Tuesday, 7 July 2009

turkey, fruit and barbecues

i am fascinated by places where you can easily grow stuff to eat. i don't know if that comes from growing up in a place where frost kills but the hardiest of plants (though in reality there was food growing everywhere) or from some happy childhood memory of spending summer in places like gacko - where we ate only what you could get from the farm (air dried hams from the attic, honey pressed in a giant metal cylinder kept in dark hut, bread baked in a wood fired oven, eggs from the chickens running around, kajmak made fresh from the cows milked that morning - that kind of thing) or mostar - where we used to go to pick cherries (an occasion remembered as much for my brother's memorable and entirely out of character punching of someone in the face).

either way, i find it inordinately exciting to be able to just go and pick a piece of fruit from a tree. somehow, i can't quite believe that it is possible or that it can be so easy.

so when our holiday ended up being a cottage in an orchard in anatolia, with the owner, serpil, who grows her own veg and has a herb garden and lots of chickens, you can imagine how pleased i was.

her orchard is mainly lemons, limes, oranges and pomegranates. the pomegranates were still unripe, as were the figs (which grow literally everywhere), which is a shame as they are probably two of my favourite fruits. i did take a few lemons, mainly the ones that had already fallen to the ground - though i confess i did pick one of the tree just for the feel of it. i even brought two home, dreading that they might search my suitcase ('why have you got two lemons wrapped in a plastic bag, madam?).

i also picked some of the nicest plums i have eaten in my life, if not the nicest. they were small and perfectly spherical, warm yellow in colour and tinged with a bit of violet. straight from the tree and warm from the sunshine, they tasted like honey, and apricots, and the plummiest plums ever. the tree was the perfect height to stand under the canopy and just eat, without any effort at all.
the biggest revelation, however, was the mulberry tree. why does no one talk about mulberries?? it's amazing stuff. serpil called me over one day to taste some she had just picked. i didn't have the heart to tell her that, the day before, i'd already spotted the ladder left underneath the tree, and already been up it to pick a few big, purply fruits - without knowing what they were. there were in fact two trees - mulberry is called dud in turkish (and in serbian - one of the many many words we've borrowed) but the really good stuff is called karadud, i.e. the black mulberry. i can't really describe the taste of it - you expect raspberry but you can something both sweeter and more sour. if i ever have a garden, i am definitely growing one of those trees. i can just imagine sitting in its shade, listening to the occasional dull thud as the ripe fruit falls to the ground.(the photo above shows both plums and mulberries i picked surreptitiously for breakfast one morning - i pretended to go out and get my flip flops from the car and then raided the orchard, hiding the fruit in my hat. it's still stained purple from karadud.)

anyway, part of the reason we went on a self-catering holiday was to have barbecues. like true northern europeans, the novelty of being able to sit outside and eat never wears off and neither does the primeval desire to play with fire and eat charred lumps of meat. we had one barbecue after another.

it's amazing what you can cook on them, really. if you were doing it in your own garden, you could be a lot more adventurous as you can prepare marinades with different herbs, spices and sauces. we were pretty limited - self-catering places always have empty kitchens, and turkish supermarkets are not exactly exciting. some of my suggestions, based on what we had, include:

  • minced lamb mixed with mint and parsley - the mint i found by the roadside and the parsley came from serpil's garden - shaped into kebabs and eaten with whipped yoghurt with more mint stirred through it
  • whole onions baked tightly wrapped in tin foil with a bit of olive oil
  • chicken thighs cut into cubes and skewered with some hot peppers and courgettes, eaten with copious amounts of chilli sauce
  • slices of haloumi cheese, toasted on an improvised tray made of triple layer of tin foil. i poured some olive oil on them into which i chopped thyme also found by the roadside and a tiny squeeze of lemon. awesome.
  • courgettes, peppers and aubergines sliced, oiled, salted and peppered and grilled till soft and velvety.
  • whole aubergines cooked till soft and mushy while the coals are still very hot. i then scraped the insides and chucked away the skin and mixed the flesh with some roasted garlic, salt and lemon juice.
  • chicken breasts simply grilled but eaten with lots of barbecued lemon juice squeezed over them - halve a lemon, place it directly on the grill cut side down and cook until caramelised. the heat releases incredible amounts of juice.
  • roasted whole garlic - take a bulb, wrap it in foil and barbecue until the cloves are soft and sweet and can be squeezed out like a pure.

  • lettuce cooked in a foil parcel with a bit of olive oil - make a pocket out of double layer of foil into which you stuff the lettuce leaves. make sure some water still clings to them from washing as that means they steam nicely.


  • fruit, also cooked in a foil parcel, and either eaten warm or cold for breakfast the next day. we had plums (with yoghurt and chopped pistachios, see picture) one morning, some apricots on the day we left and - the best of all - some halved and pitted cherries spiked with a bit of crazy pomegranate 'sour'. never heard of the stuff but it's a pomegranate concentrate, allegedly with nothing else added. it tastes sour, obviously, but also sweet and fruity and it is a nice counterbalance to the very sweet fruit like cherries. i've since macerated some strawberries it in and they were also great.

there was only one problem with having barbecues in turkey - you could find any pork for love nor money. and a barbecue without a sausage is not quite right, is it?

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