Historical Sources on Turkish Cuisine
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Historical Sources on Turkish Cuisine

Kassam Registers

In the Ottoman Government, the officer whose duty it was to distribute the estates of the deceased among their heirs as dictated by Islamic Law was known as a kassam.

Every judicial district had its own kassam register, into which all the items and goods in a deceased person’s estate were entered one by one in the presence of the kassam. With the help of a knowledgeable person there, the items were appraised and their value entered into the record book.  After the Tanzimat (Reform Period, 1839), the kassams were abolished; only one kassam registry remained in Istanbul.

The kassams’ registers’ (basically estate records) significance in the area of Turkish cuisine is that these records contained the names of all sorts of kitchen utensils used, and thus naturally provide a wealth of material on our subject.

Islamic Court Registers

These documents, also known as kadı (Islamic judge) registers, are legal documents which announced the conclusions reached in cases which went before the Islamic courts.

These documents contain a wealth of data which sheds light on our national culture. Presently housed in certain museums administered by the General Administration of Ancient Works and Museums of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, these sources provide much information on the Turkish diet.

Palace Expense Records

One of the three major organs in the central administration of the Ottoman government, was the “Bâb-ı defteri ve kalemleri” or loosely translated, “Office of books and records.” This institution administered all the economic affairs of the State. As it also held some records for the administration of the Ottoman Palace, it was also not far from its control.

The “Saray, masraf-ı şehriyarî ve harac-ı hâssa defterleri” – “Records of the imperial expenses and state expenditures” were record books containing all expenditures made for the palace. These records are still record under numbers 7094-7141 of the Archive of the Prime Ministry, and contain information for the years 1489-1796.

The palace expense books are significant because they show us the kitchen expenses of the palace, which was the greatest administrator of the state, and the high officials who resided there, as well as the dietary habits of the period.

These documents, equally important to our cultural as well as commercial history, were first studied in a serious manner by the late Prof. Ömer Lütfi Barkan. (6) In his study, Barkan examined the documents for one fiscal year, from February 2, 1489 to January 22, 1490.

These documents provide us with the names of food ingredients entering the Empire from various places, oils, spices, fruits, dried fruits, meats, milk, yogurt, cheese, fowl, sherbets etc., as well as of the utensils used in kitchens of the period.

Military Subsity Account Books

These record books housed in the Archive of the Prime Ministry under numbers 6764-6798, give information on the subsidies to military installations in various vilayets and towns of the Empire. They cover the years 1728-1863. (7)

As the military installations fed large numbers of people, the data in these books are important in that they give information on the elements that determined the physical strength of the Ottoman Army, and even their success or failure in war.

Works Specifically Addressing Turkish Cuisine

In addition to the documents mentioned above, various libraries contain manuscripts written specifically about Turkish cuisine, dating from the early periods of the Ottoman Empire to the time when the first printing press was brought to our country and multiple copies of books began being produced.

Unfortunately we do not know the precise number of such works and in which libraries they all are located. The General Administration of Libraries  under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is presently occupied with the Comprehensive Catalogue of Written Works in Turkey (TÜVATOK), which will produce a complete inventory of these works.

In last years symposium, Fevzi Halıcı introduced just such a work which presented the cuisine of the Mevlevis. We are also working with a few of our colleagues on a written work numbered 748 A – 1948 at the TBMM Library in Ankara dated to around two hundred years ago, and attempting to adapt this work to the kitchen conditions of modern Turkey.

In addition, the Ali Emin section of the Fatih National Library, miscellaneous works area, contains a manuscript numbered 144, titled “Etterkibât fi Tabhil Halvıyyat” (Information on the nature and cooking of sweets.) This work was written by Osman Kerim Efendi, a retired secretary of Jerusalem, on the 15th day of the month sefer, 1244 on the Islamic calendar.

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