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Sivas Sofrası

Zara: Tohal çorbası, pehli, çirli et, cikko, kelle tatlısı, fodla

Pantry / Winter Preparations

The various methods of preparation and storage of regional foods in season for the winter has practically become a branch of science in and of itself and cannot be fully treated here. In Sivas, the foods/staples made or stored during preparations for winter can be summed up as follows:

Flour, bulgur, kavurma (preserved meat), sucuk, pastırma, clarified butter, cheese, çökelik (unsalted cheese curd), peskütan, erişte (hand-cut noodles made both with eggs and with preserved meat), kuskus, kadayıf, yufka böreği, honey, grape and mulberry molasses, pickles, preserves, lentils, beans, chickpeas, onions, potatoes, brined vine leaves, pepper and tomato paste, and salt.

Dishes for Special Occasions

In Sivas, foods and drinks made for special days carry the significance of that day. Foods prepared for seasonal festivities and ceremonial foods eaten together have a pleasant nostalgic quality, and bring a common feeling of solidarity, of sharing of joy and sorrows. Sweet foods are given with the wish that they make one’s tongue sweet. Although some practices have been abandoned over time, there are still many celebratory food traditions that continue. Foods prepared for seasonal celebrations such as religious holidays, kandils, aşure month, Sultan Navruz (Nevruz – spring equinox) and Eğrilce; weddings and circumcision celebrations, the iftar and sahur meals during Ramadan, feasts given to celebrate the return from the Hajj, company dishes, foods prepared for the ill and for women who have just given birth, and foods sent to a home where there has been a death, all carry the meaning of these days. Following are some of the foods associated with these occasions:

A. Feasts of Islam and Other Special Days

1. Feast of Ramadan – Feast of the Sacrifice

In Sivas, the preparation of Bayram, or feast dishes begins the day before the eve of the feast. The eve of the feast is the busiest day for food preparation. Some of the foods that are always present on feast days include soup, hurma and sarma (stuffed vine/cabbage/chard leaves).

The bayram çorbası (lit. “feast soup”) of Sivas, also known as üzümlü çorba (raisin soup) is a sort of liquid aşure. It is prepared as described in the “hoşaf” (compote) section of the recipes. Though the making of üzümlü çorba may appear simple, the raisins must be carefully sorted and picked over in order that its liquid not be cloudy. As the Muslim calendar is a lunar one, the dates of Ramadan and consequently its feast change each year. But whenever the feast falls, this soup is always made with dried fruits. It is made with besni raisins (a large raisin with seeds in), black raisins from Ürgüp, another type of seedless raisin, dried plums, apricots and figs, dates from Mecca and a bit of sugar. Some may also add rosewater after the cooking is finished. It is allowed to cool, then garnished with crushed walnuts for serving. The various ingredients are known collectively as çorbalık (“for soup”), and the grocers stocking these items know how much of each should be bought for bayram çorbası.

“Hurma,” known by some as kalbura basti (pressed against the grille) is the preferred sweet during Bayram. Today, the other sweets mentioned above are also made.

Another sine qua non food for Bayram is sarma (stuffed grape leaves) with meat. Made with fatty meat, bulgur, onions, pepper paste, parsley, spices, salt and pepper, they are made together with the neighbors. The sarma made for the Feast of the Sacrifice are made with the meat from the animal sacrificed, on the day of the Bayram itself.

Another food specially made for Bayram is “meat with eggplant,” or “meat with vegetables,” which is prepared with meat with its bone in. In the old days, as eggplant was unavailable during the winter, it was made with onions.

Other Bayram foods include rice pilaf, rice pudding, soup out of various fresh or dried wild greens according to the season. One special feature of Sivas is that if a guest comes during Bayram, no matter what the hour, food is brought out. Meat dishes, sarma, hurma and üzümlü çorba are served. Though this tradition is less observed today, it continues, but they tend to serve candy and sweets, coffee and üzümlü çorba or fruit juice. In the old days, the children of the neighborhood used to go house to house to kiss the hands of the adults, who would give them candy and money. Today it is still the custom to give a bit of money and candy to children who come and say bayramın mübarek olsun (May your Bayram be blessed).

