A good Turkish meal ends with fresh fruit, often artfully presented in slices and wedges on the plate. You might get kiwis, strawberries, oranges, apples or any number of stone fruit when in season. But apart from this occasional appearance, fresh fruit is surprisingly hard to find. I could suppose that this is due to the long history and widespread custom of preserving fruit so it can be enjoyed all year, a taste for which the sweet-toothed Turks maintain to this day in cities and villages alike.
Today Barnaby got rather over-excited when he came across a carob tree growing among the castle ruins in the little village of Kaleköy on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
Ever since Barnaby first tasted the deeply fruity and complex treacle-y molasses called pekmez (at Zeliş Farmhouse), he has been a bit obsessed by it. (He gets like that sometimes). He has sampled it in grape, mulberry, apple, sugar beet and fig varieties (all delicious), but his clear favourite is the carob kind. So when he found carob growing wild all over the place in Kaleköy, he couldn’t help but investigate…
Today Barnaby was so intoxicated by Gaby Demoulin’s alambic au feu de bois (wood-fired still) and vast array of eaux de vie and liqueurs (including raspberry, gentian, quince, bay and laurel), that he nearly stayed at Ferme La Fonderie. The fruits go through a double distillation process, and finally end up in beautiful bottles on sale at the farm shop.
The lemon seems to be such a common, and essential, fruit, that you’d imagine it had been around since the beginning of time. Not so. The original three citrus plants, from which all others have been bred, are the citron, the mandarin and the pummelo. The lemon is probably a multi-step hybrid, involving the citron, the lime and the pummelo. Lemons arrived in Europe 1500-2000 years ago, having originated in what is now Pakistan and India, and coming via the Middle East.
‘Melon’ comes from the ancient Greek word for apple and other seed-containing fruits. The Greeks called a melon a ‘melopepon’ (‘apple-gourd’), which became shortened to ‘melon’ or similar in many languages. In Tuscany, where prosciutto with melon is a classic dish, the fruit still goes by its ancient name, ‘popone’. A similar word is used in Romanian.
Melons are relatives of cucumbers, squashes and gourds. Perhaps bizarrely, a cantaloupe is more closely related to a gherkin than it is to a watermelon…
Rhubarb originates from Mongolia. The word was coined in medieval Latin and derives from ‘Rha’ (old name for the Volga river) and ‘barbarum’ (foreign) – ie a vegetable from the foreign lands east of the Volga.
Rhubarb was pronounced a ‘fruit’ in 1947 by confused US customs officials who opted to classify by its use in desserts rather than its botanical status.
But rhubarb as pudding, even as food, is a relatively recent concept. For centuries it was used in China and elsewhere purely for medicinal purposes. Rhubarb is a great laxative, if you eat enough.
Who was Granny Smith? The apple is named after Maria Ann Smith, who first propagated the variety in Australia in 1868, apparently by chance. It is thought to be a cross between a wild species and a domesticated one. Maria and her husband had been recruited to come to New South Wales from England 30 years earlier due to their agricultural skills. The apple was then widely grown in New Zealand, then introduced to England in 1935 and the USA in 1972.
A fresh Granny Smith will be bright green, firm, heavy, shiny and with a tight skin, as depicted on the logo of Apple Records, known for releasing Beatles tunes from 1968 onwards (and for fighting with Apple Computers over use of the apple).
Granny Smiths are great for eating, cooking and salads as they are so juicy, crunchy and tart. They also go brown less quickly than other apples once cut. To ensure your slices don’t go brown you can rub them with a wedge of lemon.
Figs were one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans. Recent evidence found suggests they were cultivated in the Jordan Valley as early as 9400-9200 BC, ie before the first cereals were domesticated.
The fig is actually a fig/flower – the tiny flowers are clustered inside.