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Refined Tastes in a Refined Place: Eating Habits in the Ottoman Palace During the 15th-17th Centuries
 
Arif Bilgin
 

Although quite an opposite flavor from sweets, the pickles consumed in the palace were also made in the helvahâne. Among the pickles made here, the most made in terms of quantity was kelem (cabbage) pickles. The number of cabbages bought for this purpose was quite high. For example, in 1615 10,875 cabbages were bought for pickling, and 11,114 in 1620103. Other fruits and vegetables determined to have been pickled in the kitchen records included lemons, Seville oranges, cucumbers, squash, artichokes, eggplant and turnips104.

Şirvânî’s work includes recipes for the latter two105. For the making of pickles, the helvahâne used the famous sarı sirkesi (yellow vinegar) of Bursa106. The pickles eaten at palace mwals were not limited to these; several types of pickles were also made and brought in from the provinces. The favorite of these was the pickled kebere (Capers, Capparis spinosa) brought from Osmancık. Capers are a plant which has long been neglected in Turkey, but recently has begun to be raised on farms to meet foreign demand. It is used especially in the food and drug industry. It is interesting that in Turkey it is now called kapari; as if it is a plant of foreign origin. However this plant is none other than the kebere, the raw material for a traditional pickle which has been present in Turkish food since at least the early 14th century107. Kebere pickles are made from both the plant’s flower buds as well as the stems. In addition to vinegar, mandrake (sâc otu, adam otu, Mandragora autumnalis) was added108. The palace also had pickled grapes from Gallipoli109 and pickled mint from Bursa110. The pickles grapes were also available at bazaars throughout the city111. Both the pickles made at the palace as well as those brought from the provinces were stored in pickles depots in the helvahâne for consumption throughout the year.

D. Drinks

Besides water, the drinks consumed at the palace included hoşaf (compotes), sherbets, lemon juice (âb-ı limon), boza and coffee. There are no records in the kitchen registers indicating that the palace residents consumed alcoholic beverages, because within the religious and moral context which expressed the Ottoman world view, they were not acceptable for consumption. Consequently it was unthinkable to purchase these from the treasury. Thus, those who desired to drink had to do by their own financial means. On the other hand, alcoholic beverages were procured for foreign, non-Muslim state representatives who came to Istanbul112. These people were only allowed to consume such beverages at their residences; no alcohol was served at the meals they ate with state officials (ambassadorial banquets).

It appears that the hoşafs, one of the basic drinks in Ottoman society and produced in the helvahâne, were prepared from a smaller variety of fruits than were preserves and sherbets, and according to the kitchen registers were limited to various types of grapes, figs, wild apricots, apricots and pears113. In this register, in which all the varieties of preserves and sherbets were recorded, unfortunately does not provide detailed information on the varieties of hoşaf, so it is safe to say that it only contains a portion of those made. Although not included in the register, we may suppose that in the palace, where just about anything possible was drunk, apple and plum hoşafs were made at the very least.

In contrast to the uncertainty about the hoşafs, we can determine all of the sherbets produced in the helvahâne. These are violet, rose, rose and lemon, red rose, water lily, karabaş (Lavandula stoechas), mulberry, jujube, quince, quince leaf, sour cherry, tamarind, calendula, usul, dinarî and fumitory, and eczâ (medicinal) sherbet obtained from various herbal mixtures114. Sherbets brought from the provinces included hummas from Egypt, rhubarb (Rheum ribes) from Damascus, pomegranate from Bursa and barberry from Edirne, as well as red rose and rose-lemon sherbets from Edirne115. Lemon juice (limon suyu), which can be considered a sort of sherbet, though made at the palace, was made from lemons procured from the islands of Kos and Chios as well as the town of Alanya, considered the greatest centers of citrus production of the period116. On hot summer days, snow collected in winter from Istanbul and stored, and ice from Uludağ near Bursa was added to cool the drinks117. The great majority of the sherbets produced in the helvahâne were for day-to-day consumption, but several others not mentioned here were used in the treatment of illness118.

Boza was produced in quite large amounts in the palace. Records concerning boza in the kitchen records are limited the amount of rice procured for boza making. In 260 kile (6.7 tons) in 1626, 293 kile (7.5 tons) in 1631 and 151 kile (3.9 tons) in 1638 were used in the production of this drink119. These high numbers indicate that the drinking of boza held a significant place in palace culture.

Coffee became available in Istanbul in the mid 16th century and as it became popular over a short period, a whole culture grew up around its consumption120. However it is not known precisely when the residents of the palace became acquainted with it. The first records in the kitchen registers concerning this luxury item are from the first half of the 17th century, and show the procurement of sugar for coffee121. Coffee was undoubtedly brought from Egypt for the palace residents during this period122, but as it was not paid for out of the kitchen budget, the amounts and prices are not included in the bookkeeping. It was only in the second half of the 17th century that payment for coffee began to be taken from the kitchen budget123. The drinking of coffee was the exclusive privilege of an elite group made up of the sultan, the mother of the sultan, the upper ranks in the harem, the members of the Divan and the palace lords124.

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