Book of Dede Korkut
The Dede Korkut Book, which contains the epics of an Oğuz minstrel named Korkut Ata, is known to have been compiled by the Oğuz Turks and put into writing in the 14th-15th centuries.
Among the rich material on the traditions of the Oğuz Turks, we find significant information on Turkish cooking.
An edition with explanations of all of its aspects, including that of Turkish cooking, was printed in 1973 by the Undersecretariat of Culture for the Prime Ministry. Orhan Şaik Gökyay’s Dedem Korkud’un Kitabıis a valuable source for those interested in this subject.
Travelogue of Evliya Çelebi
As for other areas of Turkish culture, the travelogue of the famous traveler Evliya Çelebi gives some of the best information available concerning food and drink.
Although there are a few parts missing, Evliya Çelebi, who traveled the lands of the Ottoman Empire for fifty years, provides a wealth of information on history, geography, sociology, language and folklore in his ten-volume travelogue. In hıs book, “The Evliya Çelebi Travelogue – an Endeavour at a Folkloric Index” prepared by our friend Nail Tan, illustrates the importance of this work to our subject with its information on the utensils used in Turkish cuisine.
Statute books are also important documents for their information on Turkish cooking.
The Ottoman Empire was governed according to the rules of Islam, and its law was Sharia. The books that gathered together the summaries of all the Sultan’s orders and decrees, laws and statutes having to do with the Empire’s administrative, financial, criminal and other legal areas, as well as legislation concerning certain works and arts, were called kanun-nâme.(1)
The kanun-nâmes were written according to the rules of Islam, and beyond merely being legal documents, are also extremely valuable documents which shed light on the social, economic, cultural and traditional life of the times in which they were written.
The oldest known kanun-nâme from the Ottoman Empire is from the reign of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. In later times several kanun-nâmes were prepared following private and official orders. The kanun-nâmes from the times of Süleyman the Magnificent and Murat IV are interesting for the information they give about their periods.
The importance of these documents from the standpoint of our culinary culture stems from the fact that they include entries on taxes collected for foods and drinks, harvest times for various food items, foods that were prohibited from being given to infidels during time of war, names of agricultural products during the time covered by the kanun-nâme, and points that must be adhered to in the production of food products.
I would like to draw your attention to the legislation concerning the Bakers’ Guild in the edition of “Kanun-nâme-I Ehl-I Hıraf,” (1293-1) edited for publication by Abdullah Uysal and housed in the Çorum İskilip Public Library.
“…If on the other hand, for the sake of justice to the people, if the bread bakers of a city come and say, ‘The flavor of the flour we have produced was not inspected in time and the according price was not given, and this has caused a loss to the bakers,’ the law concerning the determination of its flavor is thus: A commission consisting of the judge, an examiner, a representative trusted by the bakers and an unbiased member of the public shall convene. They will go to Unkapanı [the quarter of Istanbul where flour was sold], and weigh and buy of the highest, middle and lowest quality flour sold there. Then, before the commission consisting of the abovementioned persons, the flour shall be made into dough and an amount of bread determined by them shall be baked by a trusted individual.
‘All the costs and workers’ fees shall be calculated, and the loss shall be fairly determined. According to the findings, the price at which the flour shall be sold shall be registered by the judge and entered into the records by the examiner.’”
The kanun-nâmes also included statutes governing all those engaged in the commercial production and selling food items such as butchers, dairymen, boza makers, grocers, cooks, makers/sellers of animal heads, tripe, börek, lokma, yogurt, pickles, kaymak, halvah, akide(hard candy), sherbets etc. Some examples of these statutes include:
a. The bakers’ bread, the yufka makers’ yufka and the çöreks of the çörek makers shall not be raw, dark or sour.
b. The sifters used by those in these professions shall be fine, not loose.
c. Butchers shall not mix the meats of male and female sheep and goats.
d. Butchers which out of negligence fail to supply meat shall be punished, and imprisoned until they procure meat.
e. Butchers shall give everybody meat according to their wishes, and treat young and old equally.
f. Foods cooked by chefs shall not be raw or overly salted.
g. Bowls and kettles shall be kept clean and tinned, porcelain sets shall be new and their glaze shall not be falling off, and their work areas shall be kept clean.
h. When making lamb büryan (lamb cooked in a pit oven), it is forbidden to first wet the meat, or first make yahni and then make that into büryan.
i. Böreks shall contain onion and mutton and no other meat shall be added. They shall not be made with much onion and little meat, and shall not be mostly empty.
j. Makers of kaymak (clotted cream) shall sell pure kaymak with no addition of wheat starch.
Another source of information on the history of Turkish cooking is the market books (es’ar defterleri). The information contained in these records sheds as much light on our cultural history as it does on our economic and social history.
The market books are comprehensive books of officially fixed prices. The establishment/fixation of prices, which originates in traditional Islamic law, serves to protect the rights of the producer and consumer, assure quality goods and service, and uphold the morals of craftsmanship and commerce.
The procedure of establishing and fixing prices, which consists of the appraisal of goods and services, is based on a point of Islam known as hisbe. The Islamic ruler is charged with protecting the interests of the people and maintaining order in everyday life. This duty includes monitoring and preventing businessmen from selling faulty goods and making unfair profits. The person who fulfilled this duty for the ruler was known as the muhtesip, or examiner. In every city and town of the Ottoman Empire, there was a person charged with this duty. His most important duty was fixing prices. The manner in which prices should be established and fixed is laid out in the kanun-nâmes. The process was generally for the examiner to obtain the views of the foremost people in the city or town. In Istanbul, the capital of the Empire, it was carried out by a commission in which the Grand Vizier and the upper-level businessmen took part. The determined prices and rules were then recorded in the market books.
The market books contained all types of goods, crafts and services of the period, stated their differences in quality and determined their prices. These sources are also very important from the standpoint of Turkish cuisine, because they are virtual inventories of the cuisine of the period.
As of 1982, the most important of these records is the one known is the “Es’ar Defteri for 1640,” which has been transcribed exactly into Latin script and published in two volumes. (2) Made over 350 years ago, this book’s purpose was to determine the prices for crafts and services, and more generally, to assure commercial order in the capital of the Empire in 1640.