The first Bayram after a death in a family is known as yas Bayramı (“mourning Bayram”); on such a Bayram guests are served coffee with no sugar and no sweets are served.

2. Eve of Bayram

Until twenty years ago in Sivas, there was the tradition of the memmecim for the children.11 Children would go house to house with an oklava, a long thin rolling pin, on which the people in the homes would put a small simit (ring-shaped cookie or bread) called a gılık. Those who hadn’t made or bought the gılık would give them money, candy, roasted chickpeas etc. If they didn’t give anything, the children would beat their doors with their oklavas and shout together, kazanın dibi yana!” (May your food burn on the bottom of the pot!). Today this tradition and the gılık is completely forgotten; today the children go house to house and give Bayram wishes, collecting money and sweets.

3. Kandiller

In Turkey, four holy days known as Kandils, which celebrate the major events in the life of the Prophet, are observed. There are four: Mevlit, Regaib, Miraç and Berat. Today, as in the old days, families make flour halvah on the Kandils, as well as on Kadir Gecesi, or the “Night of Power” which falls late in the month of Ramadan. On Kadir Gecesi, a food called bışı is made for the pre-dawn meal, it is a raised dough which is fried in hot oil. Women used to also make one fried gılık; this would be hung on a nail on the house. The gılık would dry there, and if it did not rain, the women would put it into a bowl of water and pray, “Lord, do not deprive us of your mercy (rain) from the sky, and your blessings from the earth.”

4. The Month of Muharrem

The Islamic month of Muharrem is also known as Aşure Month, because this sweet dish is traditionally cooked then; this tradition continues today. The belief is that Noah, upon landfall, took all the remaining staples and cooked them all together. A symbol of abundance and blessings, aşure is shared with the neighbors, and a bit is sprinkled around the house. There is a belief that those who have girls should definitely cook aşure.

In order to make aşure, cracked wheat boiled in water is mixed with a little rice, as well as seedless raisins, boiled chickpeas and beans, and cooked until the raisins are soft. Some wheat starch is mixed with milk and added, along with sugar to taste and a pinch of salt. Some like to add some rosewater; others add slices of apple as well. When it cools, it is garnished with crushed walnuts and served. It is believed that aşure should have at least seven different ingredients.

Those who do not make aşure, prepare kesme çorbası (a lentil soup with homemade noodles) and sprinkle a little around the house, otherwise it is believed that the house will fill with cockroaches.

5. The Iftar and Sahur Meals During Ramadan

Whatever the season in which Ramadan falls, it is considered a month of abundance and blessing. There are certain indispensable Ramadan foods, including a variety of foods known as iftariyelik, including dates, olives and light foods for the initial breaking of the fast. Others are pastırma, fruits and vegetables in season and sweets, especially güllaç (see below). Other specialties of the month include delicious baked goods including pide, known locally as açık ekmek (open bread), katmer and various types of çörek. Yumurtalı pide, a rich flat bread topped with egg, made specially for the month at the bakeries.

Iftar, or the breaking of the fast, is a special meal to which relatives, friends and neighbors are often invited. The foods served may change according to the season but are always present. During the summer it may include beet so up, meat with vegetables, salad, börek, pilaf, and sweets such as compote hurma, kadayıf, baklava and halvah. If it is winter, it would include a peksütan soup, spinach or pickled chard stems mıhlama, meat with onions, börek, rice pilaf, compote, rice pudding and other sweets. Until recently, su böreği (known locally as mantı), was the most popular börek for the occasion.

Güllaç, a dessert made from wide thin starch wafers soaked in hot sweetened milk and layered with crushed nuts or other fillings, is unique to the month. It is also customary to buy çöreks sprinkled with a type of candy called horoz şekeri for children, whether fasting or not12. These candies are not much made any more. On a stick, and reminiscent of a flower garden with their brilliant colors and various bird, tree and flower shapes, these candies live on mostly in the memories of those thirty and older. Though another type of candy called dökme (“poured”), made in special molds in the shape of lambs, roosters, locomotives etc., are still sometimes made as Ramadan decorations, horoz şekeri has now been replaced by other sweets such as chocolate and sweet wafer cookies.

