Prof. Dr. Metin Saip Sürücüoğlu - Research Faculty Lale S. Çelik
Because of our country’s geographical location, its climate and soil conditions are suitable for the cultivation of grapes. The most vivid examples are in the regions of Thrace, Marmara Sea, Central Anatolia, the Agean and Southeast Anatolia, where viticulture has been practiced since 3000 B.C. 1 During the time of the ancient Turkish civilizations, viticulture extended throughout the world, and during the Ottoman Empire, it showed more active development 2. Homer, the famous bard of Anatolia, speaks of two foods consumed by the sailors in the Odyssey and the Iliad: one was meat and the other was wine 3,4. Anatolian wine was famous in Greek and Roman times. One can see grape and vine motifs on several ancient museum pieces (bas-reliefs, statues etc.) in museums of the Aegean and Mediterranean. Excavations in Konya-Karahöyük have also unearthed vessels (both drinking vessels and lamps) from the Early Hittite era with grape motifs.
Grapes are eaten both fresh as well as dried into raisins. Dried raisins are often made intopekmez (grape molasses) as well as to flavor and increase the nutritional value of desserts including aşure (Noah’s pudding), pastries, cookies and compotes. Turkey is first worldwide in raisin production, exporting 189 thousand tons yearly. As there is little tradition of eating dried fruits and nuts in Western Europe, nearly all of these raisins are used in pastries and cakes 1. Of the grapes produced in Turkey, 24% of them are eaten fresh, 35% are dried into raisin, 3% are used for wine 20% are used to make molasses and 17% to produce pestil, or fruit leather 6.
In addition to the history of Turkish foods, their traditions are also very important. Turks have worked food and food production into many of their poems, folk songs, proverbs and sayings. A few important related proverbs are:
Üzüm üzüme baka baka kararır.
A grape ripens by looking at another grape. (One perfects oneself by following the good example of another.)
Üzümünü ye de, bağını sorma.
Eat the grape, and don’t ask about the vineyard. (Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.)
Baba bağ bağışlamış, oğlu bir salkım üzümü esirgemiş.
The father left granted his son a vineyard, and the son didn’t give him even a single bunch of the grapes.
Bakarsan bağ olur, bakmazsan dağ olur.
If you tend it, it becomes an vinyard; if you don’t tend, it becomes a mountain.
Before sugar became available, Turkish sweets were sweetened with pekmez or honey. For this reason, pekmez has been of the most important sweet foodstuffs in our traditional diet and tastes for millennia. Pekmez, which the Turks developed in order to preserve grape juice, both converted grapes and must, which easily spoiled, into a long-lasting form, and helped meet the need for sugar and sweetener. Pekmez is a sweet thick liquid made by boiling and concentrating fruit juice. It is most often made from grapes, but there are local forms of pekmez made from other materials including mulberries, plums, apples, pears, sugar beets, watermelon, sorghum and pomegranates. During recent years carob has also been used to make pekmez. In Southern Anatolia especially, the boiled ripe berries of a species of juniper known locally as andiz (Juniperus drupacea) yield a sweet syrup known as andiz pekmezi, or juniper molasses 7.
A staple food in the old days, pekmez is now less made and consumed because of changing world conditions. Before urban culture developed completely and agriculture opened to the outside world, families in rural areas and small towns tended a vineyard, even if a small one, in order to meet their needs for grapes and sweetener. As many families began to migrate from the countryside and small towns to the large cities, the changing rural life and increased demand for sugar caused a decrease in pekmez production. One study on the consumption of pekmez revelaed that 61.6% of students, 66.3% of adults and 53.5% of the pregnant women included in the study ate pekmez. Of the pregnant women sampled, 33% of them ate pekmez before they became pregnant 8.