Sweet smell and sugar

Sweet smell and sugar

Aylin Öney Tan- aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Sweet smell and sugar

How would you describe the taste of a fruit? In most cultures it is usually the sweetness that counts, of course, with a certain acidity that will balance the sweetness with just the right amount of tartness. Some cultures appraise more tartness in a fruit, in Turkey we even have a peculiar fondness for unripe fruits. The color is another appealing factor, so much so that we often name some colors with akin fruits. The texture is also key to perfection. Some fruits require certain crispiness, or a firm flesh, but some need that mellow softness to be fully enjoyed. The juiciness is another factor; we often prefer fruits bursting with juice, rather than ones that will leave your tongue puckered with dryness. But what about smell? Apparently many cultures, especially in eastern geographies, from Turkey eastwards to Iran and beyond and throughout Asia, it is the fragrance of a fruit that counts the most.

In the Ottoman world, fragrance was much admired, fruits were rated not according to their taste and sweetness, but more praised for their smells; the more fragrant the better. The heavily-perfumed fruits would often be likened to musk, a precious flavoring agent that comes from Asia. The deeply-scented musk is the glandular secretion of musk deer that comes enclosed in a hairy skin called musk pod. The musk deer is an inhabitant of Tibet and the Himalayas and the high-forested lands of Siberia, Mongolia and China. The substance was used as a perfume since ancient times, and in the Ottoman kitchen it was even used as a very expensive flavoring, especially for sweets and sweet drinks like sherbets. Perhaps, with the affiliation of fragrance and sweetness that is essential to the perfection of a fruit, sherbets had to have a sweet smell.

One thing is for sure; though a long-lost flavoring, musk had influenced the perception of taste and smell forever in Turkish culture. In Ottoman times, the term misk was synonymous with good smell, now reduced to mis in contemporary Turkish. The popular term “mis gibi,” literally “like ‘mis’” refers to anything fragrant, usually used for fresh and clean smells, but it is not confined to olfactory sensations; actually anything that is clean-cut, perfect, excellent, satisfying, well-done can be called as such. In short, it is widely used in many other cases with a strongly positive significance.

The name originates from Persian muşk and Arabic misk, and in old Greek moskhatos meant musk-flavored. The term was eventually used for very fragrant fruits, mostly for grapes and melons, that is the root of the famed Muscat, Muscatel, Muskateller or Moscato grapes. In Ottoman fruit glossary, any fruit that was sweet smelling used to be tagged with the epithet “misket;” if a grape, melon, apple or pear was highly fragrant, compared to other usual varieties would be categorized with reference to the word “misk.” Even lime, a newcomer to Ottoman lands, was named as “misket limonu,” literally “musk lemon,” as it was perceived as more fragrant than the usual lemon.

It is a pity that we are losing fast our “misket” tagged heirloom fruits and sweet smelling desserts and sherbets in our cuisine. The Eid al-Fitr, also known as Şeker Bayramı - Sugar Bayram, is approaching; it might be the right time to add some sweet smells to our sweets, and celebrate not only pure sweetness, but also the heavenly perfumes that smell so sweet.

Fork of the Week:

When searching for a fragrant sweet in Ottoman cuisine, other than the ones that only depend on rose water, I found this recipe, which appeared in the Turkish Cookery Book by Turabi Efendi, the first Ottoman cookbook printed in the English language in 1862. Named Lamunya Kaymağı, it is like a mousse or creamy jelly that combines fragrant fruits and essence of rose or orange flower; it sounds deliciously fresh and clean tasting and fragrant. I would say “mis gibi,” definitely worth trying for an early summer feast. I’m copying it as it is written:

181: Làmūnyà Kāymàghi – Take off the stalks of a pound of strawberries or raspberries, wash and put them in a stew pan, with three or four ounces of powdered sugar, and two or three tablespoonful of water, put the pan on a moderate charcoal fire, and boil till rather thick, stirring it at the same time with a wooden spoon. When cold, pass it through a sieve into a basin, add an ounce-and-a-half of melted isinglass to half a pint of the fruit, and stir it well; then add a pint of whipped cream, with a few drops of the essence of rose or orange-flower; mix well all together, then pour it into a mould, and place it on ice, or in a cool place, until firm. When ready, dip the mould in warm water and turn it out, and serve.

 Cork of the Week:

Of course, one should not miss uncorking a bottle to celebrate the sweet smelling Misket /Muscat grapes when it comes to celebrating spring and early summer days; the heavenly perfumed aromatic wines surely deserve a toast. It is a delight to see that the once almost disappearing indigenous “Bornova Misketi/Bornova Muscat” grape is being revived by many wineries, as it is considered as the ancestor of its European counterparts. The wonderfully-made elegant Bornova Misketi by Nif Winery is definitely fit for any occasion in balmy days, a delicious juicy dry white from the Aegean coast, where the grape originates.

Aylin Öney Tan, Fork and Cork,