For the first sahur (pre-dawn) meal of Ramadan, a bulgur pilaf with lentils is prepared; it is believed that this dish will act as “prayer beads” throughout the month. It is served with drinks such as ayran and a compote. On other nights, leftovers from the iftar meal are eaten. These meals consist mainly of sustaining foods such as various pilafs, katmer, böreks, filled köfte, bişi, dible, etc. In the old days these foods were accompanied by hoşaf, a thin compote made with fresh or dried fruits, but this has now been replaced by tea.

6. Meals Served by Returning Pilgrims

Those return from the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, serve a meal those who come to visit them. Eaten all together, this meal consists of meat with vegetables, pilaf with chickpeas, compote and halvah. The meal is generally cooked by professional cooks and is open to all. In recent years, etli ekmek, a type of open pide popular in Sivas, has become a common dish to serve to visitors, along with ayran.

Those who visit returning pilgrims on other days are served dates and water from the sacred Zemzem spring in Mecca. The zemzem water is drunk in three swallows, standing and facing Mecca. Those returning from the pilgrimage always include dates from Mecca and zemzem water as gifts for their relatives and neighbors. It is also still traditional to give road foods such as börek, sweets, katmer, çörek, kırdök etc. to those setting off on the Hajj.

7. Mevlit

The Mevlit, a literary work which tells of the life of the Prophet Momammed, is chanted at the Mevlit Kandil (the Kandil commemorating the Prophet’s birth), circumcision celebrations, births and other occasions. Typically a mevlit şekeri – lokum and hard candy wrapped in a white paper called fişek are given to the guests. Recently some people have mevlit şekeri prepared which contain only hard candy, but in some areas it’s customary to include a soft white candy called peynir şekeri.

As the Mevlit is being chanted, rosewater is sprinkled on the guests, and nigella and salt is passed around in a pan. These are put with a small spoon into pieces of white paper also in the pan, and taken home as a symbol of blessing and abundance.

8. Zekeriya Sofrası (Peygamber Sofrası)

In old times, a woman who made a which at a feast and received what she wished for, would give a “Zekeriya Sofrası,” or “Zacharia Feast,” also known as a “Pegyamber Sofrası” or “Prophet’s Feast.” The outstanding feature of the meal was that it consisted of forty-one different foods, including seasonal fruits, spices, nuts, vegetables which were to be eaten raw, etc. Those who attended would eat of all these dishes and make a wish if they desired; and vow to hold a Zekeriya Sofrası themselves if it were granted. After the Zekeriya Sofrası, börek, pastries and tea were served.

9. Hatim prayer, Forty-one Day Remembrance, Tevhid

These religious gatherings are held by women on a Thursday or Friday. The host serves food according to her economic means. If the gathering is in the morning, the host serves food following the prayer; this may consist of etli ekmek and ayran. If it is an afternoon gathering, it will likely include tea along with cheese, olives etc., as well as stuffed grape leaves, börek, katmer and sweets.

10. Yağmur Duası - Rain Prayer

At rain prayers, which are held by adults, no food is served. But among children there was a tradition, which seems to be abandoned now. The children of the neighborhood would gather and put green grass into a broad basket, and fill a large metal pitcher with water. They would then go door-to-door and chant together:

Yağ yağ yağmur
Teknede hamur
Tarlada çamur
Ver Allah’ım ver
Selli sulu yağmur

Fall, fall, rain
Dough in the trough
Mud in the field
Give, my God, give
Rain in floods

When the owner of the house opened the door, one of the children would bow his head, and the child holding the basket with the grass would hold it over his head while their leader poured water into the basket as if it were raining. The person in the house would give them eggs, bulgur, oil, or ground meat, and from this, the children would make bugur pilaf and eat it happily. They would also cook the eggs, and if there was food left over, they would distribute it. If it rained, the children would be that much happier. The adults interpreted it as “an honor to the faces of the innocent children,” and so would not turn the children away empty-handed. If they received nothing, the children would chant together:

Verenin kazanın dibi bakır
Vermiyeninkini itler sürüsün takır takır.13

The bottom of the pot of him who gives is copper

May a pack of dogs run pitter patter over that of him who doesn’t give.13

B. Seasonal Holidays and Special Days

1. Sultan Navruz (Nevruz – Spring Equinox)

March 21, the day in which the sun enters the constellation Aries, which was in old days known as March Ninth, is celebrated as the beginning of spring. Among the customs followed on that day are wearing white, covering heads (women) with white, eating foods like yogurt and milk, and having foods beginning with the letter “s” such as soğan (onion), sarmısak (garlic), sucuk, simit, susam (sesame), salata etc.14

Up until about forty years ago, weather permitting, it was traditional on Nevruz as well as on Eğrilce (Hıdırellez) to have a picnic in various green areas around the city, many of which are now built up today15. Typical foods would include egg salad, katmer, çörek, börek, cheese etc., along with tea made on a coal-fired samovar.

