarterly service payment, representing the mutual sweet feelings of the government and the army, after they had made their settlement on salaries and other conditions. Eventually, the candy became a symbol of unity, of being together and staying together. Varied flavors and colors became representative of all the colors and cultures of the Empire, symbolizing peace and harmony all across Ottoman lands.  

What can be more appropriate for Thanksgiving? Thanks to the sweet tooth of the Janissaries, we are still loyal to the candy of loyalty; sucked in the cheek, “akide” continues to be the ultimate pacifier for the people of this land.

Bite of the week

Recipe of the Week: A traditional Turkish pumpkin dessert can be a good alternative to pumpkin pie; at least the taste is similar minus the crust. You can have your pumpkin readily sliced into big chunks at the market, just arrange the pumpkin pieces in a wide pan; cover with sugar; no need to measure, but a little less than half the weight of the pumpkin would be right. Leave for a couple of hours to draw out the moisture; then cook covered over low heat until tender. The sugar must be reduced to a syrupy consistency. Though not typical in Turkey, you may add Thanksgiving spices like allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, but best of all would be a sliver of orange peel and star anise. When cool, turn the contents of the pan onto a serving plate. Enjoy with lots of crushed walnuts and clotted cream.

Sweet of the Week: Spicy strong cinnamon flavored “akide şekeri” is the one flavor that most fits Thanksgiving.  I like them all, but Cafer Erol’s remains a favorite (; but the smaller assorted “akide” candies of Nar Gourmet are also hard to resist.

Cork of the Week: The sweets of Thanksgiving deserve a sweet wine: Madre by Kayra and Mahlep by Diren are good choices to go with spicy treats. The latter is flavored by the indigenous wild cherry, Mahaleb prunus, the ancestor of all cherries in the world.

This week is an opportunity to try excellent wines with matching bites in selected restaurants in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. The 6th Restaurant Week will continue till 3rd December; the list includes a tasting menu by the Michelin starred chef Tommaso Arrigoni in Ferahfeza. Check it out at: