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

Zerde was a sweet, made with wheat starch, which was available to the entire population of the palace. It contained flour, sugar and wheat starch, as well as saffron, ground hazelnuts and ground almonds74. Dishes known as paluze and pelte appear in the kitchen records75, however their types and ingredients are not stated. It is clear that the Ottomans called any mixture of rice flour, milk and sugar muhallebi, and all are referred to by only this name in the archives76. Şirvânî’s work gives a recipe for plain muhallebi77. In the kitchen records of Mehmet the Conqueror, it is recorded that chicken was bought for the making of muhallevi78. We can safely say that this muhallebi made with chicken was tavuk göğsü, because a century later Sinan Paşa’s doctor writes that the Turks knew of tavuk göğsü and similar sweets79. One wonders if one of these similar sweets mentioned by the doctor was kazandibi? Also unmentioned in the archives but counted among the sultan’s dishes by Alberto Bobovi (Ali Ufkî) is sütlaç (rice pudding)80.  Was this also referred to as muhallebi during that period? To such presently unanswerable questions we may add another, the method of preparation and the contents of the hurma tatlısı81 which, like muhallebi, we understand to have been made only for the sultan and others of high rank in the palace.

The favorite of the halvahs made in the helvahâne was zülbâye halvah, which also appears as zülbiye and zülabiye82. Popular throughout the seasons, this halvah was produced in such quantity during feast days that the hevahâne was left understaffed and halvah makers from the city were brought in to help. In 1574 for example, 167 kilos of zülbaye were bought for the feasts of Ramadan and the Sacrifice83. Other halvahs made in the helvahâne were badem (almond), baş (head,main), zerd (yellow), tahin (tahini), lokma (a single bite), kestane (chestnut), bayram (feast), kepçe (ladle) (menfiş) and halkaçini84. Of these, one type of badem (almond) halvah, kirma badem helvası (broken almond halvah) was unmentioned in the kitchen registers but was one of the favorite items at feasts85. Feasts also included many other types not mentioned above such as ak (white) helva, fıstık (pistachio) helva, sabunî (“soap”) helva, named for its smooth and very oily consistency. Lastly pişmaniye, another type of halvah, was also included in the helvahâne records as pişmani86, but it most be noted that there are very few records dealing with this sweet.

The making of preserves (reçel) was carried out in a separate area of the helvahâne, known as the reçelhâne. Here preserves were made of nearly every type of fruit. In addition to familiar preserves such as apple, pear, quince, cherry, sour cherry, rose, Seville orange, cornelian cherry, medlar, peach and green almond, other preserves less familiar in Turkey were also made. These include melon, watermelon, walnut, jujube, lemon, squash, eggplant, mürekkeb (a type of citrus), citron and limon-ı Frengî (“Frankish lemon,” possibly grapefruit)87. Although most of the preserves consumed in the palace were produced here, some of them were obtained from the provinces. One such reçel was gülbeşeker (rose in sugar), brought yearly from Edirne88 and described by Şemseddin Sâmi as “a type of rose preserve,89” and certain unspecified preserves originating in Adana, which showed up in the archives of only one sultan’s reign; but understood from those same records to have been brought earlier as well90.

The rub and murabbâ listed on the palace lists were types of marmalades, thicker than reçel. These were obtained by pressing the juice/pulp from fruits and boiling them till thickened91. When this pulp was left to dry in the sun for a time, pestil (fruit leather) was produced. There are very few records of pestil in the kitchen registers92, and their varieties are unknown. From the records it is understood that the rubs made in the helvahâne were limited to apple, myrtle and jujube93. However some of the halvah makers would go into the private gardens of Istanbul and from the roses there, would make a type of rub94. On the other hand, many different types of fruit rub were procured from the provinces for the palace. Among the types that came from outside and contributed to the palates of the upper level palace residents were the quince and rose rubs from Edirne95, the famous yediveren koruğu (everbearing green grape) and pomegranate rubs of Bursa96, the barberry rubb of Yanbolu/İslimiye, and the emblic (Phyllanthus eblica, a small sour fruit), ginger, sorrel, nutmeg and Kâbilî murabbas from Egypt97.

Besides its function as a source of food, the helvahâne also served in the capacity of pharmacy to the palace. Here the macuns (lit. “pastes,” made of various herbs and spices cooked with syrup), used medicinally, were produced. Medicines in the form of syrups and lozenges made in the hevahâne for the palace residence were many and varied: one helvahâne lists a total of 186 different varieties of macun, including their name and the ingredients they contained.

Macuns destined for medicinal use were carefully stored. The others were distributed among the sultan, the sultan’s mother, princes and princess, viziers and other high-ranking statesmen/administrators within and outside of the palace, according to their status. Statesmen serving outside of the palace were allowed to take their share to their families. In the palace, macuns were mixed beginning in spring (nevruz, or spring equinox); the first night was known as öd gecesi (wormwood night), on which various entertainment was arranged98. The kitchen registers contain the names of some of the macuns whose preparation was begun on the first day. These macuns, a portion of which was distributed to upper ranking people, included cornelian cheery, quince, devâ-i misk (lit. ambrosia remedy), nuşdârûö cevâriş, (cevâriş-i calinos), karabaş (a type of lavender), , tiryâk-ı fâruk, mesir (mesrutitus), tiryâk-ı erba‘a, filoniya, ıtrifil, felâsife and akreb99. The mesir macunu (lit. “pace/stamina” paste), which according to Âlî the palace residents should especially consume in the spring100 101,  is noteworthy in that the herbs and spices used in its preparation are different from those in the famous macun of the same name produced for centuries in Manisa. The original Manisa product is known to have contained 41 different herbs and spices, though their number has dropped considerably today. However the two recipes for mesir macunu used in the helvahâne, one of which was mixed exclusively for the sultan, are recorded as having 61 different herbs and spices102.

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