Grape Molasses
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Grape Molasses

In Turkey, pekmez and fruit leather are made everywhere there are vineyards. The highest quality of these are made in the regionss of Zile, Kırşehir, Kastamonu, Sivrihisar, Balıkesir, Afyon, Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep and Hatay. Pekmez is known by different names in different regions; some of the most notable names are Zile pekmeziin Zile; ağda in Gaziantep; çalma in Kırşehir; bulama in Balıkesir; and masara in Maraş 9. Pekmez is made from late September to early October when grapes are ripening, and this time is commonly known as “pekmez time”10. The must obtained by pressing the grapes is known as şira. The same terms applied to must that has been subjected to a certain amount of fermentation 2. Pekmez is eaten fresh as well being used to make other products such as köftercevizli sucuk (walnuts strung on a thread and dipped into thickened pekmez) and pestil (fruit leather). It is also used as a sweetener in place of sugar in dishes such as fruit compotes.


The homeland of grapes, Anatolia has been famous since antiquity for its many different grape varieties, and nearly every is suitable for viticulture 11. Two thousand years ago, the Hittites lived in an agricultural economy. Written and archaeological sources do not provide clear information on wild and domesticated plants and animals. The main grains grown by the Hittites were wheat and barley, but they also raised peas, beans, onions, flax, figs, olives, grapes and apples 12. Documents written around 2000 B.C., in the ancient Assyrian language of the Assyrian Commercial Colonial Period make mention of the grape harvest. Grape seeds have been found in the first layer (Early Hittite, appr. 1,750 years B.C.) of the excavations at Konya-Karahöyük. The same excavations have also unearthed vessels in the shape of a bunch of grapes. The discovery of legislation concerning vineyards and wine in Hittite law points to the importance of viticulture in the Hittite economy. Cuneiform tablets indicate that in addition to private vineyards, there vineyards which were the property of the state and of temples. The presence of a grape harvest festival also emphasizes the importance of viticulture to the Hittite economy 5.

Grapes and viticulture were also known to the Turks from early times. As we examine this culture, we gain clues from the folk sayings and words in the language. When the Turks were still in Central Asia, viticulture was a sacred occupation. The Göktürks exported grapes to China and they were very popular among the Chinese. During the Uygur period, the Turfan plain was also very rich in vineyards, and grape cuttings were exported from there 13. The Uygars also produced pekmez and wine 14. Winemaking in China was carried out using the same methods as those in the Turfan area 15.

In the 11th century, the Turks were juicing fresh fruits as well as making fruit drinks. Kaşgarlı Mahmud mentions that “only his grapes were made into must,” and that apricots were also crushed to make a fruit drink. During those times, fresh grapes were made into “bekmes” (pekmez) and flour made from kavut (toasted barley), then known as talkan, was eaten mixed with pekmez. We also know that pekmez was mixed with water and drunk as a beverage. The fact that the Turks used the word sıkman (< Turkish sıkmak, to squeeze) for the time of the grape harvest, is indicative of the role grapes and products made from them were in the Turkish dietary habits 17.

The Turkish word üzüm (grape) appears for the first time in Turkish documents from the Uyghur Period. Raisins were recommended as medicine in the Uyghurs’ medical books. The process of drying grapes appears in sources from the 11th century. According to Kaşgarlı Mahmud, the word üzüşmek, to gather grapes, was used in the sense of “to compete in gathering grapes.” It has been claimed that the word üzüm is derived from the root üz (to hurt, break). The word üzüm has remained closer to its original form among the western Turks. In Egypt and among the Kıpçak Turks, it is also pronounced yüzüm. The Kuman Turks, who lived in Central Europe during the early Ottoman period, also pronounced it yüzüm. As in old Anatolia and East Turkistan, Turkic cultures separated from one another by great distances continue to use the word üzüm as did the ancient Turks. Under the influence of the Western Turks, the Mongols, like the Kalmuks, called grapes üzm. Among the Uyghurs, the word borluk was also used to mean “vineyard.” In books written in old Uyghur Turkish, we come across the sentence: Şimdi bu adamı ileteyim de, benim üzüm bağımı gözetsin(Now let send for this man, to come and look at my vineyard) 18. The Persian word bağ ( “garden;” Turkish, “vineyard”) entered Turkish rather late, and came into West Turkistan from their [Persian-speaking] Sogdian-Tadjik neighbors. During the Uyghur period it was used chiefly in its original sense of “garden.” The Uyghurs used the words bag, borlug and tarıg, i.e., “garden,” for cultivated ground, and their meanings eventually separated. Thus in the 11th century, the word bağ had become firmly fixed in the Turkish language with the meaning “vineyard or grape vine.” Later the word became part of the Turkish agricultural language and has been used by the Turks who came to Anatolia from Central Asia ever since. As the Turks had a grape culture before coming to Anatolia, they researched the number of varieties in Anatolia after arriving here, because Anatolia had an extremely ancient grape culture of its own. In the 11th century, the Central Asian Turks called the black grape, mesiç üzüm. Those with fused or tight fruits were called tıkma üzüm and some 11th century Turks called green grapes talka or tarka 18.