2. Eğrilce (Hıdırellez)

Hıdırellez, an important holiday among the Turks, is known in Sivas as Eğrilce, and is celebrated on May 6. If the weather was good, people would go out to green places to celebrate, dance and eat. The day before, people would put small personal items into a pot, such as rings, earrings etc. As people sang manis (quatrains), a small girl would draw the items out. Whichever item was taken out, the mani being sung was considered to be for the item’s owner. It was a merry picnic celebration. The name “Eğrilce” comes from the verb eğrilmek – to bend, become bent, warped, stooped. Old women would plant beans, and say “may the stoop that is coming to us, go to the beans instead.” It was believed that whoever worked, washed clothes etc. on this day would get bent (club) feet. If the weather was not good, people would eat at home, sing manis, play in the garden, and go to an area near the Çat river, believed to be the location of a Prophet, Etem. They would watch the water gushing under the bridge over the Çat, and say “May my sorrows go to you, and your vigor to me.”16

3. Sıçancık

May 13, one week after Eğrilce, was “Sıçancık” (“little rat”) day. On this day as well, people would not work or carry water; they would go on outings just as on Nevruz or Eğrilce, to celebrate and eat. It was believed that those who worked or carried water on this day would have an invasion of rats in their homes. On Sıçancık day, which seems to have been completely forgotten today, old women would sew small shirts out of muslin and stuff them into holes in the garden wall, saying:

Siçanlar, size gömlek diktim, evimizi basmayın!

Rats, I’ve sewn a shirt for you, don’t invade our house!

Today, families go on outings to Paşafabrikası on picnics, and take food they’ve made at home as well as make sac kebab and Sivas kebab on the griddles, or cook meat on grills. The teapots on the little gas tanks, and though few now, smoking samovars, make their own pleasant contribution to these summer outings. When an acquaintance passes by, he says, as they did in the old days, “Sahranız afiyet olsun” (May you enjoy your outing); the picnickers invite him to join them with the rejoinder, “beraber olsun,” “let us enjoy it together.”

4. Baca Pilavı

Another tradition that is completely forgotten today, but was practiced in celebration of spring around fifty years ago, was the making of baca pilavı or “chimney pilaf.” The tops of old houses were flat and made of earth; they were also called baca. If  someone’s roof was full of grass and especially pleasant, the children would decide to go up to that roof and cook pilaf. They would share the bringing of the ingredients necessary and would each shout out the name of the ingredient they would bring. “I’ll get the bulgur!” “I’ll get the meat!” “I’ll get the butter!” etc. Nobody said “I’ll bring the water,” as he’d be laughed at; they got the water from the well, the pot and spoon from a home, and then go up on the roof of the good-hearted woman, light a fire and cook their pilaf, which they would eat together happily. The pilaf would be as good as the number of different ingredients brought from the various homes. Since modern homes no longer have earthen roofs, this tradition has now become history; living on as a fond memory of those over 50 years of age.

5. Sıra Gezme / Herfene

The tradition of the sıra gezme or herfene,held on long winter nights has also been forgotten for 50 years or more. If the women were holding a herfene, then each woman would prepare a pot of food and take it the predetermined home, where they would eat, sing folk songs and manis, and dance. If a man was holding the herfene, then all the food would be prepared in that home. It was held on a particular day, generally a Saturday as Sunday was a holiday (in Republic times). The hot would slaughter a goose or a turkey, and the woman of the house would painstakingly make such dishes as pilaf, filled köfte and börek. After the meal, which was a true feast, they would also make tel helvası, a sort of pulled halvah. There was partying and dancing late into the night. There was also a set order of behavior at these events, and penalties for whoever violated it.17

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