Sweetness of sun

Sweetness of sun

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Sweetness of sun Only a single, sun-dried fig or apricot makes you feel like you’ve just popped a full basket of fruit in your mouth. In the cold of mid-winter, this is the best way to remember the sun-kissed days of summer.

Anatolia is blessed with both sun and fruits, and naturally it is a paradise for sun-dried fruits. What marks the characteristics of dried fruits is intensified flavors, enhanced aromas and concentrated sugars, all culminating in a climax of tastes that can only be achieved by the effect of the warmest sunlight. 

It is amazing that Turkey ranks first in the most dried fruits. One of every two dried figs in the world is from Turkey. Turkey has been the epicenter of the dried fig world, and the ones from Smyrna have been praised in Europe since yesteryear. Actually they were from the port of Smyrna, a.k.a. İzmir, the figs were from the inner and southern Aegean plains, mainly from Aydın. The dried figs around Aydın and Tire are legendary, especially if you can find the ones soaked in a hot thyme bath during the drying process. Wild thyme is antiseptic and acts as a natural preservative and a dip in steeped thyme tea makes the figs way tastier. Producing half of the dried fig production in the world, the area can easily be crowned with the title of “Fig Kingdom.”

Another item on the number-one list is the dried grape category. Raisins from Turkey constitute 27-30 percent of world consumption, and most grapes grown in Anatolia are not turned into wine but dried for export. The Aegean region is also an outstanding area for raisin production, but not alone in this field. Many parts of Anatolia, such as Tokat and especially southeast Turkey, grow grapes mostly for drying. The varieties of dried grapes are unbelievable, ranging from seedless sweet sultanas to almost black prune-like dark grapes with crunchy seeds. Some are tiny, perfect for fillings and cookies; some are as big as plums, with only a few serving as an ideal energy-boosting snack. There are also sweetmeats made from boiled-down grape juice, which are the ancestors of Turkish delight.

The world center for apricots must be Malatya in eastern Anatolia. Turkey produces 70 percent of all dried apricots in the world and Malatya alone produces 90 percent of the figure for Turkey. For every citizen of Malatya, there are 10 apricot trees, an amazing total of 7.5 million trees. From the fruity golden orange ones to the contrasting dark, sun-dried ones with a deep toffee flavor, the apricots of Malatya are unrivaled. For plums and prunes, Kastamonu seems to lead the way. Üryan eriği, funnily meaning the naked plum, are naked indeed, as they are painstakingly peeled before being dried.
With their sour taste, they are best with game, or the amazing pastırma, the garlicky dried beef of the town.

Apricots, figs, prunes and raisins…  This sun-kissed world of flavors is just the warmth you need for a lazy winter night in front of the fire, may be with a glass of sweet wine to go along. Recipe of the Week: “Kaymaklı Kayısı Tatlısı,” clotted cream stuffed syrupy dried apricot dessert, is a sublime taste to finish a meal, or enjoy with sweet or fortified wines. Soak ½ kg dried apricots a few hours or overnight in fresh water. Make syrup from 3 cups of water and 1.5 cups of sugar, add a few shavings of orange peel to flavor, add drained apricots and cook until the apricots are tender with the syrup thickened. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and remove from the heat. Transfer the apricots to a plate with a slotted spoon and allow to cool. Just before serving, split open each apricot and slide in a spoon or a slice of kaymak, clotted cream. Drizzle the remaining syrup over.

Bite of the week

Fork of the Week: Malatya Pazarı is the address for dried fruit fans. Every branch has a wonderful selection but the classic spot in the Spice Bazaar seems to exceed all. Apart from all the classic varieties, look out for whole dried apples, pears and the most exciting persimmons on a string. Dried persimmons are considered a delicacy in China, these are local and I bet superior in flavor. Whole apples and pears are dried slightly when pressed under weight, concentrating not only the size but also the flavor.

Cork of the Week: I was lucky enough to attend the last bit of the wine tasting class conducted by Mehmet Yalçın, Turkey’s leading writer and authority on wines and spirits. He conducted an intensified session at Wyndham hotel in Ankara; as I had deadlines to meet, I was only able to sneak into the last session. To my delight, he had brought in a few unnoticed gems from Anatolia. Here are his three picks:

Karasakız 2009 by Talay of Bozcaada; a rosy copper-hued fortified wine made by late harvest indigenous Karasakız (Kuntra) grapes of the island. This one had a lovely dried rose color, though a bit sharp with the alcohol; it rounded off its edges with chocolate-coated candied orange peel, and will be even better with sun-dried apricots.

Turasan Tannat, 2010 (Kırmızı likör şarap/Sweet wine liquor) from Cappadocia is made from the Tannat grape variety, known for its strong tannins. This bottle was reminiscent of Ruby Port wines; a shy attempt we found not cloyingly sweet and interesting with juniper and bitter almond flavors, which can be good with strong moldy cheeses or game, especially if cooked with dried fruits. It is also good with buttery cookies with raisins.

The last sample was a Mistel, again from Karasakız grapes. Çamlıbağ Tatlı Şarap Likörü (sweet wine liquor) is actually a fortified wine, another sweet sun-kissed surprise from Bozcaada that is wonderful with deep dark dried grapes and prunes.