In Kaşgarlı Mahmut’s Divanı Lugat-ıt Türk, the word üzüm appears exactly as it does today. [There are several examples of usages of the word sıkmak (to press), which appear very similar those in today’s Turkish, including a word “to cause to press” or “to have others press.”] The time of the grape harvest was known as sıkman (pressing time) 16. Thus they were pressing grapes for their juice and drinking it, or boiling it to make pekmez. The best evidence for this is the word and phrase, çuwşadı, çagır çuwşadı, that is, “it boiled, the grape juice boiled/frothed up,” and ol üzümni çagırladı meaning, “he made the grapes into şira.” Sour şira was called şifşeng çagır 20. In addition, people did the pressing work collectively, and had others press their grapes. For the early ripening stage, they said, talkaalardı (the bitter is removed), and for the coloring and full ripening, üzüm önglendi 16, 20. They constructed arbors for their grapes, and the phrase, badhıç üzümlendi meant “The arbor has filled with grapes 16. In the 11th century, grape vines were known as bağ.

Today, the word bağ refers to the place where grape vines are grown, i.e. a vineyard. The construction of grape arbors from a special wood shows the importance of grape production. Some Turks (Kencheks), used the word buşinçek for a bunch of grapes 17.

During the Selçuk period, grapes were the most important of all the fruits raised. Just as for dried meats, dried fruits were also called kak; dried plums (erik) were called erük kakı. But the most commonly-dried fruit was grapes. Large-scale preservation of a foodstuff is the best evidence that it was much produced, and an indication that winter food was prepared. During the Selçuk period many different types of fruits and vegetables were raised in the gardens and vineyards of Anatolia. Mevlana devoted much space to fruits in several quatrains in his Mathnawi. “Fruit is meaning, the flower is its outward appearance; that flower is a glad tiding, the fruit is the blessing!” 21. In another quatrain he writes, “It outwardly appears that the branch is the origin of the fruit, but in truth, the branch exists for the sake of the fruit.” In a metaphor using green grapes, he writes, “You are a green grape, left frozen by disease; though the green grapes have now become raisins, you are still green” 22. During this time, when fruits were being gathered into baskets, some fruits – especially grapes – were hung on string and arranged on sticks to dry. In one quatrain, Mevlana writes: “If a man would take a basket on his head and walk among the trees, it would fill with fruit without him shaking the branches. The bunches of fruit sagged on the branches, and brushing the faces of any who walked through.” Various phrases concerning pekmez include: “Whatever is boiled in the pekmez, the pekmez takes its flavor,” and “If you boil carrots, apples, quince and walnuts in the pekmez, they will take the flavor of the pekmez.” Today, stuffed vine leaves remain one of the favorite dishes of Turkish cuisine. Vine leaves are also mentioned in his quatrains: “Every evening, he would eat the ends of the grape vines, and break his fast; he did this for seven years,” and “In the deserts, I ate vine leaves, and survived on that” 23.

The halvah of the Turks was based on toasted barley. The flour was first toasted in butter, and then honey, sugar or pekmez was added. The proverb, “He who has kavut adds pekmez; he who has a brain retains admonitions” was collected by Kaşgarlı Mahmut in the beginning of the Seljuk period. Kavut is “toasted wheat flour with added butter or pekmez.” Honey or pekmez could be added raw, or cooked with the kavut. Talkan was plain toasted flour or grain. Earlier the word kavut was pronounced kagut or kogut. Talkan is a second word the old Turks used for kavut. Women who had just given birth were fed a type of halvah made from millet. The old Turks made this dish by adding pekmez or sugar to roasted millet 24.

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